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Leanne Campbell conjures panto magic at St Helens

She may not keep an exact count, but it’s fair to say Leanne Campbell has appeared in more pantos than most people have had hot Christmas dinners.

“I’ve probably done two pantos a year since I was 10, and I’m now 42,” she says after some thought. “I’ve only missed one year to get married and one year to give birth.

“I was pregnant (with her daughter Annabel, now 10) when I did Cinderella at St Helens Theatre Royal, and they had to keep letting out my costume!

“I’d say it’s hard to not become addicted to panto.”

So, it’s going to be a big change for the Liverpool actress and Radio City Breakfast Show host this year, as while she’s appearing in Aladdin at St Helens, it’s anything but ‘business as usual’ for her.

Because rather than appearing on stage twice a day over Christmas and New Year (in addition to her early morning radio show), for 2023 she’s materialising purely as a ‘digital Genie’ of the Mirror with the help of cutting-edge audio-visual technology.

What is she going to do with all that free festive time?

“It will either be absolutely great or I’m going to miss every minute,” she laughs.

“What’s going to be lovely is I’ll be with the kids on Christmas Eve. Although when they were little, they spent Christmas Eve backstage.

“But this year I’m going to do a Christmas Eve party, the whole thing. And it will also be the first time I get to watch a panto WITH my children.”

Still, perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that family Christmas plans or not, the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd means she may find her way into the theatre and even on to the stage over the course of Aladdin’s run.

“I think I’m going to make some surprise appearances and maybe pop up for a little performance here and there,” she admits.

Above: The cast of St Helens' panto Aladdin. Top: Leanne Campbell is playing the Genie of the Mirror.

It was also in Aladdin where Campbell started her panto career as a 10-year-old dancer in the Liverpool Empire’s 1991 festive extravaganza, memorable for starring Mr T from the A Team as the Genie - along with Bradley Walsh playing Wishee Washee in one of his earliest professional acting roles.

She went on to appear in a host of non-panto shows and to study at the prestigious Laine Theatre Arts in London.

Yet whatever else she’s done on stage, pantomime has managed to lure her back each year.

Two decades after appearing with Mr T she was in another Aladdin at the Empire, but this time playing Princess Jasmine to Ray Quinn’s titular washerwoman’s son, just one of a host of panto leads she’s played at the theatre over the years, including the Wicked Queen in Snow White.

She has also trodden the Christmas boards at the Royal Court, the Auditorium at the arena, New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion and, of course, at St Helens, where this year’s Regal Entertainments show is being directed by theatre manager Chantelle Nolan – who as a young girl appeared alongside Campbell in that same famous Mr T panto.

Now it’s back to Aladdin again, and an all-singing, all-dancing production which also stars Emmerdale’s Liam Fox making his panto debut as Abanazer, alongside talented local panto regulars like Tim Lucas, Lewis Devine and Warren Donnelly.

According to Campbell, there’s nothing quite like a Merseyside audience – “they’re there for a good time, you don’t have to encourage them. They’re fully rehearsed!” – so expect there to be plenty of seasonal cheer in the air.

Aladdin is at St Helens Theatre Royal from December 2 to January 14. Tickets HERE


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