“It’s that passion igniting in me. If I get nervous, it means I’m excited and ready for the challenge. This is going to overtake anything I can do.” – Kerry Ellis, West End and Broadway Star
An introduction to our podcast guest, Kerry Ellis, an award-winning leading lady of West End and Broadway musicals.
In this episode with Kerry Ellis, we talk about her incredible career on stage, from her leading roles in We Will Rock You, Wicked, Oliver, My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, to name a few. She has graced the stages of renowned theatres in London and New York, has released an album and has worked many times with Queen’s legendary Brian May. Kerry is a signed solo recording artist and her version of Defying Gravity from Wicked is outstanding – go and have a listen to that!
As you listen in, you will agree her energy is positive and inspiring. Her CV speaks for itself yet her personality remains contagious and humble.
We speak about choosing a career because of a genuine love for it, motherhood, lockdowns, her new book and everything in between. Kerry is a completely different type of guest to anyone we have ever had on the podcast before and probably our most high profile too!
This is a very open and honest conversation which gave many lightbulb moments and we hope you enjoy it too.
This is another interview to remember on The Mortgage Mum Podcast, an interview that demonstrates another woman owning her power whilst staying incredibly humble.
Listen in above, or read on for a summary of Sarah’s interview with West End and Broadway star Kerry Ellis…
Tell us more about your story, how did your career start? How did you know you were so talented? Tell us from the beginning!
When I was at school I was put into a dance school, like lots of other little girls and boys when I was younger, around 3 or 4 years old. Probably to wear me out, I think!
But I just fell in love with it. I have vague memories of it however, so it must’ve sparked something in me that I was passionate about from a very, very early age. Now I look back on that and I feel very grateful to have had a passion so early on. Especially because I think young people nowadays don’t know what they want to do. They don’t know what they want to be. And they’ve kind of lost sight of what makes them tick, what excites them and what options are out there.
I’m constantly saying to young people, ‘if you could be anything, what would you be’? There’s too much in the way and I feel very grateful that I had a clear passion when I was younger. It took me through to where I am now and, and still does still ignites that joy and that drive.
It’s a very difficult industry, but I love it. And I think that’s what’s got me to where I am. Lots of dance schools, I went to a drama school and did lots of shows along the way. I worked a lot. And then when I left college, I literally just jumped straight into it. I went from job to job.
How old were you when you went to drama school and how did you get in?
I left school at 16 and went straight to drama school. I had to do a full day’s audition to get in – including jazz, ballet, tap etc. I had to sing, do a workshop and then a physical to see if I was even capable of sustaining dance through the next three years.
I then had more auditions with the council to try and get a grant to get financial help and support. Being in front of a grant system was quite brutal but I’m so grateful because we got the grant and then got the drama school place!
I’m so grateful for the support from my parents who trusted and believed in me. So many people can sing etc but the success rate is so small and they allowed me to go for it and supported me along the way.
Did you know you were so talented? When did you know you had that gift?
It was more about my passion and drive for it. It wasn’t a case of me saying “I have a talent”, it was more, “I love this, so I’m going to make this work. I’m going to make this happen”.
That still happens now. It’s more about the creation as opposed to the talent driving it.
How much does that actually prepare you? The industry is hard, isn’t it?
Yes it is. It’s quite brutal. It’s because you get told ‘no’, a lot. You have pretty thick skinned or, or well-supported I think, to deal with the kind of emotional ups and downs of people.
Literally, for three years, I danced, sang and acted like I breathed it every day of my life. So in a sense that was a preparation.
There’s a lot of learning, how to get a job, how to find an agent, how to find auditions, how to do a tax bill etc – this all helps to be prepared.
I wonder if there is that gap there, because to me that’s the most important stuff, because you’re trying to do everything else!
I question a lot of the education system, probably because I’m from a creative lifestyle. I questioned why do we not give our kids the tools to work, or to put them in a drama class so that they can interact with each other so they do more sports etc. So they’re physically aware of their wellbeing.
It’s one of the things we talk about, like when you’re a teenager, you need to learn about property and mortgages and tax and stamp duty and credit scores…
I think we could arm young people better. We could give them better information so that they can make better choices. Young people just don’t know what’s out there.
Did you ever suffer with nerves?
