Jane McDonald on cruise tips, having a 'bloody good time' and packing tea bags
Jane McDonald, a.k.a. the ‘Queen of Cruise’ and everyone’s favourite Yorkshire lass, has recently been filming a new top-secret show in God’s own county. But it’s still the glamour of the high seas that floats Jane McDonald’s boat, she tells World of Cruising.
Jane McDonald remembers the moment she thought she had ‘arrived’. It was 1996 and the Yorkshire lass was barefoot on a secluded Bermuda beach on a day off from her gig as a cruise ship backing singer.
“I had [US soul singer] Oleta Adams piping in me earphones and I was gazing out across this gorgeous pink-sand beach to the sea,” McDonald, 56, recalls. “As a miner’s daughter from Wakey, it was just, like, WOW, I never thought I’d be HERE!”
These wow moments were, of course, soon to become a feature of McDonald’s life. In 1998 the Wakefield-born former working men’s club singer found fame as the stand-out star of The Cruise, a BBC docusoap which followed life on-board Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy as the luxury liner sailed her maiden Caribbean voyage.
The voyage was McDonald’s first as a headline act and 15 million viewers warmed to the singer’s struggle to keep her customer ratings up with a fickle cruise-going crowd by “finding me inner diva”.
The same year, McDonald’s debut album, Jane McDonald, spent three weeks at the top of the UK charts; and a series of TV presenting roles followed, including a six-year stint on ITV daytime chat-show Loose Women (2004-2010) and, from 2017, Cruising With Jane McDonald, a review show in which McDonald combines ebullient reports on cruise lines’ provision of pillows (goose down gets top billing), extra loo roll and underfloor heating (“ooo-ee that’s special!”), with musical numbers recorded on location at port.
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In 2018, Cruising landed McDonald a 2018 BAFTA Award for Best TV Feature, Channel 5’s first.
In April 2021, McDonald announced the fiancé Eddie Rothe, a musician best known for being the drummer in The Searchers, from lung cancer.
Despite this tragic news, or perhaps because of it, McDonald has been keeping busy, with a top-secret filming project across Yorkshire (McDonald was spotted in Knaresborugh, on the Yorkshire Dales and near to Betty’s tea shop in Holmfirth, of Last of the Summer Wine Fame) and a tour for album Let the Light In (which entered the charts at the number six spot) and plans for a week-long spring residence at Akti Imperial Deluxe Resort on the island of Rhodes in May 2022.
- READ MORE: Jane McDonald reveals 'favourite part' of cruise holidays -
Today Jane McDonald has her legs crossed for World of Cruising’s benefit. “It’s been another one of those days when I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time to pee,” she says, with her trademark saucy laugh. “I look at my schedule and think ‘that looks a bit mad’, but keeping busy keeps me out of trouble.”
I wonder, as overseas travel opens up, if McDonald ever feels jaded by the prospect of another overseas trip. Much of her appeal to viewers, after all, is her folksy and wide-eyed delight in little joys of travel: unexpected encounters with locals; snifters of the regional tipple as a tangerine sun sets across a watery horizon (McDonald has well-documented soft spots for Drambui and eggnog).
“Honestly lovey, no,” McDonald replies quickly. “Even if I’m recording a show, as soon as I shut me front door that’s me on me holidays, you know? In fact, that’s the one thing I say to everybody: don’t take your problems on holiday. You saved a lot of money to go away, so why not have a bloody good time?”
McDonald also encourages young people to consider a job on a cruise ship for an unparalleled slice of the university of life. “I started off in working men’s clubs and that was a baptism I tell you,” she recalls.
“But if you’re a performer, or even if you just want to see a bit of the world, I’d recommend getting a job on a cruise. You see all these amazing places and there’s so much camaraderie amongst the staff: it’s like family.” (In a memorable episode of 1998’s The Cruise McDonald married her first husband, ship's plumbing engineer Henrik Brixen, as a damp-eyed ship’s staff looked on.)
- READ MORE: Jane McDonald shares peek into relationship with ex-husband -
After thirty years of cruising, as a performer, professional reviewer and paying guest, I’m keen to hear McDonald’s tips for would-be cruise-goers. She’s gone on record, in earlier interviews, as a cheerleader for classic European river cruises.
“Yes I do say river cruises for first-time cruisers as you wouldn’t believe the number of people who tell me they are put off cruising by the fear of being in open water,” McDonald explains. “On river cruises you can see the shore, which helps with the nerves, plus you’re right in the heart of the city when you dock.”
McDonald’s favourite cruise line is the ocean-going Silversea, its fleet of intimate luxury cruise-liners plying routes across Africa and the Indian Ocean, East Asia, Northern Europe and the Med.
“It was the golden ticket when I was a singer, you see, because you got your own suite and a free bar,” McDonald explains. “I never got to sing on Silverseas; so there’s summat special in the fact that I can afford to do it now.”
- READ MORE: Jane McDonald reveals 'shocking' behaviour of cruise crew -
That said, McDonald’s most memorable cruise of recent years was Uniworld’s Christmas Market Cruise along the Rhine in the first series of Channel 5’s Cruising, which featured twinkly Christmas town squares, festive snowfall and “proper lovely eggnog when you got back on board”.
Her new Channel 5 show Holidaying, in which McDonald leads a team of celebrity reviewers including Strictly champion Ore Oduba and former royal correspondent Jennie Bond, gives McDonald the opportunity to poke about the many cities she’s seen as whistlestop cruise excursions.
The Catalonian resort town of Sitges was her favourite find on research for the first series. “I didn’t realise it was so close to Barcelona: so you get all the nightlife and the fantastic shopping plus this beautiful coastline.”
But wherever you take this famous Yorkshire girl, she always travels with a souvenir of home.
McDonald famously likes a petrol-strength cup of builder’s tea and, disappointed by the weak blends she finds on the road, travels with her own bags and a half-pint mug. “I usually need an extra case just for the tea bags,” she laughs.
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