Award-winning actress, stand-up comic and best-selling author Crissy Rock is in a Teeside tailback, and has clearly forgotten our 11am phone date.
We go ahead anyway, while Crissy inches slowly along amid A19 amid traffic gridlock, ‘hands-free’ communication and backup satellite navigation saving the day.
She’s not complaining anyway, showing more concern for a driver cut out of his over-turned tanker by fire crews and flown to hospital in Middlesbrough by air ambulance.
“You’ve just got to think of the poor driver. It could be any of us. I’m just hoping he’s alright.”
For someone based in the North-East a couple of years, there’s no denying Crissy has retained a strong Liverpudlian accent, while her croaky tones suggest a busy social life over the years.
Our reason for this barely-mobile phone chat was Crissy’s role in Dirty Dusting, ‘an evening of pure theatrical Viagra’ apparently.
“It’s brilliant. We can’t wait. We’re really excited to be on tour again. When we first went out it was like, ‘Is anybody ready for this?’ but it’s just gone from strength to strength.
“This is our second year and we all get on. There are no prima donnas. We’re like a family. When it’s our last night we’re so upset, because we do everything together, including when we have a day off.”
Crissy – real name Christine Murray – brings Dirty Dusting to Lancashire soon, visiting Oswaldtwistle Civic on Saturday, April 18, then Blackpool Grand on Sunday, April 26.
“That’ll be a shock for Blackpool, won’t it?’
I find it hard to believe anything will shock Blackpool, but she sticks to her guns.
“It’ll be good fun. I hope it really does well there. I’ve done the Grand as a comic but never as an actress.”
Does that put extra pressure on the 56-year-old, whose big break came playing Maggie Conlan in legendary British director Ken Loach’s gritty 1994 film Ladybird, Ladybird?
“No! And we never take for granted we had a good night the night before. You always have to give the same 100% performance. We don’t get lazy.”
Crissy is best known to many as Janey York in Benidorm, a role she played for four years from 2007, returning briefly in the fifth series then again in the seventh series, replacing Sherrie Hewson as the Solona manager.
You may recall she also survived I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2011, finishing sixth in a series won by McFly’s Dougie Poynter.
Then there was Celebrity Come Dine With Me and The Chase, plenty of prime TV such as roles in Peak Practice, Dalziel and Pascoe, Dockers, Brookside, Trial and Retribution and The Commander, plus a daily stand-up comedy stint in a UK cabaret club in the Spanish resort with which she’s associated.
But now her priority is Dirty Dusting, building on a sellout UK tour in 2014, its plot centred around three ‘past their sell-by date’ cleaning ladies who start a phone sex line, ‘Telephone Belles’ Elsie, Gladys and Olive – about to be put out to pasture by an overzealous office manager – working on boosting their falling income.
Thankfully she doesn’t try out any of her lines on me, but Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood’s ‘heart-warming feelgood comedy’ is certainly causing a stir by all accounts.
It’s directed by Crissy’s co-star and fellow comedienne and actress Leah Bell, the pair appearing alongside stage and TV actress Dolores Porretta Brown.
With the show only re-starting with April 9th’s trip to Hull New Theatre, I asked Crissy if she’s been back in southern Spain recently, where the cast of Benidorm are filming the eighth series of the popular comedy drama?
“I was out there for a couple of weeks, but only for a break. I haven’t been involved with the latest series. It was really nice to go back, but I haven’t been invited since.
“It’s nothing personal. Paul (Bazely)’s only just gone back after being out of it for five years, and I’m really thrilled for him. You’ve just got to take what’s there, and never say never.
“I can’t thank (production company) Tiger Aspects enough. They brought the phoenix out of the ashes for me. But we’ll just have to see what comes along.”
Had Crissy worked with Leah Bell before?
“No, but we’re like best mates now, and did All Star Family Fortunes with us.”
On that occasion of the Vernon Kay-fronted quiz show, the Rock family won £10,000 for the Families Fighting for Justice cause.
“I’ve been involved with them for a couple of years. It’s all about families involved with homicides.
“For me the sad part is that the body doesn’t belong to the family, but to the coroner. A lot of them don’t get chance to say goodbye. By the time they get the body back it’s a closed casket.
“There are nearly 500 families in Liverpool alone orphaned to homicide, sometimes with the grandparents bringing them up while having to struggle with the loss of a son or daughter. So it’s nice to give them some money to help with the cause.”
