On the Toon…My night at the inaugural Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards

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Last week saw the people behind the North East’s best businesses mix with the beautiful people of television, and the odd celebrity guest, as the first ever Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards took place.

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum proved a beautiful venue for the great and the good to assemble as prizes in categories like Best Bar, Best Fashion Retailer and Best Live Experience were handed out. And as special guest, pop star Sinitta, said, it was the perfect opportunity to find out just where you can get the best cup of coffee in the North East, where you should be checking in for the night and where you should be getting your hair did!

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(The grand Discovery Museum, our venue for the night)

The Lifestyle Awards is the brain child of PR guru Jason Gale, who was in attendance on the night along with his partner Sinitta. After public voting, a panel decided on the eventual winners.

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(Me and special guest Sinitta)

As an awards do newbie, I was grateful and relieved to be introduced to a fellow blogger on arrival. Also riding solo, Pixie Tenenbaum (below) a fashionista I had heard lots about through mutual friends, became my date whether she liked it or not. After posing on the red carpet and grabbing a complementary glass of fizz, we were frantically pulled aside by the lovely Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown, Made in Tyne and Wear’s hit TV show, for a live interview. We ended up having a ball together – our table was a mix of Made TV talent, PR and the lovely Donna Petch, who is behind the marketing powerhouse The North East Hub. We dined on a delicious three courses, ranging from a Geordie delicacy with a twist (ham hock terrine with a peas pudding sauce and fresh stottie) to corn-fed chicken supreme with gratin dauphinoise to a Sicilian lemon tart with macerated berries and cream. All superb.

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(Fashion blogger Pixie Tenenbaum)

Entertainment was provided by The Mimic Men, an impressionist double act last seen storming Britain’s Got Talent, and the rowdy room was kept in check (just!) by hosts from Made in Tyne and Wear, Peter Darrant, and the lovely Hazel and Mel (below).

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(Hosts Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown)

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(Two of the winners of the night – Mister Woods took home Best Coffee Shop)

It was wonderful to see the eclectic mix of talent our region has and lovely to not only recognize a lot of the winning faces but also make new friends. It is events like this that really shine a spotlight on regional businesses and let the rest of the country know what we already do; that the North East is a truly unique place to live.

A big thank you to lovely Fran from Made TV for the invitation and looking after us and the rest of the team for helping pull off a fantastic event. Sore heads all round the morning after, no doubt. Looking forward to the next one.

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The full list of winners:

Best Coffee Shop – Mister Woods

Best Pub – City Tavern

Best Fashion Retailer – Have To Love

Best Hair and Beauty – Patrick Forster Barber and Shop

Best Hotel – Malmaison

Best Bar – The Botanist

Best Cultural Attraction – National Glass Centre

Best Restaurant – River Beat

Best Club – House of Smith

Best Fitness Facility – Model Health

Best Live Experience – Great North Run

Legend Award – Colin Burgin-Plews (Big Pink Dress)

INTERVIEW: The man behind Boulevard’s Miss Rory on being ‘the pits’, ‘the People’s Princess’ and the star of the show

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Anyone who has been to a show at Newcastle’s premier cabaret venue Boulevard over the years will know that there are two things guaranteed.

The first is a show full of talented performers, doing the very best to entertain their audience. The second is the acerbic wit of the show’s host and compere, Miss Rory. Those unlucky enough to be caught in her crossfire aren’t likely to forget it in a hurry. Dan Cunningham brings the acid-tongued one to life, and as the summer show continues it’s successful new run, I chatted to him about everything from being hailed ‘the people’s princess’ to finding a new headliner.

“I certainly never thought I’d do it for a living – or indeed to such public acclaim,” he says of his career in drag. “I’m often hailed as the People’s Princess. Naturally I’m far too humble to listen.” It’s clear he’s only half-joking and It’s this mixture of humour and faux modesty that has helped make Miss Rory one of the most popular – and most successful – entertainers in Newcastle. Whilst Rory is known for her cutting put-downs, I’ve always got along famously with Dan. A stalwart of the gay scene, he began performing in bars like Switch and The Bank, years before Boulevard.

“I started when I was about 18, as something of a party piece. Then I got offered little bits of work. Safe to say everybody starts somewhere – and I was the absolute pits.

