Essex girl extraordinaire, former X-Factor finalist and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! winner, Stacey Solomon, tells Ruth Supple why she is beside herself with excitement at coming to Milton Keynes to perform in her first ever panto this Christmas...
“Hallo!” pipes the instantly recogniseable Essex-girl voice of Stacey Solomon, which catapulted her to fame on ITV’s The X-Factor back in 2009.
“I’m having a facial to get my skin ready for the jungle, but I never have time to relax, so don’t worry – we can talk now,” she tells me.
Trying to pin down time to interview busy mum-of-two Stacey, 27, has been tricky as she’s about to head off to Australia to co-present ITV2’s new spin-off show, I’m A Celebrity: Extra Camp, with her boyfriend, Joe Swash.
The new series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me of Out Here! starts this month – presented as ever by Ant and Dec – and Stacey, who was crowned Queen of the Jungle in 2010, says she can’t wait to go back…even though she lands back in the UK the day before panto starts in Milton Keynes.
“I go to Oz on October 31,” she says, “and then I don’t get back in the UK until December – the panto opens the next day; it’s going to be crazy, but so much fun!
“I’ve never been in panto before and am so excited to be playing the part of Fairy Bowbells in Dick Whittington. My costume is unbelievable – it looks like a Cinderella gown and is covered with Swarovski crystals; it’s gorgeous.”
Stacey says she’ll be learning her panto lines Down Under and connecting with the cast via Skype so she can still join in the rehearsals.
“I’m going to try, though it’s going to be difficult as I’ll be working from midnight til 7am, UK time, so we’ll have to see what happens.”
At least this time round she won’t be in the jungle itself and can escape to the refuge of a luxurious hotel room.
“I’d never ever thought I’d end up going back into the jungle, but this time round as a presenter,” she admits. “I’m besides myself with excitement and – hell yeah – I can actually eat real food this time and sleep in a proper bed.”
Stacey, who also presents on ITV’s popular lunchtime programme, Loose Women, says she will be able to empathise with this year’s round of jungle celebrities, who have to endure hideous tasks and eat all manner of strange foods.
“My advice to them would be to just enjoy every moment because it’s brilliant. You’ll have the best time ever and, at the same time, build a great bond with people you wouldn’t normal necessarily bond with in real life,” she says.
“I’d also advise them to watch past shows before they go in there so they know exactly what they are letting themselves in for; that way they can enjoy it more. The jungle is so beautiful.”
Stacey will be co-presenting I’m A Celebrity: Extra Camp with her boyfriend, EastEnders star Joe, who was crowned King of the Jungle in 2008.
“I met first met Joe when I came out of the jungle but we didn’t get to know each other until afterwards. I don’t know how I’m going to feel working with him – we’ve never done that before, so I’ll have to let you know how it goes,” she adds, with a laugh.
“But we get on so well together and I think he’ll be easy to work with.
“It’ll be great fun going behind the scenes for all the backstage jungle gossip.”
They’ll get to spend time with Ant and Dec too, who Stacey says are wonderful.
“They are just the best; and the cast and crew are wonderful too. I can’t wait.”
She’ll get to do all the famous Bushtucker Trials too: “Oh yeah, we get to try them out, but I draw the line at eating anything alive.
“Everything has to be dead. If I eat anything like a live cricket I’d feel so guilty.”
Stacey’s hoping her two young sons, Nathan and Zachary, aged eight and four, will be able to join her for part of her time Down Under.
“It’ll depend on school and things though,” she admits. “I’m really lucky to have an amazing support network with my parents so I don’t have to worry. They’re the best parents ever and I’m so lucky.”
When she returns from the jungle, Stacey reckons she’ll be sporting a “tropical Fairy Bowbells tan” and can’t wait for her sons to watch the show.
“They are so excited about me being in this panto; more than anything else I’ve done before,” she says. “I’ve never been to Milton Keynes before – isn’t it full of roundabouts? – but I’m really looking forward to coming and hear it has a great shopping centre, which could be a bit dangerous...”
She credits her parents for helping her keep her feet on the ground when she became a household name, almost overnight, in The X-Factor in 2009, when she reached third place.
“My parents have made me who I am; I’m an Essex girl and I’ll never change,” she states.
“I still watch The X Factor and love it. There’s such a lot of talent and I think it’s a really good year.
“I still see Simon Cowell, who’s always so lovely, and he’s the main reason I’m doing what I’m doing today, which I’m so grateful for. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”
That’s refreshing to hear from someone who has it all but still remembers where she came from....
Dick Whittington runs at Milton Keynes Theatre from December 8, 2016, to January 15, 2017. Tickets available from www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or the box office 0844 871 7652