■ The singer and actress, 45, on returning to the stage, social media and the thrill of being under a mask
You’re hosting Cabaret All Stars in London. What was the appeal?
When I did [ITV show] The Masked Singer I fell back in love with singing — I got my mojo back. I loved the ideas behind this cabaret. The burlesque girls are just incredible. It’s really sexy and glamorous but you don’t feel threatened. It’s a celebration of the female body.
What can guests expect?
You have your evening meal listening to a jazz band. I compère the evening and will be singing about six songs and then you have aerial, burlesque and dance acts. Then it turns into a nightclub and stays open until 4am, so you don’t need to go anywhere. I think people want to have some fun at the moment.
Is your partner Eddie Boxshall happy about it?
I’ve never known him to say so quickly to me, ‘I’m definitely coming to that one!’ And then all of his friends were messaging saying, ‘Can we go and watch the show?’
Do you love glamming up?
Yes! I think the last time was when I did Strictly [in 2012]. It’s that real old-school Hollywood kind of glam — the Dita Von Teese look. The girls look incredible. I turned up for rehearsals in my tracksuit bottoms and trainers and the girls had all their pin curls in. I was like, ‘Oh no! I need to sort myself out!’
How hard is it to feel sexy when you’re a mum?
I spend every school run in gym wear and no make-up, hair scraped back, doing all my chores. On a Thursday, Friday and Saturday I get to find my inner glam.
When you say you’ve got your mojo back, where did it go?
I think it was just part and parcel of everything. I was a single mum for a long period of time. I had help from friends and family with childcare but I turned down any tour or panto I was offered and any long-running West End shows. And when you step away from what you’ve been doing for a long time you do lose a little part of yourself. It’s not in a bad way because I’ve loved it but you do get to a point where you go, ‘Oh, that’s what I used to do!’ And the longer that goes on the harder it is to get back in. My daughter Betsy is nearly ten and she’s just brilliant, we chat like proper mates and she’s like, ‘If it’s going to make you feel good, you should do it.’ It’s got to a point where I need to do things again. Now Betsy’s older she can hang out with me in the dressing room.
Didn’t Betsy comment on your singing in the shower?
Yeah, she asked what shows I’d done and I thought, ‘She’s never seen me on stage!’ But I’m so glad that I had this time. I see a lot of other people in the industry that have forged ahead with their careers and I think they must never see their kids.
Are you happiest on stage?
I do love it. A year ago I was going to do Chicago — the first thing after years and then I broke my foot. At the time I was thinking why is this happening to me? But in light of the devastating news of what’s happened with Caroline Flack… she went and did Chicago when I couldn’t do it and I feel as if that was meant to happen now. I had conversations with her about it because she really wanted to do that part and I’m so glad that she got to play it. She was so talented. It’s so sad.
How do you juggle fame with social media?
I feel blessed that when I first became successful with The Big Breakfast in the late-1990s there was no social media. I’ve been shocked by the negativity that comes along when you do something. I’m a bit hardened to it but I have young friends in the industry who get upset because they’ve read something about the way they looked.
How did you find being on The Masked Singer?
I took that job because I had the mask and the protection as I probably would have got a barrage of abuse otherwise. Doing it this way was a chance for me to get my confidence back in my own time. People don’t realise what goes on in peoples’ lives and how you’re feeling and I was nervous because I’d stepped out of it for a period of time. But I loved sneaking around and being a fox. I’d sneak out with my disguise in a carrier bag, get changed in the car, do the show in front of a studio audience then get back home thinking, ‘They have no idea!’
That show has changed things for you… you’re recording an album!
Yeah, I had to keep that quiet too because if people knew I was recording an album they’d know it was me on The Masked Singer. I’m not doing a pop album or anything like that — it’s Radio 2 friendly! I have a couple of songs being written for me, which is great.
■ Cabaret All Stars! at Proud Embankment, London, launches on Thursday, proudcabaret.com