But when I started out I was probably the only person starting out in Newcastle at the time – there was no Drag Idol or suchlike. I was ‘mentored’ by the living legend Greta La More (a famous Newcastle drag queen) and it all went from there. So if anyone’s to blame – it’s her!”

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The Drag Idol competition he’s talking about is an annual contest held to find ‘the next big thing’, in the vein of the US television show RuPaul’s Drag Race. He is one of the judges, and year after year continues to bring punters back. He often jokes the competition should be renamed Rory Idol. But, it’s Boulevard where he has found infamy.

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So how did the show come to him?

“I had a ‘real’ full time job as a manager in Debenhams and something of a normal life. I think I was the go-to to host events in Newcastle because my gob set me apart.” I can attest to this.

“So when the idea to create this brand new show bar in town was being conceived, I was taken over to the building and given a sort of guided tour. It was just a shell of a building at the time, and I was basically ‘told’ that I’d be standing up there doing what I now do. So I had to go away and decided if this was what I wanted to do. I’d have to give up the normality of a somewhat mundane job to start this new adventure.

Obviously it didn’t take me long to decide. And nearly 6 years later – here I am. I can honestly say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

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As the Spring show neared the end of its run earlier this year, it was announced that Betty Legs Diamond (above), the show’s creator and star, would be leaving to return to Blackpool’s Funny Girls venue. So, who would be the one to step into the limelight and become Boulevard’s new headline act?

A few names were banded about but Dan had only one person in mind for the job.

Yorkshire-born, London-residing dancer Danni Dee (below) had been a friend of Betty’s and was the star of a successful night club act in the capital, so when the time came, it was clear who to call.

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“I’ve known Danni for years and always admired her work, as well as valuing her friendship – although she does go on a bit,” he says, clearly excited about the new direction of the show. “That’s why he was my first choice as Betty’s replacement – and as soon as I took the producers to London to watch the show they agreed.”

Danni has debuted to sell-out shows and the summer run is picking up speed. “He knows exactly how we work – and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Our cast are highly trained and professional dancers; our production team know what they’re doing to create the most elaborate, but accessible, shows for our audiences. It doesn’t just happen over night. Nowhere else in the North East can do what we do, on the scale that we do it – and that’s testament to all of the above.”

The ticket sales seem to have put paid to any worries about a successful show, but will Danni alienate Boulevard’s clientele?

“I don’t think so, no. For a start, I’m still there – and let’s face facts here, I’m the main attraction. I mean I can dance, but I thought I’d give Danni a shot.

But seriously, I think the sterling work that Danni is doing will most certainly keep our regulars coming back, but I reckon because it’s all kind of ‘new’ again there’ll be a fair few more people through the doors…we’re certainly the talk of the town at the best of times, but with this new show, I think we’ll be the talk of quite a few towns!”

The LGBT community was rocked recently in the wake of the shootings in Orlando that left 49 innocent people dead in a gay nightclub. Communities across the world gathered to remember the lost lives and Newcastle was among them. It’s important to remember that drag and cabaret shows like Boulevard only exist because of a proud community. “That vigil was amazing. Naturally, we should never have had to gather like that – and I never thought I’d be asked to address the scene, on behalf of the scene, like that. But it just goes to show that a community can pull together, even if it’s just for half an hour and say ‘yes, we’re in this together – this is us’.”

The summer show at Boulevard is running until September 17. Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 0191 250 7068 or online here

Photo credits: LAH Photography 

INTERVIEW: Boulevard’s new leading lady Miss Danni Dee on being ‘intimidating’, the summer show and getting recognised in Starbucks

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As the crown jewel in Newcastle’s vibrant gay scene, Boulevard has seen cast members come and go over the years. But, no exit was more of a shock than that the recent departure of Betty Legs Diamond, the cabaret venue’s star turn. Announcing he would be returning to Blackpool’s Funny Girls, Simon Green, the man behind Miss Diamond, left fans of Boulevard wondering who would fill Betty’s heels. Step forward Miss Danni Dee.

Danni was unveiled as the new leading lady of the venue and she and her Broadway dancers premiered their summer show this past weekend to packed audiences. They say behind every great woman is a great man (or something to that effect), so we grabbed the creator of ‘the bitchy showgirl’, 31-year-old Lancashire-born performer Danny Molloy, for a chat about her crowning as the new queen of the scene.

