For Carrie Hope Fletcher, 2022 was destined to be one to remember – she was leading the cast in the title role of a West End show, was living with her long-term boyfriend, and was going to turn 30.
Little did she expect it to turn out to be quite such a landmark in her life.
Or did she? As the musical theatre actress, vlogger and author says, 22 is her lucky number…
But it didn't get off to the best start, with the show she was starring in, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella having a Covid-enforced eight-week stop, and the end of a four-year relationship.
Carrie might have been forgiven for rethinking her lucky charm.
However, come the end of the year, and it was a different story: Carrie had happily turned 30, found a new, true love – and got engaged, impressed critics with her debut in a Bertolt Brecht play, did her first pantomime, and had announced her first solo concert tour An Open Book.
In the past, Carrie has spoken ‘openly' about her fear of concert performances, so what changed her mind this time?
“Nothing. I'm still petrified!” she admits. “You know what it is, I don't feel like I'm very good at being myself. I love being an actress, hiding behind a character, which I find interesting and fun getting into the mindset of other people and telling stories, using their emotions.”
With a CV featuring roles as diverse as Eponine and Fantine in Les Misérables, Veronica Sawyer in Heathers, Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Carrie's certainly gotten to grips with a range of characters over the years.
“But on stage as myself, it feels a bit boring by comparison. I haven't got the same to offer as Veronica, or Wednesday, or Fantine…
“In concert, if people don't like what you're saying and singing, it's very much you. People can say I hated how you played Veronica Sawyer, and I can put her in the way and blame the character. But a concert, it's very personal and everything you're feeling is very much yourself; your feelings, your stories and your voice.
“That is terrifying. I'm a people pleaser. I like people to like me so it's scary to put myself into that place where they potentially won't.”
Fans will get to hear Carrie sing numbers from some of her previous roles, as well as new songs in the concert – which will also see her sharing stories about her life.
“I'm getting around hating being myself by writing it like a show, creating a script and character for myself to feel more comfortable,” she explains. “It feels very much like I'm creating a little show for myself.
“Every time I've done a concert, I feel like it's always been I Dreamed A Dream from Les Mis, or Pulled from The Addams Family – it's always songs I've done in shows.
“This time, there will be songs I've never got to sing. Things from roles I've not had chance to play, roles I probably will never play – which is a dream to be able to do. But they will all have messages or be something that I want to say.”
With Carrie also known as an author, the tour title An Open Book, is an appropriate one – as Carrie admits she's ‘always been an oversharer'.
“If someone chats on a bus, I'll chat back,” she said. “But people do see oversharing as a negative thing. But it is literally your job to go on stage and open up your chest and say ‘this is what I've got'.”
With dramatic changes and challenges shaping 2022, following on from the upheaval throughout the theatre industry due to the pandemic, how does Carrie feel as she enters a new decade of her life?
“The past couple of years have been a lot, a real rollercoaster,” she said. “But it's funny because 22 is my lucky number and I do feel that last year really was ‘my' year. I turned 30 on the 22nd (of October) 2022, and feel it's been a real turning point moment.
“I had a massive break up in January 2022. We were off from Cinderella at the time because of Covid causing an eight-week show down. We went back into rehearsals before getting back on stage, then found out via social media that we were closing early.
“That was the early part of the year. It was a whole debacle.
“Since then, so many amazing things have happened. I announced this tour, did Treason in concert, Caucasian Chalk Circle at Kingston, then into panto. I met Joel, and we got engaged.
“Everything that could have happened last year did. But it's all happened for a reason – the good and the bad. But it's made me feel like I can do anything now! It's taught me to be more ballsy about walking into the unknown.
“I guess I feel like it's my time to say ‘Screw it' and walk on stage to be me. Whatever happens, happens and that is a part of me I don't think I had before. A new kind of self-confidence – and it's great that it's coincided with turning 30.
“I didn't have a bucket list for hitting 30, instead, I've got a list that's overflowing with things I'd have never expected to have achieved! I have had the most amazing career, met amazing people, travelled to incredible places.
“My 20s were unbelievable and wild. A lot I did I'm grateful for having done, now I'm glad to have turned 30 and to have a chance to sit back a bit and not feel this kind of tenacious need to chase everything anymore.
“The foundations I've built for myself in my 20s will allow me to be a bit calmer in my 30s. I have things I've always wanted to do – and now I'm in a place where I can consider those things without worrying about it.”
Something that was certainly on Carrie's mind as she moved into 2023, besides her new tour, was the prospect of marriage – and she and Joel managed to surprise their family and friends by eloping to Gretna Green last month (Feb 2023), then announcing their nuptials via an exclusive magazine deal.
