AN AUDIENCE WITH WINCEY WILLIS
Courtyard Theatre, Hereford, Thursday 22nd May, 2014
Mention the name Wincey Willis and people’s eyes flicker with recognition. Remind them – if they need it – that she was the ‘weather girl’ on TV-AM in the 1980s and their faces will break into a smile. They might recall she did other things too. Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt, for example. Or they might have seen her in pantomime…
Off our screens for too long, Wincey takes us through her life story, revealing that the period of fame she enjoyed is not the only talk-worthy feather in her cap.
The evening is relaxed. Wincey is clearly at ease as producer Matthew Jones asks questions and prompts anecdotes, in a casual, we’re-all-friends-here, manner. When there is a problem with her mic crackling, Wincey is unfazed. Years of live TV broadcasts have honed presenting skills that are still very much in evidence.
We hear about her early life, her strict adoptive mother, the trouble she got into at school. Wincey tells us funny stories in an offhand way, with the kind of deadpan Northern camp that would make her ideal for Alan Bennett.
But it’s not all jolly japes and comic cuts. Wincey is open and frank about her adoptive mother’s coldness and, startlingly, about a plan to overdose with pills rather than continue to live with unrelenting, chronic and undiagnosed pain. (It turned out to be a severe caffeine allergy.)
Stories are illustrated by projections of photographs from Wincey’s personal collection, adding impact to her recollections. There are some touching moments of how she used professional fame to call in favours and make some dying kids happy and, from her personal life, the decline into dementia of a beloved aunt.
There are also examples of her poetry, including a recording from BBC Radio 4 of a powerful piece she wrote about learning the name of her birth mother.
It’s not so much a confessional as a “this was me then and this is me now” kind of thing. Wincey doesn’t dish the dirt on other celebs (although I’m sure she could) – this is a much classier affair. You cannot fail to enjoy her company.
She tells exciting tales of turtle egg conservation which involve being shot at – Wincey gave up telly to pursue her lifelong passion for wildlife protection and travelled the world in far from glamorous conditions. She had the time of her life.
What made Wincey popular on the small screen is what continues to make her so likeable today: she is down-to-earth, honest and funny, with a generosity of spirit that draws you in and makes you feel at home.
A thoroughly charming and engaging couple of hours – including a surprise a capella rendition of Summertime and a generous helping of laughter, An Audience With Wincey Willis demonstrates audiences still have a great deal to enjoy from this popular figure of yesteryear.