Meet Zoe Birkett, Star of The Bodyguard as it Comes to Newcastle
Consett-born star Zoe Birkett has reprised her role as Rachel Marron in the award-winning international smash hit musical The Bodyguard (coming to Newcastle this month)
The Bodyguard returns to Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th August and Zoe is no stranger to the role, having previously starred as Rachel Marron in the matinee performances at the iconic Grey Street venue during the production’s 2015 tour.
Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is hired to protect superstar Rachel from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don’t expect is to fall in love. Based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Oscar nominated Warner Bros. movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard had its world premiere at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End and was nominated for four Olivier Awards.
Zoe was the highest placing female contestant on the first series of Pop Idol (aged just 16 she finished fourth behind Will Young, Gareth Gates and Darius Danesh). During the programme, she performed Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time, I Will Always Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me). But she’s always been a theatre-loving kid. ‘Since then, I’ve had a crazy 20 years,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve had fantastic opportunities and some great work. I trained in musical theatre and I was in professional shows as a youngster – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Twits, for example. I’ve always been dancing, singing and acting.
‘Theatre has always been my background and Pop Idol was just another audition. I loved going down that route. I got to release my own singles and it was a great five years of experience, but I did miss performing every day. You’re in the studio a lot, you do interviews, but you don’t really perform live that often. I got back into musical theatre again because I loved it and I wanted to try out some new roles. I’ve been very blessed that I’ve been able to continue working in theatre for the last 15 years.’
In 2009, Zoe was cast in West End theatre and performed in Priscilla Queen of the Desert until 2011 before being cast as the lead singer in Garrick Theatre's 2011 production of Respect La Diva, and became the leading lady of Thriller Live the following year. ‘There have been so many highlights,’ she says. ‘This year so far has been pretty epic. Obviously the pandemic really took its toll on this industry but off the back off that I’ve been very blessed to have not stopped working. I was in the original cast of Moulin Rouge in the West End and I got to perform at the Oliver Awards and Britain’s Got Talent. I got awarded the BroadwayWorld award for Best Supporting Performer in a Musical which was fantastic. Straight after Moulin Rouge, I went straight into The Great British Bake Off: The Musical in the West End where I was one of the presenters, which was brilliant fun and very different to Moulin Rouge which was very athletic (can-can kicking whilst singing, that sort of thing). For Bake Off I was simply hired to be a presenter and I really enjoyed both!
‘While I was working on Bake Off, I was offered a role in The Witches which starts in September. That’s with the National Theatre which is just iconic. Anyone who’s a serious actor plays the National. So the beginning of 2023 was like “woah!”. The last 18 months have been crazy. I had the call about The Bodyguard saying “we know you have The Witches in September but are you free over the summer to reprise the role you played almost eight years ago?” I thought, you know what, let’s do it! Everything’s changed, including myself! The last time I played this role I was a lot younger. I wasn’t a mother and I wasn’t married. This is lovely for my family actually because the first time I played the role, I was one year into the relationship with my now husband and we were just finding our feet as a partnership and a team, so we have very special memories of that tour. When we got married I walked down the aisle to All the Man That I Need by Whitney Houston because that was our song. Now that I’m a mother, my daughter will be coming to see me in that same role and that’s the real cherry on top of the cake – getting to come back as a wife, as a mother and as a stronger actress and vocalist. I’m really excited to be back.’
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Zoe is particularly excited about returning to the North East. ‘Northern people always blow my mind,’ she says. ‘Whenever I come back I get a lot of “go on pet”, which is lovely. They are my family. They’ve watched me grow up and they’ve been backing me since Pop Idol. I’m really looking forward to heading back to home turf and standing at stage door and chatting to people. It’ll be really special to be home.’ She also runs The Zoe Birkett Academy to support budding stars. ‘I put on workshops twice or three times a year in between my breaks to give youngsters opportunities. London is expensive so the idea of my academy is that I bring some of the best actors, singers, dancers and choreographers from there up North to give children to opportunity to work with these professionals, who know what’s going on in the industry, and to get their advice. Arts in the North is growing. I have lots of friends who have their own stage schools and dance schools and I think it’s just a case of keeping as much support going as possible. To never stop growing and learning is important in this industry – continue to practice. I had a singing lesson just last week. People are often surprised by that but of course I don’t necessarily need them. It’s like maintenance. This growth is important and that’s down to discipline.’
Zoe’s excited about her future on stage. ‘There are lots of new shows coming over from Broadway,’ she says. ‘Hadestown is coming over which was with the National Theatre a few years ago and is coming back to West End. The music is incredible and right up my street – jazzy and very urban with a great storyline. The door is very much open for opportunities but I’m in The Witches now until February next year, so I’m just excited to see what’s next!’