Mollie rules the waves of TV cruise ship talent show

A Keighley great-grandmother is set to become the next Simon Cowell in a new television talent show starting next week. Nicky Solloway meets Mollie Daley.

At the age of 70, Mollie Daley has the type of job most of us can only dream of.

As a casting director of one of the largest cruise ship entertainment companies in the country, the great-grandmother from Keighley travels the world recruiting singers and dancers.

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She works alongside her two daughters, Susannah and Kerry, at the Yorkshire-based Peel Entertainment Group to provide entertainment aboard cruise ships around the globe.

“It’s just so interesting,” she says. “What at my age could be better than this? I’m very, very lucky. Not many 70-year-olds get to run around the world, do they?”

And now Mollie is about to become a star of the small screen, as she is cast into the world of the television talent show. Mollie will reveal her skills as a judge in the new cruise entertainment talent show, Showboaters, which launches next Tuesday on Sky 1.

Earlier this year, she spent six weeks in the Caribbean filming what is being billed as the cruising world’s answer to The X-Factor. The Skipton-based entertainment company was approached by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One, who were interested in making a new cruise-ship based TV talent show.

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As well as preparing in two teams for their weekly show, the contestants join the ship’s crew in carrying out the full range of ship’s duties – from slaving in the galley to serving in the restaurants or scrubbing the decks.

The budding performers, who range from a 56-year-old hairdresser to a 21-year-old steelworker, are given a new routine or genre to master for the weekend show, with the members of the worst performing team getting the worst jobs the following week and the winners receiving luxurious treats.

The show promises high drama as the wannabe singers and dancers storm out of rehearsals or beg the panel for a second chance. All are competing to win a contract to join Peel’s entertainment troupe this winter, as it prepares to sail around the Caribbean.

Mollie is said to make Simon Cowell look like a pussycat, yet in person, the glamorous great- grandmother comes across as anything but brusque.

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“I think it’s an inaccurate quote, I’m not at all like Simon Cowell. I think I would admit to being, at my age now, a strong-minded woman, but I’m not one to lose my patience.”

She adds that her role was as a mentor rather than a critic.

“If anything I would like to think I am quite a nurturing person, I’m a mum, a grandmother and a great-grandmother and I’m a great hugger. The contestants worked with us. They worked with me for the scripts and drama; they worked with the choreographer and the cruise director on board.”

Mollie does however concede that she has very high standards, adding that it’s not always easy to find the right talent these days.

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Peel employs up to 300 people a year to work as entertainers. The company supplies all of the entertainment aboard Thomson’s five cruise ships around the Caribbean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, as well as providing the onboard entertainment for Fred Olsen Cruises. It also supplies actors and performers for Warner Leisure Hotels, in addition to putting on live interpretation events at heritage sites.

Mollie says: “Fifteen years ago we were inundated with performers but since the musical theatre scene is so vibrant in Britain, it is difficult to find the right people now. They all want to be on The X-Factor and those types of shows on TV.”

A rush of new cruises launched by the likes of Disney and Costa means there is now stiff competition to employ the best.

“There are far more ships in Europe than there ever were and all of them need teams, so we’re competing in a much bigger pond than we used to,” she adds.

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But if anyone can spot a rising star, it should be Mollie. The Keighley-born showbiz veteran started her professional life in repertory theatre in Scarborough, after attending boarding school at Eshton Hall, in Gargrave.

After getting married and having three children, she gave up her acting career, but kept her hand in with youth theatre and then joined her eldest daughter, Susannah, in the family firm 18 years ago. Since then, she has worked as a script-writer, costume designer and casting director for an array of productions, from Shakespeare to dinner cabaret and murder mysteries to full-scale variety shows.

She now spends the majority of her time auditioning and searching for talent as far away as Brazil and Australia.

Performers need to be multi-skilled and work on as many as 10 productions at once.

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“We do a range of shows, from the glitz and glamour of Moulin Rouge to scripted versions of musicals such as a show based on the music of Queen.”

The company also put on rock ’n’ roll, ’60s and ’70s tribute shows, murder mystery plays and deck parties.

“The difference between West End shows and cruise ship entertainment is that you are doing a lot of shows at once.

“We pride ourselves on still having those great production values and costumes. People tell us it is better than some of the stuff they have seen in the West End.”

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Mollie enjoys the creative side of the job and came up with the idea for one of the company’s most popular musical shows, Africa.

She was also involved in putting on a new production of Black Beauty at Broughton Hall, where Peel Entertainment’s offices are located. The show went on tour to Epsom racecourse and the company is hoping to take it to period houses such as Chatsworth House.

“I have no plans to retire, why would I?” says Mollie.

“I’m in the absolutely envious position of working in a family company where I am valued and yet I can have periods of slowing down and doing less if I need to. I’m constantly with younger people and that keeps you fresh. It keeps you in the world of today.”

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