Yes. I still do. I think nerves are just a part of life and especially in what we do, because we stand in front of people and do crazy things that aren’t normal. I don’t mind getting nervous. I think I’ve learned to deal with my nerves! For me they’re a good thing for me. They’re just adrenaline and it means that I care about what I’m about to do. It’s that passion igniting in me. If I get nervous, it means I’m excited and ready for the challenge. This is going to overtake anything I can do.
I have had incredible auditions and performances that have been heightened. I’ve always come out the other side, and I’ve always got through it. So I think just age and experience, maybe living through those experiences and moments. I survived it and nothing happened, so it’s okay. So when it happens again, I can rationalise it and know it’s going to be alright.
The first performance you did after lockdown, how did that feel?
I was quite proactive through the lockdown. I did things like my book and my albums, and I did a few live streams from home. I was active and was more to keep that creative side of me going.
I’m a mum, a wife and a sister and a daughter. But without that creative part of me, I feel like there’d be something missing.
I had to keep that going in some sense and I did a couple of live streamed shows. I did a couple of outdoor, socially distanced performances too. I then performed at the Royal Albert Hall which was electric just because the energy in the room for everybody was electric and being in such a special venue too.
When did you write your book? Did you write the book in lockdown or is the book coming?
A lovely lady called Kelly Reynolds contacted me about four or five years ago and said she’d love to collaborate with me and write my story. Initially I thought ‘I don’t want to do that, I’m not old enough to read about me etc’. I said ‘thanks but no thanks’ and we kept in touch.
Something sparked in me because when we were in lockdown I contacted Kelly to ask if she would help put a book together. She was magnificent. We were literally on Zoom for a few hours a day. It was so brilliant and fun going over all the stories, putting it down on paper and mapping it out. It’s done now and can be ordered on Amazon. The book shares a side of my story that people don’t know, nor could they find by searching me on Wikipedia (for example). Stories about how I nearly lost my voice and had to see a surgeon, my younger days of how I navigated into the industry etc.
Anyone can Google, but I like to know what goes on behind a brand, because that’s the stuff that people maybe don’t get told to talk about or they don’t have the opportunity to. I think it’s great that you’re telling us more about what happens behind the scenes.
I think when you make the decision to put yourself in this industry where you’re putting yourself in front of people, you’re putting yourself on social media, you’re maybe on the television at some point, you’re on the radio, you’re choosing to put yourself out there and whatever you get back is your responsibility, which I’m okay with.
What I was slightly nervous about was sharing the stories of my friends and family. Various people that are in the book (including Brian May) have read it as you suddenly feel a responsibility for sharing somebody else’s experiences.
And then the album, did you say you did an album in lockdown as well?
Yes! The lockdown album is called Feels Like Home. I self-published and self-produced this album. So I’ve done albums in very various different ways but I wanted to do something because I was going on tour around the country and doing lots of lots of my own shows. I wanted something that I could sing and something a bit old school too. I’m very proud of this album! It’s been a really nice journey – that I’ve recorded, writing to people, sending them out and getting so many lovely messages back. And that’s been really lovely. Really lovely.
I’ve got a few left, but once they’re gone they’re gone!
Lockdown has simplified life a little bit. And you even took the music back to the simple times of listening to a CD! How old are your boys and how did you manage lockdown and homeschooling?
Well, we’re usually so busy with my husband, our hours are always changing.
I might be away for a week and then I might be around for a month. So it’s always a bit chaotic. So lockdown had real bonuses – that we all just stopped. We were together as a unit for that period of time. Yes, it was stressful (the homeschooling was) but actually being at home as a unit and not having to go anywhere and not being able to go anywhere was actually really nice.
We could have dinner together. We could go on walks together and we could just go back to doing simple things. We would all take the dog out etc. There were challenges, I think that everybody being locked up for that long, without anything else going on, it’s really difficult.
I’m quite lucky that my boys are quite confident and they don’t really take things to heart too much. They just get on with it.
Do either of your boys look like they’re following in your footsteps?
My youngest might – he goes to a theatre college, but they do weekend classes for kids. He sings around the house and he’ll move to music. So there’s definitely something there!
The only time I think they were impressed was when one of the songs came out that Brian (May) and I redid in lockdown called Panic Attack. I was doing an interview on breakfast television, but I was in the office doing this interview as everybody had to do them on Zoom.
So I was in the office and they had it on in the kitchen. So they were watching me in the kitchen and then that freaked them out!
I performed whilst pregnant, and by the time they were born, I was taking them on tour. So they were in and out of theatres and they were on tour buses!
What’s the best job you’ve ever had?
There’s lots! I’m always grateful to be working and to be doing a job that I love. I like that there’s so many different elements to it. One day I could be singing Defying Gravity with an orchestra at the Albert Hall and then the next set could be doing a podcast. I like the variety.
Perhaps Broadway because that was a childhood dream. And my first West End show was a big deal (My Fair Lady). There was those moments that I’d think ‘how does this happen? And how am I here’?
It’s perspective, isn’t it!
Yes. I’ve done bits of radio and stuff before, but nothing like my podcast, that was a real moment for me to not be the person being interviewed, and to be asking questions. They were all people that I’d worked with or had done shows with. I want a ‘performance’ to talk to another creative and have a chat and see where that goes. And that’s how it worked. I wasn’t trying to get anything from anybody, I was just having a chat.
When you’ve got a passion for something, and when you’ve got an interest in something, it’s not a job, you just enjoy doing it. And it takes you on this lovely, wonderful, weird journey that you’re just invested in because you love it!
I think one of the main reasons why you’ve done so well is because it’s coming from an authentic place. What strikes me with you is it has come from the place of joy from day one and you’ve kept that.
Well, when I met my husband, (we’ve been together nearly 13 years now) he was working in sales. I met him and then six weeks later, I flew to New York. It was literally just before I was going to do work and I thought it was really bad timing.
He ended up coming out to see me. I remember we were sat in Central Park, talking about life and careers. He admired that I loved what I did, and he told me he liked football, so I asked why he didn’t work in football. When he got back from New York he started his journey to work in football.
We’ve got to work for a living but if you don’t love your job, it can be really difficult and really tight. But if you love something, you’ll go the extra mile and you’ll get up and you’ll want to go to work.
You’ve got a song called Panic Attack, and I want to ask you about this. Have you suffered from panic attacks yourself? Did you write the song? What is the inspiration behind that?
Panic attacks. Brian (May) and I co-wrote some new songs and he had the essence of that song. He was out on tour with Queen and it’s amazing that somebody of that stature on a worldwide tour could have an insecurity, have a panic attack, have that moment of fear. Being the legend that he is and how he could go through something like that. So he came back off tour and we progressed the song together. We put it on the album and didn’t really think too much about it.
When the lockdown happened, I put it on one of my stories. I don’t know what possessed me to do it and I tagged the song. Brian called me because it had resonated as a lot of people were experiencing anxiety at that time – because nobody knew what was going on.
Brian’s quite openly talks about his anxiety and depression. And then he bought this song up and suggested we put it out again.
He did a solo guitar and we went back and forth with a few new lyrics and that was it – it was just to kind of give people a bit of comfort. There was no agenda with it.
Being an anxiety sufferer myself, the solution to panic attacks, to anxiety, is living through that feeling and knowing that you are going to be okay so that your brain recognises and says, ‘it’s okay. I recognise this’.
I think a lot of people say we’re not saving lives and the worst thing that could happen is I might forget my line. So I ask myself what is the worst that can happen and off I go. We’re only human. It’s giving yourself an easier ride.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your life so far that you would share with myself and our listeners?
The older I get the more I’m grateful to have the life that I lead and the people around me, my friends, my family. I think you acknowledge it a little bit more.
What I’ve learned along the way is just to be kind to people because kindness is just such a nicer world to live in. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, what colour your skin is or what nationality you are. We just have to be a bit kinder to each other. And I think the world would be a little bit of a better place. If you go through life being a little bit more gracious and a bit and a bit nicer to people, then it will come back to you.
When’s your next live performance? Where can people see you?
I’m so excited for Christmas. There’s lots of concerts. In London and all over the country – it’s all on my website at kerryellis.com.
Thank you to Kerry Ellis for joining Sarah Tucker on The Mortgage Mum Podcast for this insightful podcast episode.
Listen to The Mortgage Mum Podcast on all major podcast directories including Apple and Spotify. You can also catch up on previous episodes on our website and on The Mortgage Mum YouTube channel.