Soap star Jacqueline Leonard set to play Maleficent at Preston Guild Hall
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Freckleton’s Jacqueline Leonard has swapped Weatherfield for Preston as she hits the stage in panto this month. Emma Mayoh reports
Jacqueline Leonard’s first panto experience was unforgettable. While doing a press call for Robin Hood – where she was playing the lead role - the unexpected happened.
‘It was all a bit embarrassing,’ she said. ‘We were on the beach. I was on a horse and when I got on it, it bolted off down the beach. I couldn’t stop it. My biggest fear was falling off. I must have looked funny and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
‘But it was my first panto and it was brilliant. I had the most fantastic time. That first one, even including the horse running away with me, has given me some happy memories.’
The experience hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm for the Christmas and New Year tradition. This month she will hit the stage at Preston’s Guild Hall as Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. She will be joined by friend and comedian Phil Walker, who has written and directed the popular show, as well as Phoenix Nights star Archie Kelly and Newsround presenter Hayley Hassall. She was asked by Phil, who lives in Lytham, to take part in the show.
Jacqueline, who was born in Blackpool, said: ‘He said it was going to be a small show with a few actors and would I like to do it. It sounded like a really good idea. Being able to do a show in my local area is fantastic. It’s special to be able to take part in something special that is close to home.
‘I’m really looking forward to playing an evil witch. It’s always more fun to play the bad characters. It’s good fun playing to children too. I just frighten them to death. It will be good. You can have lots of fun with it. I’ve got a great part to play, a brilliant costume and some great audiences to look forward to playing to. What’s not to be excited about?’
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Jacqueline, a former Greenlands High School pupil who turned 50 last month, only decided she wanted to become an actor after seeing some theatre in London as a child.
She said: ‘I’d always wanted to go to art college. Acting had never really come into my thoughts. But I saw some theatre shows for the first time in London. I came back and I knew I wanted to be an actress.
‘I was so lucky because I started going to Whitaker Dance and Drama Centre in Blackpool. Jack Ganley, one of the tutors, was the best drama teacher in the world. I was lucky to have him there to teach me. It made me so enthusiastic about acting.’
Jacqueline, who lives in a converted pub in Freckleton with husband Alex and 12-year-old daughter Aleisha, is now one of the staples of British programming. She has appeared in several high profile dramas and soaps including Peak Practice, Eastenders and Doctors and Coronation Street. She has also appeared on stage in iconic shows including The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Clockwork Orange and Wuthering Heights and acted alongside industry heavyweights including the late John Thaw.
‘I’ve been very lucky to work with incredible people,’ she said ‘John Thaw was amazing. It was quite early on in my career and he really helped me. He was really nice to me, really approachable and gave me lots of tips. He was inspirational.’
The talented actress, who has spent a lot of time working away from her native Lancashire, is looking forward to Christmas at home with her family.
She said: ‘I am really looking forward to Christmas this year. I’ll be able to have lots of fun acting in Sleeping Beauty which will be brilliant.
‘But I’ll also be able to be at home with my family, which is so precious to me. I’ll have the best of both worlds. I’m very excited.’ w
Sleeping Beauty runs from Monday, December 7th until Saturday, January 2nd. For more information or to book tickets visit www.prestonguildhall.com