Crissy is also a prime mover in the Just the Tonic charity project for a dry bar in Whitley Bay, her celebrity backers having included fellow Liverpudlian Ricky Tomlinson.
”It’s not just for alcoholics. It’s for people with problems in the family unit, depression and mental health issues and might have been abused as a child.
“It’s what’s going on behind the scenes of the café that’s more to the point. I’ve been finding a room and can’t afford to pay for it myself …”
At this point, the traffic starts moving and Crissy is uncertain where her diversion is taking her.
“I’ll just follow this lot and see where it’s going. Oh no, we’re going the wrong way back up the A19!”
We’re soon back on track though, Crissy carrying on where we left off.
“Someone complained the other day that there was no vodka or whisky. I said, ‘It’s a dry bar! You’re not gonna give an amputee a pair of shoes, are you?’
“Of course, we were all laughing … but I hadn’t meant it to come out like that.”
That’s Crissy in a nutshell – down-to-earth edgy, capable of borderline quips, but well meaning.
Before we can be accused of offending anyone, I get back on to Dirty Dancing and mention Dolores Porretta Brown.
“Dolores is lovely! She’s a fabulous actress. We went to see her in a play and she absolutely stole the show. She’s dead funny as well, and talks terribly far back.”
Crissy’s doing her version of a posh accent now, amid those unmistakable Scouse tones, but is soon distracted again by her continuing travel conundrum.
“Oh no, it’s going to take me on the A1! I’ve got to go round this roundabout now and … shit, I’ve come in the wrong lane! But not to worry, all roads lead home.”
I’m not too sure that all roads lead to Doncaster though.
“I’ll probably get there and it’ll be shut!”
So what does Dirty Dancing’s male cast member, Lee Brannigan, have to put up with these three mad women?
“Ah, he’s lovely, and all excited because we both like the bingo! If he’s got a night off, he’ll go to the bingo.”
Do you think there’s the chance of a feelgood UK movie version of the play a bit further down the road?
“I’d love that! It would be so funny. We’ve heard Bill Kenwright’s coming to see it. That’s only a whisper, but it’ll be great if he does.
“This can really travel, even though it’s a Northern play. The fella who wrote it has been brilliant. It’s about a dozen years old but Leah and me have updated it, putting our own twist on it but on the same wavelength.”
So what she’s saying is they need to be script supervisors if a film comes off.
“Yes! And we’re writing another play between us. It’s about a café and called One Lump or Two. It’s 90 per cent finished.”
So what does Crissy see herself as first and foremost now – actor, stand-up comic or best-selling author?
“Well, the book’s sold a lot but it’s not brought me much. Everyone thinks I must be minted but it’s never happened like that.
“I think you have to write for the joy of writing. You’re supposed to get around £1 a book, but by the time everything is taken off I think I get around 7p a book.
“But if it’s helped just one person it’s been worth it. And it helped me get it off my chest.”
This Heart Within Me Burns, published in 2011, chronicles the ups and downs of a troubled life, including childhood abuse, violent relationships, bankruptcy and homelessness.
After seven months in The Sunday Times’ best-sellers’ top-10 it was released in paperback in 2012 after 35,000 sales, Crissy becoming a regular on ITV’s This Morning discussing the book and its issues.
Does she get a lot of comments from fans inspired by her story in their own lives?
“I’m going to write a follow-up, based on all the comments I’ve had. I went to a club the other night and got this lovely card off a lady saying, ‘Thank you, I read your book, I’ve had a life like yours. It’s helped me see things from a different angle’.
“Forgiveness is worth its weight in gold. You don’t have to forget, but if I forgive him, I forgive me. Carrying all the hatred and bitterness is no good.
“You can’t change what’s happened, but you can change your future. Everything’s for a reason and though that doesn’t always make sense you either come out a better person or you can’t cope with it. I could have turned to drink and drugs.
“One of the saddest things I’ve felt was when this lady came to me, an absolute nervous wreck, God love her, and told me she was in a very abusive relationship.
“She said, ‘But then you smashed the table’. All them years before, the only thing I had left that ‘he’ still wanted was his table, so I put a hammer through it.
“I paid someone £10 for that table, a lot of money to me then, paid off at £2 a week. It wasn’t the best table in the world, but I liked it … and it was mine.
“But he wanted it and I had nowhere to take it anyway. I opened an under-stair cupboard, found a hammer and put it right through it.
“Now this woman told me she felt if I could lose my table, she could lose her abuse. That made me think about what might have happened if I’d have stayed.
