Pembrokeshire actress and singer Connie Fisher entered the public consciousness after winning the BBC One show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? in 2006. She played the role of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music for five years before being diagnosed with congenital sulcus vocalis – a condition that severely damaged her vocal cords. After treatment from the same surgeon who operated on the singer Adele, Connie is back on stage as Ruth Sherwood in the musical comedy Wonderful Town.
After the recent problems you’ve had with your vocal cords, does this feel like a comeback for you?
I think it does feel like a comeback for me. I was told a couple of years ago I wouldn’t sing again so I lost a lot of faith in what was achievable so to be back on stage is a thrill and I’ve started to enjoy performing again rather than worrying about being too nervous.
Tell me a bit about Wonderful Town?
It’s about two sisters from Ohio set in the 1930s. My character Ruth Sherwood is a writer and very unlucky in love whereas her sister Eileen is beautiful (points to actress Lucy Van Gasse: as you can see, very well cast) and an aspiring actress and they believe together they’re going to make it in New York. It’s all about the chaos they cause in the city and the love triangle between Bob Barrett (played by actor Michael Xavier), Eileen and Ruth. I liken it to Sex and the City.
So your character goes to the big city in search of love and fortune. Can you relate to her?
I can relate to her with regards to ambition. Coming from Pembrokeshire I never thought I’d end up in London. I suppose there’s a sense of both of us going to the big city because we believe in our talent.
It’s been six years since you won the BBC 1 show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? How has winning the show changed your life?
It’s flown, hasn’t it? It’s completely changed my life – I wouldn’t be sat here taking a leading role for a start.
Playing Maria von Trapp was your big break. It must’ve been difficult to give up the role after five years?
It was but once you’ve repeated yourself for over a thousand performances that’s a lot. Your job then isn’t just to perform the role well, it’s to try and keep it fresh and find new things in it.
How important is it for you to be a multi-faceted performer?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to present my own radio show, present programmes for BBC Wales and also be given roles on ITV and the BBC because of winning How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
So many opportunities have presented themselves that haven’t involved playing the part of Julie Andrews or a nun. I feel like so many doors have opened and they wouldn’t have done so if people hadn’t voted for me on the programme. I’d probably still be sat in a telesales office ringing you up about advertising.
What are the perks of fame?
I don’t know if I’m famous really.
OK, but I am often called Carrie Fisher (aka Princess Leia from Star Wars) or Connie Francis (the deceased American singer). I went to a sci-fi convention as part of the BBC TV series Connie’s Wales to find out about extreme hobbies. I dressed as Princess Leia and on one of the sci-fi internet forums they said Carrie Fisher was there (laughs). I think they were gutted when they actually found out it was me.
What are the pitfalls of fame then, aside from confusing celebrity identities?
Journalists trying to catch you out or twist your words – I think they feel as writers they have artistic licence to change things and once you’ve said something that’s it – it’s out there. All I am is a girl who won a TV show who then became well known. I have no problem with people coming up to me in the street saying ‘I voted for you’ or ‘will you sign this?’, I enjoy that, because I’m always grateful to people for supporting me.
What’s your favourite venue to perform in?
I have to be a bit biased, but I do love Wales Millennium Centre. Acoustically, Edinburgh Playhouse is amazing as well.
How important is image in this industry?
It’s extremely important and casting is everything. I’m always going to be cast as the quirky, funny girl. I’ve always been told I fit into the quirky box, which is cool. You win people over with your humour, that’s how I won my husband over (laughs).
Staying on the subject of your husband; wasn’t Bryn Terfel instrumental in getting you both together?
He was. We meet on a train platform and chatted for a few minutes but the only personal information I got from him was that his name was Jeremy and he worked for HSBC. I googled Jeremy HSBC – do you know how many called Jeremy work for HSBC?
At the time, I was in a show with Alistair McGowen (I remember telling Jeremy I was in a show with Alistair) and four days after we’d met a huge bouquet of flowers arrived on the opening night. The card said ‘Dear Connie, Break a leg. With all my love… Andrew Lloyd Webber’. I’ve never been more disappointed!
Three weeks later, I had a call from Bryn (adopts Bryn Terfel voice) - ‘Hey, Connie, listen love – a friend of a friend mentioned he met you on a train platform in Cardiff and he wants to go for dinner’. I couldn’t stop screaming! We went for dinner and two years later we were married. It was all very romantic.
Michael Took was asking the questions.