JLife’s Evangeline Spachis sat down with Kay Mellor to discuss her glittering TV-writing career and the much-anticipated return of Fat Friends in a whole new format…
By pure coincidence, I speak to Kay Mellor on International Women’s Day. Talking to one of British television’s most popular and highly regarded television writers certainly seems like the perfect way to spend a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements and value of women across the world.
Kay Mellor was born in Leeds to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother in 1951 and first came to prominence as a writer for Granada Television, namely writing episodes of Coronation Street and co-creating the long-running drama, Children’s Ward. Since then she went on to pen many hugely successful television serials such as Band of Gold, In the Club, The Syndicate, and probably her most well-loved creation, Fat Friends.
The series, which centred on the trials and tribulations of a slimming club in Leeds and catapulted the likes of James Corden and Ruth Jones to fame, is being revived in the form of a musical. Premiering at the Leeds Grand Theatre in November and Kay as explained, it will be fulfilling a lifelong dream: “When I’ve sat at the Grand Theatre, watching musicals and thinking ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could do that one day’. I love musicals, but I never thought for a minute that I could write one.”
“In-between my television work, every time I had a week or two free, I started to write the book of Fat Friends: The Musical and then I started to wondered if I could write lyrics and set myself the challenge. I wrote them down almost like rap or poetry but I couldn’t imagine what the tunes would be like.” It is here that Nicholas Lloyd Webber stepped in (yes, son of that Lloyd Webber!) to write the music.
The incredibly popular Fat Friends, which aired on ITV between 2000 and 2005 is fondly remembered. “People loved that show,” Kay tells me. “I always thought it would have a different life after the series ended, I just never dreamed I would be able to do it like this. I hope I’ve done the best I can, and I am sure the audience will tell me if I have succeeded!”
The musical’s slimmer-in-chief is Lauren, a Jewish woman who longs for marital bliss as well as the perfect bum: “She wants to be married to a nice Jewish boy because that what’s expected of her and what she’s always wanted too.” Kay is keen to not give too much away, but as pounds drop and diets slip, the lives and loves of the members of the Headingley slimming club become intertwined.
Bringing Fat Friends back seems make perfect sense. Scrutiny of our bodies and appearance is something that we all fear and have to contend with, now more than ever. “I have written about something that I think is still common to everybody today,” agrees Kay. “Nobody seems to be happy with their weight, their size or their body shape and I’m yet to meet somebody who says ‘I have an amazing body’. It’s even more relevant than ever before.”
In the meantime, the ever-busy Kay is now working on her latest television drama for the BBC, called Love, Lies and Records, which is currently filming in the region. The series follows registrar Kate (played by Ashley Jensen) as she tries to juggle her personal life with the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths, and the impact they have on her. Once again set in her hometown, Kay took inspiration from her own personal experiences: “I registered my mother’s death at Leeds Town Hall which was a horrible thing, and then two weeks afterwards I was there for my friend’s wedding and as we were going up the steps into the hall, somebody else was there registering the birth of their newborn baby.”
“I realised then that it was a hub where everything happens and began to think about the people who work there and what they must go through in a day.”
Finally on this day of all days, it seemed like a good time to ask Kay for some advice, particularly for young female writers and women hoping to break into the cutthroat media world: “One key thing is believe in yourself. It really isn’t about luck, it’s about hard work and perseverance and not giving in. When it comes to the writing, be as honest as you can until it hurts and write as if no one will ever read it, because that’s when you’ve got something really exciting down on the page.”
Fat Friends: The Musical will be on at Leeds Grand Theatre from 11th November until 2nd December 2017. To get tickets, visit Leedsgrandtheatre.com/Online/FatFriends.