Debra Stephenson has always been proud of of home of Hull but never more so than now it is City of Culture. Catherine Scott reports.
Debra Stephenson has always been one of Hull’s staunchest defenders.
“I hate it when people are disparaging about Hull, and it is usually because they have never been there,” says the 45-year-old Hull-born impressionist and actress.
“I have always been very protective about Hull and speak up for the city whenever I get the chance.
“But since it has been City of Culture I have noticed a difference, particularly when it come to access and promotion of the arts.
“My parents live on the outskirts of Hull and so when we visit we don’t always go into the city centre, but recently we have been doing and I have been impressed by what I’ve seen.
“I just really hope that the success and commitment continues into the future and that the legacy of City of Culture continues, not just for visitors to the city, but to people who live here all the time.”
She will be back in her home city next week when she appears in the Son of a Preacher Man, alongside X Factor star Diana Vickers and choreographed by Craig Revill Horwood.
Stephenson knows what it is like to have a breakthrough appearing in a talent show. As a 14 year old she won Opportunity Knocks with her impressions.
“When you’re a child you’re a sponge. I was always listening. My dad did impressions. Similarly people who’ve moved around a lot as children very often are good at accents,” she says.
“But winning a talent show back then was very different to how it is now. Diana who has become a great friend took TV by storm at 16 - I didn’t even get a trophy. After a few years I felt like I was washed up even though I was still a teenager. I had to start again and reinvent myself.”
And so in 1993, aged 21 she changed direction and embarked on training as a serious actress at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
Upon graduating, she soon got her first break in Paul Abbot’s ITV drama Reckless, starring Robson Green and Francesca Annis.
A higher profile started to grow with three series of the BBC 1 TV drama, penned by Kay Mellor, Playing the Field, in which she played the loveable but ditzy Diane Powell; and another three series of Bad Girls, for which Debra was twice nominated for Best Actress at the National Television Awards and won most popular actress at The TV Quick Awards, for her role as the evil Shell Dockley.
In 2004, Debra became one of the nation’s favourite soap stars for her portrayal of Frankie Baldwin in Coronation Street, where she stayed for almost three years.
But she never lost her love of impressions, they seem to come out her as naturally as being herself. As we chat she suddenly becomes the Prime Minister Theresa May.
“I don’t know where that came from,” laughs the star of the popular Radio 4 show Dead Ringers and ITV’s Newzoids and BBC One’s The Impressions Show with Jon Culshaw
She is famous for her impressions of Nigella Lawson and Davina McCall, but at the moment it is theatre that is taking up the mother of two’s time,
“I haven’t really done much theatre mainly because I didn’t want to leave the children for long periods of time while they were small,” says Stephenson.
Zoe is now 10 and son Max is 14. Stephenson is married to builder James Duffield.
She is passionate about being first and foremost a good mum to her children.
“I didn’t want to do anything that would take me away from the family for long periods of time and the problem with theatre is that you tend to be on tour and travelling for months on end.
“The children always ask me to do panto but I just couldn’t bear the thought of working over Christmas.”
What appealed to her about Son of a Preacher Man was that she gets six weeks off at Christmas, with an option to go back for six week after Christmas and then finish.
“We also only do five days a week so I can get home on Sundays and be around to iron the school shirts and get everyone off to school on Monday. It is a real juggle, but then again it is a juggle for most working mums and I am no different.
“For some reason we moved to Poole in Dorset which is beautiful but a long way from anywhere. We don’t have a support network down there, my parents still live on the outskirts of Hull.”
Stephenson says when she brought her Night of One Hundred Voices show to Hull City Hall in March this year she felt homesick for her home city.
“It was a big deal for me and was really very emotional. I felt really close to the city and close to home and did feel really quite torn when I had to leave which did surprise me a bit,” she says.
“I’m not saying I’m going to move back, but I do end up doing a lot of travelling.”
Next year Stephenson will be back on our screens doing impressions for a new game show for ITV.
“It’s a panel show, a bit like Never Mind the Buzzocks I suppose - but with impressions.
“It’s called The Imitation Game and I am one of the team captains and Rory Bremner is the other. It will be strange working with someone who isn’t Jon (Culshaw). We start filming in the Spring and I am really looking forward to it.”
It also means that she can be closer to home.
Son of a Preacher Man
Three broken hearts, one Soho hang-out, and the only man who could ever help them. Welcome to the Preacher Man, the swinging 1960s Soho joint where the kids danced the night away to the latest crazes and dared to dream of love, while the legendary owner, The Preacher Man himself, dispensed advice to cure the loneliest of hearts. Only that was a long time ago and all that remains are the memories, the stories and the myths. Until now, that is, when three random strangers, generations apart but all in need of help with their hopeless love lives, are inexplicably drawn to the site of the original venue.
With the songs of Dusty Springfield Son of a Preacher Man stars Diana Vickers, Debra Stephenson and Ian Reddington with choreography from Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revill Horwood.
Tickets for Son of a Preacher Man at Hull New Theatre from November 7 to 11 are from £15.50 with concessions available. Call 01482 300 306 or visit website www.hulltheatres.co.uk to book online or use this link.