It was early December this year and I went along to the Millennium Forum in Derry to interview some of the current Panto cast about their production of Cinderella. I immediately recognised William Caulfield, Keith Lecky, James Lynch and Kathryn Rutherford. They're all familiar faces on the Derry Panto stage. A few days later I spoke with the Fairy Godmother, Orla Mullan, again a familiar local face on the Derry stage. But on that first day I also saw Prince Charming, a young man (then 20, now 21) who happened to be Mark Lamb. He was as charming as one would expect a Prince to be! But something struck me that day talking to this young guy.
When I went along to the said Pantomime a few nights later I can honestly say that this young guy, Mark Lamb, stole the show for me. Maybe I was contemplating that he was the age of my middle son last year, or my youngest son next year, but there was something about him that stole a little piece of my heart. He was impeccable as Prince Charming in every way. And so I had to know more.
Yesterday I got the opportunity to find out a little more. Mark kindly took some time out to chill with me and we had an absolutely delightful chat. Charming is an understatement to describe this young chap.
Just where did he come from? How did he end up in Derry? Where does he eventually hope to end up? I got all the answers I craved and more.
Mark Lamb turned 21 just before Christmas. He hails from Darlington, Co. Durham in England. He is currently in his first year of study at SLP Leeds. SLP Leeds is one of the leading UK training grounds for young artistic performing talent. Mark is studying Professional Musical Theater there. Just hearing him talk about his course of study and the college, showcases the passion that is within the young guy.
"My parents say I was always dancing and singing from a very young age. We had a caravan at a theme park when I was a child and when we holidayed there I was always on the stage! This is all I've ever wanted to do." And it shows. It shows in his very talking about it.
How on earth did he end up in Derry this very December as Prince Charming in the 2016 Pantomime, Cinderella? "In April this year I saw and ad. I applied and then I did an audition. This was my first professional audition. I'm not normally a nervous person but I was very nervous at this audition. Initially I auditioned for the position of a dancer. I ended up as Prince Charming."
During the month of May Mark was working his job then at Sainsburys and got a call to say he was cast as Prince Charming. "It was so overwhelming. I was simply over the moon", he told me. "Then in June I came over for a photoshoot. This was all so new to me. It was crazy. But I loved it all."
Mark said that he knew none of the cast and yet, "everyone was so nice to me from the onset. I felt right at home."
Mark also told me that Pantomime is something he always wanted to do. "Cinderella is the one pantomime I have always wanted to do and this was an amazing opportunity."
So how has Derry welcomed this young Durham chap, and has he had a pleasant experience here in the city we all love so well?
"Everyone has welcomed me. The Derry people have been so lovely. The Panto audiences have been great. The kids have been loud and great. I love loud. I love the kids. There have been days when I was tired, but the Derry crowd and people kept me going."
He adds, "I couldn't have asked for a better first job." This role has indeed been Mark Lambs first professional one. Derry will clearly hold a special place in his heart from here onwards.
"I would love to come back next year, I've enjoyed it so much." He also said that the cast have been so very nice to him, "everyone on the cast have been great. They have all welcomed me and made me feel so at home. William and the others have been brilliant."
When his dream does come to fruition (which I don't doubt that it will), I hope I get my name on one of those guest lists and have a tissue to hand as I wipe a very proud tear when I watch him perform on that West End stage. It might just be sooner that he thinks. The talent is there. The passion for his work oozes from his every word.
As a blogger and freelance writer, I've had the great privilege of meeting many famous musicians, actors and more, in recent years. I really do think I've made a friend in a potential future star this very month.
Here's wishing you lots of luck with everything you do in the future and fingers crossed we might even see you back on the Derry stage very soon. It really was a pleasure. But for now, it's over to you, Mark Lamb.