Express & Star

Alison Hammond: She’s a livewire – oh yes she is!

The energy that Alison Hammond brings is like a forcefield.

Ben Gregory-Ring

From the moment she begins until the moment she ends, she’s the same, indomitable bundle of energy that she is when she lights up our TV screens.

And lighting up our TV screens is something that she’s done with aplomb, since making an unlikely TV debut in 2002, on Big Brother.

Frequently, she’s been the best thing about British TV, with an infectious laugh and a devil-may-care attitude that gets the best out of even notoriously difficult A-list stars.

From Big Brother to I’m A Celebrity, via Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, and This Morning, her fame has skyrocketed.

And now, finally, she’s about to tick off one of her bucket-list items as she takes on the starring role in the UK’s biggest panto. Alison will star in Jack & The Beanstalk at The Hippodrome, in Birmingham, this Christmas, as she returns to her native Second City to bring laughs, ferocious energy, and who knows what else.

She’s thrilled to have got the gig, working alongside the mercurial Matt Slack through December and January.

“What more do you want in life? A bit of Slack and a bit of Ham. Bring it on.”

The joy for Alison – as well as us – is that’s she’s a bona fide fan of the Hippodrome’s panto. She goes along as often as she can, which is to say, when she’s not been working in other pantos around the UK.

She gets on well with Matt Slack, the driving force behind the panto, and can’t wait to link-up with the one-man joke factory.

“The last time I met Matt was when Beverley Knight did the panto. I’ve always been a big supporter of him. He’s just so funny and everybody loves him. Every year I go and see it and want to be in it.”

So did your people have a word in the ear of the producer’s people to make it happen?

She laughs. “No, actually. They approached my people and that was that.”

Ben Gregory-Ring

Hammond is a force of nature and the number of moments when she’s caused a stir number in the dozens. There was the time when she accidentally pushed a man into the Albert Dock while doing the weather on TV.

She had Holly and Phil in stitches when she told them she liked a man with a strong back. This Morning once sent her to Pisa to report on a £300,000 competition – and Alison had a run-in with the police, very nearly getting herself arrested. She also embraced the downright bizarre, when she conducted a live ceremony on This Morning for a woman who wanted to marry her dog.

Her mastery of interviews with A-Listers is legendary, and she persuaded Dwayne The Rock Johnson to propose to her during an interview, being totally cool when he put a ring on her finger. That was nothing, however, against surprising Hugh Jackman with a date and proceeding to get him drunk and feed him chocolates. She also completely lost it when Barry Humphries mistook Dermot O’Leary for Philip Scofield and congratulated him on coming out.

It’s not just scenes on This Morning that have caused, well, scenes.

Alison turned out to be the finest celebrity contestant ever when she took on Bake Off. The tent will never be the same again. She also caused a storm when Ant and Dec convinced her she was staying in a haunted hotel as part of their undercover stunt, on Saturday Night Takeaway.

There are few assignments that she’s shied away from – and, on one occasion, she agreed to interview a tree, for This Morning.

On Comic Relief, she gave it 110 per cent as Missy Elliot, on Strictly, she couldn’t control her laughter when judges offered their remarks, while her interview with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling remains one of the funniest that British TV has ever aired.

In the West Midlands, we’ll get all the fun of the larger-than-life presenter, as she brings laughter, dance, singing, and the unexpected to the stage.

“I’m just loving it. I love meeting the rest of the cast and the front of house. I love dancing, I love singing, I love the camaraderie.

“As you know I’ve done 10 pantos in the past then took a break. I always said the only one I would do is Birmingham Hippodrome. That came up last year. I’ve always wanted to do it. They put on a spectacular show, it’s second to none.

“Matt Slack is one of those really special men, too. He’s loved by all, young and old. When the panto’s on, he’s literally the most popular man in Birmingham.”

And so this year, Alison will break with tradition, by appearing in the Hippodrome’s panto, rather than going to watch it.

“Boxing Day is our day at the panto – we can’t wait. Normally I watch the panto with a load of friends and family, so it will be weird being in it instead.

“It’s something I’ve done since a kid, since I was really young. “We know the gags, we know the songsheet at the end.”

There’s another element to Alison’s presence at the Hippodrome that’s a reason for joy. And it’s this. She is the original hometown hero. Born to Jamaican parents in Kingstanding, she attended Cardinal Wiseman School and her parents grafted to make ends meet – her mum keeping several jobs on the go concurrently, including one for Tupperware. She set out her stall as a young girl, attending drama workshops run by Central TV from the age of 11. She didn’t have the funds to attend drama school, however, and it seemed her dream might stall.

Undeterred, however, she competed on the third series of Big Brother, while also getting an acting role in Doctors, and beginning guest slots as a presenter, reporting for ITV’s This Morning.

Her charisma lit up our screens and she was on her way. She became a TV regular, appearing many television programmes, including Celebrity Fit Club, Celebrities Under Pressure and Big Star’s Little Star. She has also appeared on Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes, performing as Nina Simone, Celebrity Ready Steady Cook, Daily Cooks Challenge, as a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women, and as a presenter on the short-lived ITV Play channel. In 2004, Hammond played herself as a TV reporter in Christmas Lights opposite Robson Green.

Her electricity in front of the camera led to bigger and better things.

In November 2010, Hammond became a contestant on the 10th series of I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! In 2014, Hammond participated in the ninth series of Celebrity MasterChef on BBC One. She also participated in the twelfth series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 on BBC One. She partnered with 11th series’ champion Aljaž Škorjanec. In 2020, ITV announced a shake-up of This Morning presenters, with Hammond replacing Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford on a Friday, presenting alongside Dermot O’Leary. It was announced in March 2023 that Hammond would be the new co-host of The Great British Bake Off, replacing Matt Lucas.

She’s become a remarkable role model, a public face who has shown what can be done when hard work, dedication, and no little skill are applied.

She’s broken through the glass ceiling, showing that a normal, ordinary girl from the West Midlands can make it to the top in the cut-throat world of TV. And, of course, now she gets to delight us all in panto – where she’ll likely be having just as much fun as the audience.

“Babes, I can’t tell you – I can’t put it into words, the excitement that I am feeling,. The first night will be electric, every night will be electric. You know when you’ve wanted something and then it happens, well that’s what this is all about.

“It rates really highly, it’s up there with the Bake Offs and hosting This Morning. It’s not only a panto. It’s a culture, it’s a British culture. I loved doing the pantos at other theatres and now I can’t wait to come home to Birmingham.”

She’s touched that people warm to her personality to intuitively. While it’s not something that she dwells on, there are moments when she realises the impact that she makes, taking on board the reactions of fans.

“The times I reflect on it is when I get letters from people saying how much joy I bring to people, those are the time that I reflect on things. You help people get a bit of work experience or you see them do something amazing after that, those moments are specials. Those are the times I reflect. It’s not about my achievements though, it’s more about how you affect people and how you make them feel in life.”

And Alison makes us all feel great. And then, like some magic creature in the panto, she’s off.

“It’s been lovely talking to you. Have a lovely time. Bye, bab, bye.”