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Debut: Maria Friedman

The Independent, 12 July 2000

Theatre: Debut: Maria Friedman: The Job, Backing Singer; The Group, Vernon Nesbit And Sonnet; The Venue, Mayfair Connection. Interview by David Benedict

"After a brief spell at Arts Educational School, where all I really learned was how to smoke cigarettes and kiss boys, I did 14 jobs while I searched for a career. I started as an au pair in Windsor to three children called Daniano, Prospero and Borge for the huge sum of 10 a week. Then I worked in a pub, a delicatessen and a children's home. I was assistant manager on toys in Harvey Nichols for nearly a year and worked for a shipping company where I was told I had too much sunshine in my soul for the office. I was even given a budget to tone down my outfits. I'd do things like put people through to the speaking clock or lock friends in the stationery cupboard which at the time I thought was highly amusing.

"I wound up as a receptionist in a music company where I got on everyone's nerves by singing all the time. I told them I really could sing, and they'd say "sure", but one day someone dropped out of a Marmite advertisement so I took over as a backing singer, but because I wasn't professional they didn't pay me.

"Then I auditioned as a singing waitress at a Beefeater restaurant where you had to dress up as Anne Boleyn and do merry-wench dancing. I sang 'The Way We Were' and didn't get the job, but a group of us rejects went to another audition as backing singers for someone called Vernon Nesbit, who'd had a hit in the Sixties and had a backing group called Sonnet. To my complete bafflement, I got the job.

"We rehearsed in a basement in Victoria for three months with no gig in sight. His wife said: "I see lace skirts, lurexy silvery tights and boob tubes," and the next day we were in her net curtains dipped in black. I was only 18 but I looked geriatric with great big eyelashes. It all seemed so glamorous. We played strip joints and stuff, running between somewhere called Mayfair Connection and the Churchill Club and I sang "Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh" to some tune and took it incredibly seriously. We toured Europe playing casinos and so on. I slept in baths and God knows what. When it was over I got home to find an Equity card popped through the letter-box. I'd never really had designs on being an actor but now that I had the all-important card I thought, "well, I'll give it a go" and ended up in the back row of the chorus playing Doris - no-one, in other words - in Oklahoma!. We toured for a year and did six months at the Palace where Les Mis is now. I was on the cast album. I can't remember who released it but Woolworths sold it and one night they offered to take the principals out for supper but no-one wanted to go. I thought, a free meal? Of course I'll go. I sat between Pic'n'mix South and Broken Biscuits North-West and was reduced to asking "Do you break the biscuits" and "How do you choose the sweets?". My first corporate invitation. And my last."

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