deniseBlonde ambition

From Dolly Parton to Duffy, there’s a long line of iconic blondes who really do have more fun. Now TV and West End star Denise Van Outen is making her Fringe debut with a show that celebrates them.


LOOKING tanned and tantalisingly pretty, Denise Van Outen is glowing with health and happiness. Newly-wed, she has a diamond sparkling on the third finger of her left hand — the solitaire snuggles against her wedding ring, which she’s been wearing for only a matter of weeks.

“I’m sparkling in every sense!” exclaims the 35-year-old, who married in secret in a small private ceremony in the Seychelles at the end of April, after meeting and falling in love with handsome, curly-haired singer and actor Lee Mead, who is seven years her junior.

The couple met when Denise, who makes her Edinburgh Fringe debut with a new one-woman show, Basildon Blonde, was a judge on Any Dream Will Do, the BBC talent show searching for a new Joseph to star in the West End musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Lee won the coveted leading role — but he also won Denise’s heart.

“I’m loved-up. We’re just so happy — it really is a dream come true,” she says, with a blissful sigh, adding that she’s had a long search for Mr Right and acknowledging that she’s had her fair share of romantic heartache over the years. “But I’ve found my man at last — and he was certainly worth the wait.”

Speaking for the first time about her new-found happiness, Denise, who was once engaged to wild rocker Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, has made no secret of the fact that she’s had a string of disastrous relationships, yet she has always wanted to marry, settle down and have a family.

“I’m such a girlie girl,” she says. “I always dreamed of the white wedding, the lovely dress, all that. And, of course, we definitely want children; I’ve always imagined myself with a family. I can’t believe how wonderful my life is now.”

Despite lucrative offers from all the celebrity magazines Denise and Lee chose not to sell images of their wedding. “For us it was a very private time,” she says, “a beach ceremony with just close family and friends. But I did get to wear a beautiful white dress by Jenny Packham.”

A TV presenter and broadcaster, as well as an actress who has been the toast of the West End for her popular performances in Chicago and the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, Tell Me On a Sunday, Denise made her name presenting The Big Breakfast in the mid-1990s, when she was perceived as being one of the original ladettes.

The tabloids, she says wearily, presented her as some sort of loud-mouthed, lager-swilling, loutish lass, a figurehead for the outspoken and outrageous female culture of the time.

ure, she concedes, she was naughty. She would often cheekily lift up her top and flash at the cameramen on The Big Breakfast. “I did it to wake them up, but I always had my bra on!” And she once joked that she’d stolen an ashtray when she went to a reception to meet Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

But a ladette she was not.

Indeed, the reality could not have been further from the truth, since she’s always believed in eating well and works out religiously – with Cheryl Cole and other celebs, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of Comic Relief in March. “I never ever drank lager,” she protests. “I rarely drink anyway, so I’ve always been a white wine sprtizer girl.

“As for falling out of nightclubs dead drunk at four in the morning, how could I have done that and presented The Big Breakfast or done a breakfast show on Captal Radio?”

However, Denise concedes that being an archetypal Essex girl probably fuelled the ditsy, glamorous blonde image. Which is one reason why she wanted to do a show about being a blonde and about absolutely fabulous blondes she admires, ranging from Doris Day and Dusty Springfield to Dolly Parton and Duffy, from Mae West to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, all of them far from dumb blondes.

Blondes has been written for her by Fringe veteran and Mama Mia stage star Jackie Clune — also an Essex girl — with whom Denise has been friends for some years. The pair want to demolish some of the blonde cliches. “I hope that Blondes will show how the blondes of history have made me the woman I am today,” explains Denise.

“So, it’s not a show about my life, it’s more of a sophisticated cabaret, with me telling the stories of women who’ve given blondes a good — and a bad — name. Some blondes are smart, some sexy and some tragic and poignant. I’ll be singing cover versions of songs by the likes of Bonny Tyler and Britney Spears, both of whom I adore, and I’ll be accompanied by Mike Moran on a wonderful Steinway grand piano.

“But I really don’t want people to run away with the idea that I’m doing stand-up comedy. I promise top jokes! Top tunes! Top Shop! Or at least that’s the blonde ambition!”

Basildon Blonde, Underbelly’s Pasture, 6-31 August (not 11, 18, 25) 5.50pm From £6.50 08445 458 252

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