“I've always been of the mind that if I was to get engaged, then it was to be married – not to have a long engagement,” she said. “And Joel was very much the same.
“It's about a private moment between two people, and like I said – I'm not great at being myself in front of a lot of people, even if they're our family and friends, I get awkward.
“Added to that, the press interest in our engagement blew my mind. A national newspaper contacted my sister-in-law's [Giovanna Fletcher] publicist asking for a comment on my engagement. I hadn't hidden my ring or anything on Instagram, but it was our moment to decide when we wanted to share it – not theirs… I was baffled and angry about it.
“So the Gretna Green thing was our way of keeping ownership of our day. We had told our parents we were going to do it, but it was the date that was the big secret, as we were terrified people would turn up if they knew.
“The day itself, we had two people who worked there as our witnesses, said the basic legal vows – I was an emotional mess, then we went into the café next door and had cheese and onion sandwiches and a coffee, all in our outfits. Then it was back to our hotel where we also shared some longer vows we had written, just the two of us.
“And now, it's really nice to know we've done the legal bit and it's all official, but that we still have a celebration to plan with everyone – that will come later this year, when we're both a little less busy.”
And like her wedding planning, Carrie's route into West End fame is far from conventional, despite her having built those strong career foundations.
A child actor from the age of seven, including her stage debut as Young Eponine in Les Misérables and a stint as Jemima Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, ‘fearless' Carrie chose not to attend the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School – alongside her brother, Tom Fletcher of McFly fame.
Although signed to their agency, she didn't want the pressure of auditioning alongside classmates, and opted to stay in a mainstream school.
Then, after GCSEs, she ‘took a risk' and skipped the option of A Levels and drama school, to write a musical with Tom – one which saw the siblings meet Steven Spielberg in New York, among other big industry names. The project is still ‘on the backburner' more than 10 years later but hasn't been completely shelved.
Carrie ‘missed the boat for drama school', but with the help of a contact forged during this time, she signed to the agency which still represents her today – as one of the very first clients in their new musical theatre department.
Perfectly timed, as Carrie had already told them her dream was to play Eponine in Les Misérables, the agency put her forward to audition for the epic musical. And the rest is history.
“I was in Les Mis then for two years and eight months,” she said. It's still a very precious memory for me, that first night in Les Mis, in my first role as an adult and the role I'd wanted all my life, from the age of seven and playing little Eponine.
“Standing backstage, wearing what felt like eight costumes, all layered up, hearing the overture really hit me like a brick wall. I have been in a lot of shows now, and performed in Les Mis a lot, but that overture still gets me. It's very special.
“When you're in a show like that, well, any show really, your current job is often your audition for the next one. Your agents bring casting directors to see you, which will lead to you being called to audition for something else – sometimes even being cast directly.
“Everything you do opens doors to the next stage – and that's what makes this industry very exciting.”
So, after An Open Book, what will come next for Carrie in this new chapter of her life?
“Getting older opens up this other new suitcase of roles that I have never had access to before,” she says, smiling. “A role I've always wanted to play is Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and I am still too young for that role, but each year older is another step closer to it.
“And there are so many new musicals at the moment, they are exciting and the creativity that's happening is brilliant. The stories are getting wilder, and that all affords new opportunities to us as actors.
“Another role I've always loved and wanted to play is the dentist in Little Shop Of Horrors – but gender swapped. There's nothing there that says the character has to be a man, so why not? He's a character that's a villain to the Nth degree, that's why he became a dentist; he's just mean for the sake of being mean. By contrast, female villains always have a backstory and a reason why they are mean. It would be such fun to just be an outright villain.
“Doing Caucasian Chalk Circle was an eye opener too, in terms of maybe doing more plays – I would love to do Shakespeare. Although Caucasian Chalk Circle had 28 songs in it, I'd say it was more a musical! In the sense of the storyline and the subject matter, the emotion, and the amount of dialogue, it felt more like a play. But in the preparation and rehearsal process, it felt the same as musicals I've done – so that familiarity helped me settle into it.
“The thing for most performers, is that it's all about telling the stories… Then, if you can sing you end up doing musicals and telling those stories through song.
“There are surprising boundaries between musicals, plays, TV, film. There is a kind of snobbery though, especially towards musical theatre performers. But the reality is, that we are all actors, doing the same thing of telling stories – there might be some changes in exactly how we do it across the mediums, but the basics are the same.”
Those ‘basics' will stand Carrie in good stead for what is currently set to be her biggest adventure in 2023, taking her own stories on the road in An Open Book.
And perhaps she'll be rethinking that lucky number? 23 anyone…
Carrie Hope Fletcher - An Open Book is presented by Lambert Jackson, Live Nation and Cuffe and Taylor. Tickets here.
Photo: Michael Wharley