So first things first: Who is Danni Dee?

“Oh my god, Danni Dee is over-the-top, leggy, very goofy at times and always up for laugh. But like any diva she has an opposite side which can be a bit intimidating at times,” he says with a laugh. Unlike his alter ego, Danny seems anything but.

Born in Preston, Danny attended the Northern Ballet School. After graduating, he toured the world dancing professionally in theatre productions and on cruise ships before landing in Blackpool, where he danced at Funny Girls, the famous cabaret venue.

“Shortly after moving to London after two years with Betty at Funny Girls, I found myself joining a corporate dance/drag troupe doing big events all over the UK and abroad,” he tells me. “After that I decided to branch out and create Danni, and set up The Danni Dee Show at Freedom Bar Soho, which is now in its 7th year of residency.”

His residency at said London bar is extremely popular, attracting a following of celebrities and West End performers. “This is really cringe, but I admire all my West End friends so much,” he says genuinely. “They are all extremely talented people and supported me from the get go. I doubt I would be where I am with out them, I’ve learnt a lot from them over the years, and can’t thank them enough!”

Thanks to the popularity of The Danni Dee Show, he was approached earlier this year with an opportunity to join Boulevard. A phone call from the show’s host and compere, Dan Cunningham AKA Miss Rory initially left Danny feeling nervous.

“I’d been to Boulevard a couple of times to visit Betty, who I’ve known and worked with for about 10 years now and I met Miss Rory through her.

Funnily enough Rory was in London watching my show and then called me the next day to tell me the goings on (Betty’s departure) and when I got the voicemail I honestly thought I’d upset her or embarrassed her at the show.”

You can tell that there is a firm friendship between the three performers.

“From that initial phone call, me and Betty met up for lunch in London and put a show together…it all happened so fast it is still a little bit of a blur, even more so with still touring the UK with my solo show whilst putting a show together and rehearsing it in Newcastle.”

I ask him about Newcastle. It must be a change from Soho, the famous gay quarter of London. “Newcastle seems great. I haven’t ventured around much yet though because of a hectic schedule.” He recounts a story about already being recognised in a Newcastle Starbucks (“which made me giggle!”) but alludes to one particular cast mate as a bad influence. “I’m going have to get the cast to show me the sights. I would ask Rory but she’d just take me to the gay bars…”

In the past Boulevard has been known as an all-singing, all-dancing classic musical theatre revue. Everything from Fosse to Wicked and Les Miserables to Liza have been performed on the stage of the venue, which was last year named Newcastle’s Best Bar by the Chronicle. What can we expect from this new era?

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“In the summer show we take you from where Betty left off, with a great traditional musical theatre opener. Then the pace and energy of the show takes you on a journey of different genres, ranging from musical theatre to a full arena concert-style diva routine, which people have been going crazy for. I love to see the audience up on their feet dancing with us!

My dream number to perform is actually in this show so if you wanna know what that is then get your booties to come see us!”

Danny seems cool, calm and collected – the exact opposite of what one would expect someone with a show of this stature in his control to be. He must have some fears. “LOTS! The main one is a costume change which happens on stage in the finale where I have less than 10 seconds to change,” he tells me. “It’s tight as it is and any slip ups and everything could go badly wrong! But if it does I’ll just blame (fellow dancer) Candy!”

The Boulevard Summer Show runs until September 17. For tickets, visit the box office in person, call 0191 250 7068 or click here

Big Brother winner opens up new (bar)bershop in North East

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Anthony Hutton, the cheeky Geordie lad who won Channel 4’s Big Brother back in 2005, has realised his dream of opening a very unique business, a bar-cum-barbershop.

The self-titled Mr Hutton’s Barbers and Bar opened before Christmas in Darlington and seems to be enjoying success. Hutton, who is a fully-trained barber, rose to fame in the mid-noughties when he competed on the reality TV competition and won. His antics on the show notched up many a tabloid column inch, but he seems to have put the wild times behind him as he attempts to become an entrepreneur.

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The shop, which is the former Ron’s music store, is in Blackwellgate and comprises primarily of a chic cocktail bar, with a barbershop in the back. Fear not though, the barbershop is closed off at night to avoid any drunken hairy situations. Good luck from Man About Toon, and count us in for a cut and a Cosmo!

Click on their Facebook page here for more info