Gill Boldon, 82, has loved performing since she was a little girl growing up on a remote farm in east Cornwall, from which she would put on concerts for friends and family.
Gill was born in Looe and moved to a rural farmhouse in Harrowbarrow in Callington when she was seven years old. As a youngster, she would perform concerts with her neighbours in the chicken shed, and it was then that she decided she wanted to go into showbiz.
Gill said: “When we left the farm, I continued to perform, taking part in our local church’s annual pantomime. I then went into nursing, settled down and had three children. Sadly, I became a widow after 13 years of marriage and needed to find a career that worked around my children.
“I saw an advert in a newspaper about auditions for acts to join talent agencies. After a terrible first audition, I was taken on by the well-known hypnotist, Peter Casson. I had eight bookings straight away and never looked back.”
Gill’s first shows were in 1974 when she was 32 years old. Two years later, she was mingling with the stars and was seen as the leading female vocalist in the north of England. Performing at many celebrity events, Gill recalls her biggest appearance was for The Royal Variety Show – formerly known as the ‘Celebrity Command Performance’ – in Blackpool. She also appeared in TV programmes including Murder Most English and Nanny. Then, years later in 1993, came her biggest break yet.
Gill, who used to go by the stage name Joanna York, said: “I appeared on Stars in their Eyes which was the most fabulous experience. My husband at the time actually applied for me and I auditioned over the telephone. I was accepted and after a host of auditions all over the UK, I was whittled down to the final half a dozen.
“I did Peggy Lee and Shirley MacLaine, but they wanted Judy Garland. They treated everyone like the star they were representing with your own dressing room with the star’s name on. I went to London umpteen times for dress and wig fittings – my wig was handmade with real hair and cost over £1,000!
“From there, I changed my stage name to Vicki Lester and a lot of bookings came in; the Dome in Brighton, the Dorchester Hotel and Mezzo restaurant in London and long summer seasons with residence comics like Jimmy Cricket and Don Reid.
“I then began doing theatre tours around the north of England with all different shows including a variety show, nostalgia show and a wartime show.
“The thing I love the most, is the audience interaction. I like to see and communicate with the spectators and relish in their joy and happiness. They would say ‘you made me cry’ or ‘you brought wonderful memories back for me’; I love that they involve me in their happiness and their sadness. I made lots of friends from audiences who followed me religiously.”
Gill relocated back to Plymouth in 2009 due to ill health and became a patron rather than a performer.
Speaking about her love of watching theatre shows, Gill said: “I now get to appreciate the talent of everybody else and share their happiness at being on the stage. Now that I can no longer perform professionally, I live through them. They never let me down and I always come away elated.
“Theatre Royal Plymouth puts on the most incredible performances whether in The Lyric, The Drum or The Lab. I believe my first show I ever watched at TRP was The Bodyguard and I’ve seen it twice here since. Year on year the quality of shows gets better and better.
“I became a TRP member because the theatre has been a sanctuary for me through the years, through good times and bad. All the staff have shown me the greatest respect, courtesy and love. The theatre has become my whole life and means a great, great deal to me. It has been joked that I should bring my bed and sleep here as it’s like a second home!”
If you’d like to support the theatre like Gill, you can join as a TRP Member. Our Memberships start from £20 per year and give access to a range of exclusive benefits. Visit theatreroyal.com/join or call 01752 267222 to find out more.
Watch Gill’s video: