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Martine McCutcheon is finding her voice again after illness lasting years

After years of being laid low by a debilitating condition, Martine McCutcheon is back - belting out Bond numbers in a new show. She reveals to Alison Jones how she found the strength to perform again.

British actress and performer Martine McCutcheon

Martine McCutcheon will be standing, twitching in the wings at Symphony Hall tonight, waiting for the strains of a very familiar Bond theme tune to reach her.

As one of the stars in a showcase of the work of Oscar-winning lyricist Don Black, Martine will be belting out The Man With The Golden Gun, among other numbers.

It is being hailed as her comeback after her career has been blighted by a seven year struggle against the debilitating illness ME.

It led to weight gain, depression and cost her lucrative jobs as she battled fatigue and joint pain so severe that at times she was wheelchair-bound.

However, having successfully reached a point where she can manage her condition, Martine said she was thrilled to be getting back on stage.

“I’ve seen pictures of Symphony Hall and out of all the venues it does look pretty amazing. It’s perfect for what we are going to be doing because we are all going to be glammed up and have an orchestra.

“I do feel nervous, I have always been very nervous. Once I am on stage I am fine. In the dressing room beforehand I am a nightmare. If anyone is talking to me I don’t really listen.

“I think that is a good thing because with the nerves you get adrenaline and you get that spark of what pushes you on and makes you hit those notes.”

When she was performing in My Fair Lady in the West End, shortly after leaving EastEnders, the show that had made her a household name, she used to get so keyed up she started to develop a compulsive disorder.

“I was a wreck. I had so many superstitions. Everything had to be an even number. If I touched wood once I had to touch it twice so it was an even number. It was bonkers. I looked like a lunatic in the wings, but it worked for me.

“I definitely had OCD, no doubt about it, but thankfully that has gone.”

She struggled with her health during My Fair Lady. Her understudy had to take over the role when Martine was laid low by a virus and she eventually left the production several months before she was due to officially step down.

Martine says she now enjoys projects like the Symphony Hall showcase, where she is working with Gary Wilmot and Maria Friedman, compared to the rigours of nightly shows and matinees during a long theatre run.

“When you do something again and again and again for 18 months, no matter how great it is, I think it can get a bit tedious.

“I prefer doing concerts. I love singing with an orchestra and it is something we’re all excited and a bit nervous about every night, rather than ‘Oh, we are doing it again?’.”

It is only in the past 12 months that Martine has started to feel well enough to reclaim the mic.

“The thing I was worried about before I ever agreed to do anything last year was whether I would have the energy.

“These songs are a big sing, but by the time I had met Don I was so much better and I knew I could take it on.”

Don personally invited Martine to take part after meeting her at a birthday for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s son.

“My husband (the singer songwriter Jack McManus) is friends with Andrew’s son and Don is his godfather.

“We got chatting and he said ‘I would really love for you to sing these songs’.

“I hadn’t sung in a long time and felt quite nervous about it, so he took me out to dinner and just reeled off all these songs. I didn’t realise he had written them all.

“I was just thinking ‘God! This is Don Black who has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson and he is asking me. I’d be an idiot to say no’.’’

In addition to The Man With The Golden Gun, Don urged her to take on a number from the musical Sunset Boulevard.

“It’s called As If We Never Said Goodbye,” says Martine. “That was quite emotional for me. I had lost my confidence quite a bit and that was a bit close to the bone.”

Martine says that her voice was unaffected by her illness, though it had sapped her endurance.

“I think taking time out from singing my voice has matured, become a little stronger. I actually love it now more than I did before.

It has been a long battle back to health for the 37-year-old. There were times, she admits, when she was ready to give up.

“It is such a complex illness. It makes you very depressed and your mind plays tricks on you.

“It seems to knock you off tilt, off balance and everything just becomes upside down and back to front, like a virus in a computer.

“My mum was really frightened of it. I think she went to pot more than me because she saw her daughter in such a bad way.

“But my husband was just so strong. Even when I wanted to give up, to say ‘I am giving into this because it is going to be this way for ever’, he would say ‘I know in my heart it is not and you can’t think like that otherwise it has won. We will keep going until we find a way that will make you better’.

“I was so thankful to have that one person that did that. He’s my best friend.’’

Martine is now at the stage where she says she can manage her condition. Getting back to music has been part of the mending process. She has been writing songs and recording an album which she hopes to release this year.

It is 14 years since she had her global number one with Perfect Moment. She recorded three albums. The first went Platinum, the second Gold but the last, which came out in 2002, failed to break into the top 40.

“The (new) album was just a really good outlet for me from everything,” she says. “I just thought it was time to do some good with some of the bad stuff’.

“It has been cathartic because when you write you have to lay your emotions bare and that is what people are going to connect with.’’

Martine, who attended the Italia Conti stage school, found fame playing tragic Tiffany in EastEnders and as a potty-mouthed tea girl who wins the heart of Hugh Grant’s PM in Love Actually.

Now she is giving her career a kick-start by mixing it with singing and even presenting, with occasional slots on This Morning.

“The acting was the most amazing and fortunate accident but it was the last thing on my list. The music has always been there.”

* Martine will be a guest artist in The Don Black Songbook at Symphony Hall tonight (April 3). For details call 0121 345 0600 or visit www.thsh.co.uk

 
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