Whatever your views on the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, I doubt you would liken her to “an old pair of slippers”.
For actress, comedian and impressionist Debra Stephenson however, that is always what she will be.
Debra first hit our screens in 1987 at the age of 14, making her way to the final of BBC talent show Opportunity Knocks with her incredible impressions.
She then made a name for herself as a TV actress and comedian in the ‘90s and 2000s, starring as Shell Dockley in ITV’s prison drama Bad Girls and playing Frankie Baldwin in Coronation Street as well as appearing in various comedy shows on TV and radio such as the satirical puppet show Newzoids and the award-winning Dead Ringers, which spoofed celebrities and political figures.
Now she is taking her new one-woman impressionist show, A Night of 100 Voices on tour and will appear at the Radlett Centre on February 18.
“This is really going back to what I really, really love. I think there’s something really special about performing live and enjoying that rapport with the audience.
I really enjoy places the size of Radlett because you have much more intimacy there. It’s just a joy and a lovely atmosphere, you really connect. Sometimes I go down into the audience, it’s a really playful fun show. Reminiscing old songs but going all the way through to modern day favourites.”
Debra can remember doing impressions since the tender age of six, copying her father who also had a knack for it.
“I was an only child and when I went to my grandmas she would sit there smoking and I used to listen to her radiogram. She had loads of records in her collection, Sandy Shaw, Lou Lou, Cilla Black and a lot of Shirley Bassey and old records by Doris Day and Judy Garland. They got downloaded into my psyche.
“I had singing lessons from the age of nine and I found that I could experiment with my voice because I could hear it and experiment with the way people made sounds. The first record I ever got was Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. I used to flail my arms around and sing, that’s in the act. I even did it on Stars in Their Eyes.”
I wondered how long it takes Debra to master an impression or whether they come to her naturally? She explains: “There are some that I’ve been doing all my life and that’s like putting on an old pair of slippers, like Margaret Thatcher or Julie Walters. “Some are easy to approximate” she adds.
“Like Kim Kardashian. She’s got that voice that’s quite general and it’s got the California thing that goes up.
“Someone like Claudia Winkelman took months. I was really frustrated with it, I couldn’t quite understand what she was doing. You see it’s all about taking the essence of the way somebody speaks and letting that become part of you for that moment.”
She has me laughing all the way through the interview as she throws in impressions along the way. It is quite the party trick, that’s for sure.
“Sometimes people go ‘oh I bet you could do a good impression of me couldn’t you?’ I never quite know whether that’s an invitation or their way of saying please don’t.”
But it must be a fine line, I ask her, between an impression and simply taking the mickey out of someone, so how does she draw it?
“When you’re working on something like Newzoids you have to be cheeky, that’s what people want, and it’s poking fun. You can go too far and hurt people’s feelings.
There have been occasions where I have known someone I have to do an impression of and I’ve said no, I think it’s cheap or not very nice. I think there’s only been two moments like that, where I’ve worried it will be awkward when I see them.
“In my show it’s all friendly. Trump has to make an appearance in a way, you have to acknowledge what’s going on around you but he’s almost beyond parody. It’s more about the fun, rather than laying into people who aren’t popular.”
The Radlett Centre, 1 Aldenham Avenue, Radlett, WD7 8HL, Saturday, February 18, 7.30pm. Details: 01923 859291