The last time I sang in public I was dressed as a huge turnip. I was playing the Bosnian hostess in a pastiche of the Eurovision Song Contest and I had a solo called “I’m Sarajevo”. Had Gareth Malone seen it, he would have thrown his head in his hands.
I haven’t sung anything serious since I was in the school choir. I’m afraid I joined because the end-of-year concert was at the boys’ school. I was 13 and in an all-girls school: you do not turn down an offer like that even if does mean four months of Brahms’ Requiem.
When I announced to my daughters that I was doing [Gareth’s All Star Choir for Children in Need], their heads went down on the kitchen table. I knew what they were thinking: “You embarrass us enough! Please God, don’t add to that by singing as well!” I can empathise. My mum used to sing her way round the shops. She’d do these strange little ditties while we stood at the butcher’s counter until I wanted to gouge my own eyes out with embarrassment.
They wouldn’t tell us who else had volunteered so the first rehearsal was like the first day of school: who is going to be in my class? Who am I going to sit next to? Will they like me? We sounded like a bunch of cats being castrated, but Gareth’s good at masking his anxiety under layers of tweed. Lesson number one was that you don’t always have to sing loudly: better to be in tune.
Three rehearsals in, he made us all audition in front of each other for the solo parts. Standing up and singing on your own is terrifying; you feel as if somebody has stripped you of all your clothes. I can reveal that Craig Revel Horwood’s right leg was shaking uncontrollably. I was sweating from top to toe. I had to start again because suddenly I was crying and my voice was cracking… I just found it unbearably emotional. Mind you, I am 46; I’m probably peri-menopausal.
Everyone says choirs are amazing, they’re therapeutic, they’re like an endorphin — and it is absolutely the truth. I thoroughly recommend it. Next time my elder daughter’s school choir does a big concert, you might find me sneaking into the back row. I’ve got the bug.
Gareth’s All Star Choir is on BBC1 tonight (3 November) at 9.00pm