Comedienne Victoria Wood is bringing the acclaimed stage show Acorn Antiques to Birmingham. Emma Pinch takes a shaky pew next to her.
She's arguably Britain's funniest woman of all time. And at 53 with a softly glinting blonde bob – the rather dodgy pudding-bowl do of yesteryear gone – and clear blue eyes, she is in great nick. But Miss Wood is not expecting anything pink or heart-shaped to greet her this Valentine's Day morning.
"Too busy" she trilled wryly, employing the time-honoured excuse called on by single celebrities when grilled about their (lack of) love life. But in Victoria Wood's case it could well be true.
As well as finishing off a new series which she's penned for BBC 1 – Victoria's Empire where she travels the world, visiting the pink bits from old maps – and writing and starring in the hauntingly sad Housewife 49, she has directed and written a new version of Acorn Antiques The Musical, due to land at the Hippodrome later this month.
It was re-worked she said simply because the old one was "too long". She says "it's nice, with lots of singing and dancing" and it makes her laugh every time she watches it.
While the last production received a mixed reception, this has one has got rave reviews. She is taking an extended break from the stand-up shows which made her name, with her semi-retirement coming at roughly the same time she split from magician husband Geoffrey Durham in 2002.
She says simply: "I didn't have anything to say really."
These days she prefers writing and acting and spending time with her two children. She seems tired but comfortable in her own skin, in her jeans and boots and soft black T-shirt top. She talks honestly and simply, not just to fill up empty space.
In a comedy pantheon crammed with ironic stereotypes like Vicky Pollard and David Brent, Victoria Wood's performances still shine.
She hopes so. "I don't know if there's a niche for me any more. I hope there is but you never know until you try. It's not just because there's new people around it invalidates what you do – if you're good, you're good."
Wood likes Peter Kay, Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci – there are plenty she doesn't care for too but would not put in print because reading things like that about herself is "so upsetting".
"I think, why don't you like me?" she wails. "I don't think stand-up comedy is difficult at all. Stand-up is different, but it's not more difficult doing it as a woman."
Her natural shyness helped her become a comedian. "I think the best thing for a shy person is to be a stand-up comic. It gets you out of the house and you know what you are doing on stage. I feel very comfortable in that space."
One space she doesn't feel comfortable in is the red carpet-style events like the Baftas.
"I just don't go if I can't wear my jeans," she said. "If I have to buy a frock I just don't go. I have a Betty Jackson blue velvet jacket and that's it. I'm not a girl any more."
She added: "I think the rest of us should have our own event. A beige carpet event where nobody takes our photograph, we get a free box of Maltesers and a comfy seat and we don't have to wear elasticated pants and a backless dress."
Wood finds the idea of dating "bizarre", adding she only spent time with people she worked with or had known for years. Speed-dating, she said, ran the risk of people commenting on how like Victoria Wood she looked.
"Is it Valentine's Day? I don't have a partner so I won't get any Valentine's cards. I blank it because it doesn't mean anything. It's like Burns Night or Halloween. If I was in love I would be rushing round buying balloons and things."
Dawn French recently presented a series looking at funny women, and how they were regarded by society.
Are men put off by funny women?
"Yeah, possibly," she said. "But if it was someone who liked you, he would like you to be funny. I'm sure Lenny must find Dawn funny. Otherwise it would have been a very tragic marriage all these years, seeing him sitting there stony-faced.
"I think successful women are threatening to men. Having more money than they have – that's what they really can't bear."
She won't be hanging around waiting for the phone to ring. One of her ambitions is write a film.
"I'd like to do a small, very low budget British movie," she said. "A gangster film. Or horror, with someone's legs being sawn off."
In fact, with her unstoppable talent, she could probably take her pick.
Acorn Antiques The Musical is at Birmingham Hippodrome (08707 301234) from February 26-March 3 and at Warwick Arts Centre (02476 524524) from March 5-10.