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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Denise van Outen

Actress, singer and TV presenter (not to mention wife and mum to 2-year-old Betsy), Denise van Outen lives anything but a boring life. When she’s not narrating The Only Way is Essex or spending time at one of her favourite charities, the Rare Breeds Centre, you can find Denise enjoying our very own Garden of England, the place she now calls home.

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You attended Sylvia Young Acting School when you were younger. Was acting always a dream for you before attending?

Before I attended I was at a local dance school, but I wanted to go to Sylvia Young because I imagined it would be just like Fame, but of course it was nothing like that. It was fun but it was hard work as well. I wanted to do more singing and dancing before I attended but I grew into the acting as I progressed through the school because they encouraged you to do a bit of everything there.

Sylvia once sat me down and told me not to focus on one thing, to try and do a bit of everything because then I know I’ll always work. I’m so grateful for that advice, because a lot of people say try and find something you’re good at and stick with it, but the industry these days is so unpredictable that can’t always be the case.

When you were younger, who was your biggest inspiration to get you motivated to work harder?

A real mix of people. I grew up in the 70s and watched TV in the 80s, but the people who really inspired me were the kids from Fame. Nowadays, it’s all about High School Musical, but back then it was Fame. I loved the idea of the all-singing, all-dancing school that you could go to.

What was the difference between acting on Broadway and here in the UK?

I think for me, the audiences were equally difficult to please because the standards were both so high, but I was more relaxed out in New York because I didn’t have the pressure of people knowing me. When I did Chicago in the West End it was straight off the back of The Big Breakfast and at that time my profile was quite high so there was a lot of media interest and I felt like I was being judged from day one; whereas in New York I felt like I could find my feet a little bit more.

I was lucky because I got reviewed really well review by the American press which is good because when you get good results in America, it helps your career. Since having my daughter, I’ve had an idea to do a one woman show which I have been wanting to do for a long time, and finally it’s just been finished. And I got the idea from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On a Sunday, which is a one woman show. I loved the experience and I feel that I want to do an up to date, modern version of that. Andrew’s version was written in the 70s and to me that’s a bit dated, so I think the one we’ve just written will appeal to women of my age. 

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Did you enjoy your time on The Big Breakfast and is presenting something you would like to go back to at some stage?

I loved The Big Breakfast, and yes, presenting is definitely something I’ll go back to; in fact I’m doing it at the moment with Day Break. I love it. My choice in television if I’m going to do it would be a live show because I like the adrenaline rush and I think it’s the same adrenaline rush you get if you’re doing a West End show. I’m at my best under a bit of pressure.

If you had to choose one career choice because you enjoyed it the most between acting, singing or presenting on television, which would it be?

Everybody asks me this and I really can’t choose. The thing is, with the work that I do, I judge each job by the people that I’m working with. I’m really lucky that most jobs I’ve done I’ve really enjoyed. I think the only one I really struggled with was when I did the Capital Breakfast radio show, but that was very bad timing because I’d just met Lee, we were trying for a family and there were all sorts of things going on, so it was hard for me to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and work silly hours. It just didn’t put me in the best state of mind.

Apart from that I’ve really enjoyed every one of my jobs. I did a film last year, a British comedy called Run for your Wife which is out later this year, with Sarah Harding, Danny Dyer and Neil Morrissey. I absolutely loved that too. When I left I thought that’s it, I just want to do comedy. I really enjoy everything I do; I’m very lucky.

You narrate in The Only Way Is Essex. Have you been surprised by the show’s success or has it lived up to expectations?

I had a feeling it would live up to its expectations. The creator of it, a woman called Ruth, is one of the people who was involved in the success of The Big Breakfast and Big Brother. She’s a very clever lady and everything she touches turns to gold. People from Essex are real characters; they’re products of the East End and I knew this show really had potential. So no, I’m not surprised by its success.

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For this forthcoming issue of insideKENT Magazine, we are doing a photo competition of the best scenery in Kent. Where is your favourite view within the county?

I can’t choose a favourite; there are so many places that I love. I ended up in Kent by doing a TV advert for Morrisons. I was being hoisted up on a crane at Headcorn Aerodrome for about four days shooting for this advert and I absolutely loved the aerial view I had. I went on a mission to live in Kent. We started looking around different villages and just fell in love with it. It’s great for families, there are so many things to do and it’s so pretty.

What do you like to do on a lovely, sunny weekend in Kent?

We go to Whitstable quite a lot, which we love. We go to Leeds Castle and take my nieces and nephews. One of the places I must mention because I do a lot of charity work for them is the Rare Breeds Centre. I take my daughter there quite a lot and I love it; it’s such a special place. I’ve got to know some of the staff there and the way the charity itself is run is just brilliant.

We also go to Howletts, and I recently went glamping at Port Lympne for my birthday – it was the best weekend, just fantastic. We often go to the Three Chimneys, and also the George in Cranbrook. We like going for a nice drive and end up going for lunch somewhere. We all as a family love the little steam train that runs through Tenterden. We just love Kent, it’s ideal for families and there’s always something to do.

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We’d like to know more about your charity work. In 2009 you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Gary Barlow and Chris Moyles for Comic Relief. Which charities are you currently working with and how are you raising money?

I work with three main charities at the moment. Firstly, Breast Cancer Care. I trekked through the Andes to Machu Picchu last year. I do quite a lot of work for them.

Secondly, Great Ormond Street Hospital. This year I cycled through Rajasthan on a 329-mile cycle and raised money for them. I did that with Lydia from The Only Way Is Essex.

And my other charity is the Rare Breeds Centre. Paul O’Grady is also an ambassador for them. It’s important to support your local charities and I really feel a strong connection there; I’m very passionate about it. Once my daughter starts school I’m sure I’ll be involved in a lot more charities. My husband also recently opened the Tenterden Summer Fair – we’re trying to get involved with the local community as much as we can.

Would you like your daughter Betsy to follow your footsteps in a few year time, or is there anything in particular you would love her to do as an occupation?

I’m going to say exactly what my mother said to me: I really don’t mind as long as she focuses on her education. If she wants to do any acting or dancing then of course she can, either after school hours or at the weekend; she just needs to get a good education. I’m starting to sound like my parents!

If she does want to get into to the industry I’d have to make sure she’s passionate about it because it’s a tough business and I’d have to know that she really, really wants to do it. There’d be pressure on her as well because she’d be my daughter and it could go against her if people have high expectations of her.

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years’ time and why?

That’s a hard one. For me it’s about being a good parent. I’d like to try a lot more acting. I’ve never done a play so I’d really like to try that. Actually we have a vegetable garden and I’d like to focus on that! So professionally I’d like to do a play and personally I’d like to grow some good vegetables!

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