You might think it’s a glamorous life, standing on a stage, talking to an audience about the best comedians the UK has ever known, but a lot has occurred to get me onto that stage. I have had an audition in front of Carnival elite bookers, where as well as entertaining them I sang, without accompaniment, gaining a round of applause.
To get to the P&O ship Oriana Pam and I got out of bed at 2am, for the 6am flight from Heathrow to Madrid, changing planes from one end of the airport to the other with limited time, then arriving in the wonderful June heat of Gran Canaria. It is quite strange, really, being part of the entertainment crew, because you are set apart from other passengers, regarded highly for your ability to stand on a stage. A driver was waiting for us, as well as a lady singer and an upmarket light classical male quartet. As crew, we had to surrender our passports before boarding, then we had to find our own way to our cabin. Deck five is the lowest for passengers, we were on deck four, which meant that we did have a sealed porthole, but also a four foot bed. My, that was small for two grown-ups.
Within an hour we had listened to the safety instruction, then an hour later we joined the other joining entertainers for WTD. These initials stand for water tight doors. The chief engineer took us to level three, to show us a water tight door that we could possibly have to close. But only under strict supervision, because previous crew members had suffered due to being stuck when they were closing. Don’t know how because it was a very loud Klaxon noise.
After that, it was free time, so we changed, then up to the Crows Nest for the first drink. This is an observation bar on the top of the ship, at the front or to be technical, sharp end, huge windows allowing a panoramic ocean view. And time to test our payment card, because as entertainment crew with passenger status, we had the staff discount on drinks of 50%. There is a great feeling to be enjoying a large gin and tonic on a cruise ship at a third you would be paying onshore. Dinner was enjoyed at the blunt end, atop the Beach House. Some of this was on the open deck, the rest indoors, but we much preferred to brave the occasional breeze as we enjoyed our meal. There is an extra nominal charge, willingly paid on five of our six nights. There is another supplementary restaurant called Sindhu, specialising in Indian cuisine, apparently very good.
We had six days to appreciate before docking at Southampton. There were to be three days at sea, so each day I gave a talk about a different UK comedian. If you are reading this under 50, or living outside UK waters, then you may not recognise the names of the stars I was talking about, Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom, and Max Miller. Fifteen minutes of Tommy had been part of my audition, so I was ready that first morning on the main stage.
It is a unique sensation, standing off stage in the wings, watching the audience arrive, the theatre filling up, people chatting away, looking forward to being entertained. The entertainment director arrived to introduce me, and then I was away. Three quarter of an hour standing there all on my own, no-one to assist me if I bombed, forgot my lines, stammered, or got booed off. Having sixty slides helped, because each one triggered a Tommy tale, full of anecdotes about the great man. The time went really quickly, I didn’t over-run which is a real cruise ship sin, lots of laughter and applause, then standing chatting to people as I was divested of my microphone and equipment.
Tommy was such a popular man, so many years after his passing his memories and jokes are still there. ‘I had a dream last night where I was eating a giant marshmallow. When I woke up the pillow had gone.’ Walking around the ship afterwards, posing for photos with fellow passengers, chatting away about other Tommy anecdotes, it made me feel so good.
If you like what you are reading, would you like to join our select team? We would like you to share your cruising experience, 400 – 800 words, with photos. We have a British Library issued ISSN number, so we will show you how to register with the ALCS and gain Royalties from your writing.