This month has been quite a year for Jane McDonald, having announced that she will be chartering her first-ever cruise next year with Royal Caribbean and having released her autobiography, Riding the Waves: My Story. Chartering her life from success to disappointment and back again, here she gives us an exclusive insight into her new book and her incredible career to date.
Why did you decide to write your book?
I wrote my first autobiography 20 years ago, but so much has happened since then that I wanted to bring it up to date.
How has it been received?
I’ve been really humbled because it’s a big thing to open up so publicly, and I had a bit of a wobble before it came out, thinking, ‘I’m not sure I want the world to know all about me.’ But I’m thrilled that people loved the book. I’ve never had a reaction like it.
How would you describe the book?
Uplifting, with a happy ending, but be careful with the section about my mum’s death. That can make you cry.
Did your mum leave you anything that you still cherish?
Yes, her wedding ring. I wear it on my wedding finger because that’s how much she meant to me.
What was the hardest part for you to write?
I don’t do failure very well, and I don’t like to dwell on the past. I’m a person who always looks forward, so I found it quite painful to go back and look at things I’d done wrong.
Did you find writing it cathartic?
No, not at all! It hasn’t been an easy journey but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I realised that my story is the opposite of what success is supposed to look like. I was a club and cruise singer, which has always been frowned upon, but I have never faltered from what I am and where I come from. Now it’s gone full circle and I’m a bit trendy!
Which part of the book has proved most popular with your fans?
The lesson that it’s OK to fail, get up and start again, fail again and keep trying. That’s a good life lesson that you can’t teach anyone – you have to learn it yourself. That, and the lesson that you shouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s like a red rag to a bull for me.
You talk a lot about self-help books in your biography…
I love them! I’ve read a lot of those along the way, and they have helped me through some difficult times in my life. We don’t look after ourselves very well emotionally, but reading a self-help book can just give you a little nudge to get you back on the right path.
Did you have difficulty choosing the photos for the book?
No, because when my mum passed away, I inherited all the family photos. It just happened to be at the time I was writing the book, so it all worked out. What’s amazing is how skinny we all looked as kids.
You were bullied at school – how did that affect your later life?
It made me a better musician because I was so afraid of the girls that bullied me that my teacher, Mrs Brierley, picked up on what was happening and let me go inside at lunchtime to practise the piano. She was such an inspiration to me and helped me so much at school. She’s in her 90s now, but we’re still in touch and we love writing letters to each other. She loves it that the shy little girl from Wakefield she used to teach has become a success.
You still live in Wakefield – tell us why it’s so special to you…
I was meant to be born there! It’s right in the centre of the UK, and as an artist who tours a lot, it’s the perfect pick-up point for tours. Also, I can walk around the town and no one bats an eyelid – and it has the best pork pies in Britain.
— Jane McDonald (@TheJaneMcDonald) December 19, 2019
What’s your best memory of being a cruise singer?
I was doing a job I loved, I had a permanent tan, I was seeing the world and getting paid for it. What’s not to love about that? I would recommend working on a cruise ship to anyone – it’s a wonderful life. My cabin was no bigger than a broom cupboard but I still had the time of my life.
What was the best place you visited?
I loved Bermuda – the beaches are fantastic. I travelled between New York and Bermuda for eight months non-stop and it was a blast. I’m still in touch with a lot of the staff I met on those cruises, and we all have the best memories from our travels.
What has been the best (and worst) moment in your career?
I won a BAFTA for my TV show, Cruising With Jane McDonald, which was incredible and totally unexpected. My lowest point was when my career came to a temporary stop. The bigger you are, the harder you fall, so it was a very traumatic time in my life. What I learned is that when you’re that far down, the only way is up.
…and in your private life?
My best moment is right now – I’m really enjoying my life. In our industry, we make ourselves so anxious about things – but right now, I don’t care. I think it’s an age thing, too. Once you get rid of the fear, you can face anything, and nothing scares me now. My lowest point came when my husband Henrik left me. It wasn’t just the fact that my marriage had collapsed – I had a lot of problems with my business, too. That was a very low point in my life.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to your 21-year-old self?
Go out there and enjoy your life a bit more, and don’t get married!
Tell us something about yourself that your fans might find surprising…
I’m the most boring person offstage. Like everyone, I like to sit at home in my trackie bottoms, eating chocolate and watching TV. I’d be perfect on Gogglebox!
What is your favourite soap?
Emmerdale, closely followed by Coronation Street. I’d love to play a barmaid in Emmerdale – I can see myself as landlady of the Woolpack.
Where are you planning to travel to in 2020?
The Caribbean. I love it there, and I’m looking forward to a bit of sun.
— Jane McDonald (@TheJaneMcDonald) December 17, 2019
In September you’ll be hosting your own cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. How are the preparations going?
I’m going to be away from January to April, but then as soon as I get home I’ll be thinking about my own cruise and what I want to wear on board. I love a sparkly outfit!
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?
Yes – to give myself more time, and that’s one resolution I am definitely going to stick to. I only have about eight weeks not booked up in 2020 and I am going to keep them free. I just want to sit at home and put my feet up with my partner Ed. I can’t wait!
Riding the Waves: My Story, £20 hardback, published by Virgin Books