INTERVIEW: Olivier award-winning actress Leanne Jones on being a West End star, motherhood and her headline slot at Sunderland Pride

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She made headlines in 2008 when, at the age of 22, she won the Olivier award for Best Actress In a Musical for her starry-eyed turn as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. This weekend, she is the headline act at Sunderland Pride and we chatted to the West End star ahead of her performance.

Hi Leanne! You played Tracy Turnblad in the West End. How did you get the part?

It was a long process and it spanned two years! Originally I went to an open audition when I was still in my second year of drama school. There were lots of rounds and the day after I got down to the final two with a girl who’s still my friend now.

You’ve described the audition process as being quite challenging and that you almost gave up at one point. What made you feel like that?

Being a jobbing actress was hard. I was so young and my only worry was paying my rent and trying to make it. Now I’m older and wiser and a mum, I know other things are more important.

A lot of people banded the term ‘overnight sensation’ about around you but it must have been an amazing experience for a young girl. How did it feel to win an Olivier for your first professional job?

Incredible. It was such an honour. I performed at this year’s Oliviers and it was just incredible (Leanne sang What I Did For Love from A Chorus Line alongside a host of other past winners). I had my hair and make up done and I was gifted a dress to wear. It was real first class treatment and made me feel so wonderful. It’s nice to be glamorous when you’re a busy mum of two.

Above: The cast of Hairspray performing at the Royal Variety Performance in 2007

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You recently got married (congratulations!) and have two little boys. Has it changed your outlook on performing? Does having children help you see things from a different point of view?

Yes my life is very different. I’m stronger and don’t give auditions and castings a second thought once I’ve left the room. I used to worry, praying for my phone to ring. I am still very much wanting to be an actress and it’s something I might do better in my later life anyways as I was always being told I looked too young for most things!

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Above: Leanne with Hairspray co-star Michael Ball, after they both picked up their Oliviers in 2008

You’ve appeared in Tick Tick Boom, as well as pantomime. Do you have any dream roles?

My dream role would be Fantine in Les Miserables or Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! I’d love to crack some television roles too, just to see if it suits my lifestyle better. My boys are still young though, so I’m in no rush. It’s a very pleasant place to be in.

Are you excited to perform at Sunderland Pride. What can we expect from your set?

Im very excited! I have performed at so many pride events across the country. I just love singing and everyone is always so welcoming. Expect Good Morning Baltimore for sure and some pure pop classics!

Joining Leanne on the line-up is X Factor star Kitty Brucknell, Australian singer Kelly Wilde and a host of other acts. There will also be after-party celebrations; Whitney Houston tribute Ikenna and Leeds drag act The Viaduct Starlets will be at Eazy Street, Ttonic will be hosting a beach party and Danny Beard, from Britain’s Got Talent, will host a party at Basement.

Sunderland Pride takes place in Sunderland city centre today. The main stage line-up kicks off around 12pm.

Photos: Leanne Jones, Getty

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