Panto’s just wicked says Maleficent Jacqueline!

Jacqueline Leonard as the evil Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty at Preston Charter Theatre
Jacqueline Leonard as the evil Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty at Preston Charter Theatre
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She’s worked her way around Soapland, and now she’s getting stuck into Pantoland.

Blackpool-born actress Jacqueline Leonard is currently starring in Sleeping Beauty at Preston’s Charter Theatre, as wicked fairy Maleficent.

Donning the black horned crown, she’s part of the panto company casting spells over audiences at the venue for Christmas.

While it’s only her second visit to Pantoland, she’s loving the opportunity, and joined a host of Fylde coast faces in the production.

Writing and directing, as well as playing Silly Billy is St Annes comedian Phil Walker, while Cleveleys-born CBBC and Newsround presenter Hayley Hassall, and Thornton performer Charlotte Dalton plays Sleeping Beauty.

“I’ve not done a panto for years, so I’m very excited,” said Jacqueline, who lives in Poulton.

“My husband goes to Phil’s Woofer’s Comedy Club every month, and I do if it fits with the work schedule, and he just asked if I would be available for it - and for the first time in ages, I wasn’t working elsewhere for Christmas.

“I did Robin Hood in Rhyl years ago and the kids are brilliant, shouting and 
screaming at you.

“But then you get the adult audiences coming in and it goes quiet, although they get the innuendo more.

“I was asked to do panto in London years ago and actually turned it down because I knew it was such an art to be a panto performer.

“Then as soon as I did do that one, in Rhyl, I loved it.”

Playing the story’s wicked fairy Maleficent, Jacqueline has a lot to live up to, following closely in the footsteps of Angelina Jolie’s version of the character in last year’s Disney film of the same name.

“It has been interesting with the film,” she said. “When we visited schools to talk about the panto they were asking questions like ‘Why were your wings cut off?’ and other things in the film, not the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, so we had to know more about the film than we expected.

“I’m more of a ‘wicked witch’ than a thigh-slapping principal boy which was the case with Robin Hood, so this is more me.”

Luckily, this time out the creatures - or more specifically dragons - are being created through special effects, but last time Jacqueline hit the panto stage, she faced the old showbiz adage about working with animals.

“We had a photo shoot and I was in this lovely costume with these beautiful horses and they said: ‘We’ll get you on the horse, it’s lovely and calm’, so I got on.

“Five minutes later it decided to run off at a canter and I just could not stop it.”

Jacqueline spent the early part of this year on TV screens that most northern of soaps Coronation Street.

She was written in as Linda Hancock mum to Katy and Izzy Armstrong for Katy’s departure storyline, coming to the street from her home in Portugal and persuading her youngest daughter to join her back there.

“I got to know the actors in the family and the story really well,” she said of her on-screen colleagues. “But the down side is that you don’t interact with very many people from the rest of the cast [when it’s short term], and I was there over Christmas and into the New Year.

“I had a fantastic time doing it. But it does mean that I’ve ‘done’ Coronation Street now, and it would be hard to go back, the character was too prominent for me to be cast as someone else.”

Previous soaps included Lorraine Wicks in EastEnders in 1996 and 1997 - which she left to come home and care for her mother, and daytime soap Doctors as original character Caroline Powers.

But in recent years, Jacqueline appeared in Scottish soap River City.

“There was talk about bringing it to the national network, but it didn’t come off,” she said.

“I thought I needed to be at home and came back this way, so Coronation Street was a fantastic gig to get.

“I just need Emmerdale now to complete the set, as I’ve done a little bit of 
Hollyoaks.”