“What would I be like now? It brought it all back to me, and I felt so sorry for her.
“I still have dark days but try and brush them aside, convince myself to get a grip. It never ever leaves you but I say, “I mightn’t win the war, but wanna win the battle!”
“Another lady came to me who was in a very controlling relationship. In that situation they break you down until you can’t think without them and become like a robot.
“She told me she left in the end and now owns two funeral parlours, having left him, got a job, done courses and in the end bit the bullet and set her own business up.”
That key table-smashing moment came in Crissy’s early 20s, and within a few years she was ‘back on track’ and had embarked on her acting career.
Crissy’s film role in Ladybird, Ladybird won her the Silver Bear best actress award at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival, with Tom Hanks winning the male equivalent.
Ken Loach clearly recognised her talent. Did he realise what he’d taken on?
“No! I never told him anything. I just thought I was going to be an extra. I’m just dead down to earth.
“My grandmother always said, ‘Earn respect, don’t demand it’. I’m an ordinary person who just happens to have an unusual job.”
At this point it’s clear that Crissy is well and truly lost on her diversion.
“I’m just following these cars. I’m going to end up someone’s drive at this rate.”
Who does she think she’s learned most from on the acting or comedy scene?
“I love Kathy Bates. When she did Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Dolores Claiborne, she’s unbelievable. She’s a big woman and knows she’s not a typical Hollywood Barbie.
“I once had to a do a scene for Peak Practice alongside John McArdle, and was told, ‘There’s no make-up. The director doesn’t want you to wear any’.
“I wasn’t bothered. I said, ‘The only thing that can help me is surgery. I’ll just have to go about with what God gave me!’”
Who’s closest to the real Christine Murray – Crissy Rock, Dirty Dusting’s Elsie Collins, Ladybird, Ladybird’s Maggie Conlan or Benidorm’s Janey York?
“None of them really! As soon as Crissy Rock’s finished, she goes back. A lot of people expect me to be like Joan Collins. But I turn up in a pair of jeans, no make-up, and sometimes no teeth in!
“That surprises people, but what are they expecting – Julia Roberts? If you’re done up like a dog’s dinner all the time, you don’t feel the benefit.”
Looking at Crissy’s Facebook page, I see she recently ran out of space for ‘friends’ after accumulating 5,000.
“I’ve now got two Facebook pages and a Twitter account, and can’t have anymore on! I’m computer-illiterate and can’t work out how to add more without deleting others.
“I think they’re getting the idea now, going on to my Just the Tonic page. And there’s one for Dirty Dusting too.”
Why the 2012 move to County Durham for this South Liverpool lass?
“My partner’s from the North-East. I miss Liverpool terribly, but I’m settled up here and I’m near a town, a city, a village, the sea …
”When you’ve got a car, you can be anywhere you want in 20 minutes. It’s a beautiful area. People from home ask why I’ve come, but you just need to open your eyes and see what you’ve got, appreciate what you’ve got around you.”
Was that just the next logical step after Crissy’s overseas stand-up stint, swapping Alicante for Peterlee?
“Oh, it’s too hot there!”
What did it feel like going out for her first stand-up show, at The Montrose in Liverpool?
“That was like forever ago! When they called my name I just stood there and froze.”
At this point, Crissy’s sat nav gadgetry is chatting away to her as she mutters about having to ask a policeman where she needs to go. We soon pick up again though.
“I was wondering what I was doing that first night, but at the same time felt like the stage was home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve died a death on a stage, but everyone’s had a bad day at work. And if you’ve never died in comedy you’ve never lived!”
Was comedy good therapy too for all those hard times in Crissy’s past?
“There’s always someone worse off than yourself, however down in the dumps you feel. I take that on board and feel ‘it could be worse’.
So I’m guessing the 19 days she survived in an Australian rainforest for I’m a Celeb was nothing in comparison.
“I’d love to go back to the jungle. It was an amazing experience! And if you look at life as a scale, all the bad in the past is now balanced out by all the good.”
I leave it there and let Crissy try and work out how to get back on the right road. So where is she now?
“I haven’t a clue, but the scenery is lovely! It appears I’m on the way to Yarm now. And with a bit of luck maybe I’ll get to Doncaster sometime today.”
For Dirty Dusting ticket details and a full list of dates, visit the Facebook page here. For tickets for Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre try 01254 398319/380293 or here and for Blackpool Grand Theatre try 01253 290190 or here.
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