Check out our latest magazine... Read Online

When John Hannam Met Jane McDonald

There are days in your life that you will never forget. One of mine was September 26th, 2006, when I met up again with Jane McDonald. Her welcoming hug and comforting words were just what I needed

Our original interview was planned for September 5th at London's Wise Buddah Studio but with my wife, Heather, dangerously ill in hospital, it was obviously cancelled. Sadly, she died two days later.

Jane had made a promise, via her PR lady, that she would arrange another date and I was invited to the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne. It was not an easy day. The Sussex seaside town had been one of our favourite places and we had spent a few short holidays there. I felt so lonely going there on my own and I was in one shop, that we regularly visited, having a difficult moment. Suddenly my phone rang and it was my daughter Caroline. It couldn't have come at a more opportune moment. Suddenly my mood changed for the better.

Within a few minutes I was sat in the Congress Theatre's hospitality room awaiting Jane's arrival. In she came and I will never forget her opening words: "I've been thinking about you. Come here, I want to give you a big hug." That was just the instant tonic I needed to record a 30 minute interview for my IW Radio chat show.

I had been an admirer of Jane McDonald since I first saw her in that  brilliant 1998 series called The Cruise. Our first meeting was back in 2003 in London's Berkeley Square and, luckily, she was the only nightingale in sight. I quickly realised just how nice a person Jane really is. She simply lights up a room when she walks in. No airs and graces. Just an everyday Yorkshire lass, who is not full of her own importance. I love her stories from the early days when sometimes she struggled to make an impact in the clubs. Some audiences expected more than just singing.

In Eastbourne I just had to tell her how great she looked, eight years on from The Cruise. I expected a quick answer and I got one: "John, I reckon your eyes are going." 

I was also fascinated by the fact she originally played an accordion on her chest, a subject I'd briefly touched upon a year or two earlier. Would she expand on the story?

"I was in the Wakefield Accordion Band and was rather good until I grew a bust and the accordion always seemed to be caught up in my jumper. That's why I switched to piano," teased Jane.

That Sussex one-nighter came during her British tour. Suddenly she was in great demand and since then she's enjoyed phenomenal success with huge sell-out tours. On one she played to 150,000 people.

To my mind, Jane is a 21st century Dorothy Squires. She's working class, very gutsy, a supreme entertainer with a powerful voice and she simply gives it  her all. Unbeknown to me, she'd been a fan of the amazing Welsh legend and was flattered by my comparison.

In a way Jane's career has followed the path of Cilla Black, who also began as purely a singer before becoming a great television presenter.

Jane's advisors were shrewd enough to broaden her horizons and add a new direction to her career. Suddenly she acquired thousands of new fans via her appearances on Loose Women. Even I would switch on just to watch her. Don't tell anyone. Mind you, at my age I don't really have any street cred!

A few of my male showbiz friends have been tempted on to Loose Women and a few may have regretted it. I asked Jane if she had a theory?

"When guys came on to the show I found their body language was hilarious. They either crossed their arms or covered up their bits. What were they expecting us to do — attack them?"

Channel 5 producers also realised the potential of Jane as a television presenter and very quickly millions were tuning in to Cruising With Jane McDonald, of which there were six series, Holiday With Jane McDonald and Jane McDonald And Friends. They all showcase her as such a natural presenter.

Lockdowns permitting, Jane is all set to start her Let The Light In British tour in June. It's going to just over 30 venues, including the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, which is were we began this 'Day To Remember'.

More from The John Hannam Archive

  • John Hannam Meets Annette Badland

    Back in 1981 when Bergerac first came to BBC TV, it was no surprise when John Nettles received sack loads of fan mail. I, like millions of other men, rather fell for the more rubenesque charms of the Bureau receptionist Charlotte, played by the gorgeous Annette Badland.

  • John Hannam meets Bill Wyman

    Fifty one years after I first saw Bill Wyman appearing at a Rolling Stones concert at Ryde Pavilion, I finally managed to meet him.

  • When John Hannam Did the Corrie Tour

    Back in 2001 I took an exciting 21 hour day trip to Weatherfield. I was expecting to undertake a couple of interviews with two of Coronation Street’s lesser known characters. Thankfully, it didn’t go to plan. Once the two interviews were completed and the press office girls had left, I was told to sit tight for a few minutes and see who might come in. Over the next hour, six of the most famous faces in Britain came in and were all eager to chat.

  • A Day to Remember with Sheridan Smith

    Saturday June 30th, 2012, was rather special in my 47 year career as a showbiz writer and broadcaster. I still call it my Sheridan Smith day.

  • A Day to Remember with Barbara Windsor

    Back in 1988, John Hannam interviewed Barbara Windsor – and this was long before Albert Square.

  • John Hannam meets Shaun Williamson

    When Shaun Williamson was filling shelves in a Maidstone supermarket his ambition was to be like Richard Burton. Eventually, via Pontins in Wootton, 1986, he became Barry Evans, who for eight years was one of EastEnders’ most popular characters.

  • John Hannam meets Joe McFadden

    Life has been wonderfully unpredictable for Scottish actor Joe McFadden. Before winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2017, he’d been a rock star in Sex, Chips & Rock ‘n’ Roll, cast as maverick cop, Joe Mason in Heartbeat and surgeon Raf di Lucca in Holby City.

  • Gwen Taylor: An interview with Beacon's John Hannam

    Gwen Taylor is one of those actors known for a wide variety of names — Amy Pearce from Duty Free, Barbara Liversidge in Barbara, Heartbeat’s Peggy Armstrong, Rita Simcock from A Bit Of A Do or even murderer, Anne Foster, from Coronation Street.

  • David Calder tells John Hannam why he loves the Isle of Wight

    Over the years, top actors like Celia Imrie, Benedict Cumberbatch, Penelope Keith and Geoffrey Hughes have all fallen in love with the Island. The latest to join them is David Calder, whose credits include The World Is Not Enough, The Hatton Garden Job and The Lady In The Van.

  • Tessa Peake-Jones: An interview with John Hannam

    During the final ten days before the lockdown, I’d been lucky enough to have pre-arranged five interviews. It was in Guildford on a very wet and miserable March day. Would she be like Raquel in Only Fools And Horses or Mrs Maguire in Grantchester?

  • Celia Imrie: An Interview with John Hannam

    John caught up with the star of stage and screen, who talks of recent film projects and fond memories of when the Island was her home.

  • Fred Dinenage: An Interview with John Hannam

    Famous radio DJ Annie Nightingale has helped numerous popstars enhance their careers by playing their music.

  • Dame Judi Dench meets John Hannam

    On July 7th, completely out of the blue, I received an unexpected email from a guy called Neil Chandler, the venue and artistic director of the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, which was re-opening following a £42 million redevelopment.

  • Call the Midwife's Helen George meets John Hannam

    Helen George has millions of fans as Trixie Franklin in hit television series, Call The Midwife. She's just been seen in the show's Christmas Special and is all set to appear later this year in the ninth series.

  • Marti Pellow: An Interview with John Hannam

    Back on Sunday, February 17th 1991, I had the thrill of having the Beverley Sisters live on IW Radio's John Hannam Meets. At the end of their slot, I asked them to choose a record by their favourite current singer. In total harmony, they all said Marti Pellow and predicted a long and successful career for him. At that time he was the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet. How right they were.

Get Social