As it says on my Twitter page: “I know what’s good.” Lorraine Bowen featured in my column back in February! I’ve been a huge fan since we met at Rye Bay Scallop Week’s scallop pageant in 2013. I was a participant, she was a judge and compere. Now look. She’s only gone and charmed the golden buzzer off David Walliams in ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent show!
Her kitsch costumes, cabaret tunes and ability to laugh at herself will sweeten up your day like drizzle-crystalised candy floss on a winter’s day on Brighton Pier. She wouldn’t be out of place as an animated character on SpongeBob SquarePants.
I remember getting ready for a scallop pageant upstairs at The Ship Inn, Rye, with her. She was busy getting into character as her accordion-playing, sea shanty-belting, bearded, nearly faceless alter-ego Cap’n Fish Fingers. She was peering into a mirror through her huge pink rain hat and giant beard that obscured most of her head, laughing at herself, repeating the name Cap’n Fishfingarrrrsss more and more exaggeratedly.
Bowen had just returned to her Brighton home from her morning swim and was having breakfast cooked for her when I called. She tells me she is reading some “bad press” about herself in The Sun newspaper. “Well, they spelled my name right, and said I’ve got songs on iTunes. So that’s good for me.” Bowen is incredibly articulate and can make a well rounded point in just a few sentences. I found myself agreeing with everything she said. Despite her carefree and fun presence, she focused on making the best of her golden opportunity. She has worked tirelessly toward success throughout her “up and down” career. She has a cult following from her festival performances and an array of music videos, which has led to a lot of tabloid vitriol.
BR Your BGT audition was aired on Saturday night. You woke up famous on Sunday. What was it like leaving the house for the first time?
LB Oh God. I wore dark glasses. It was hilarious. I thought everyone would be pointing at me. I got recognised buying my Lemsips. It’s so funny how people hold on to you and look all around you and up and down, as if you’re a cardboard cut-out suddenly come alive or something. It’s really odd.
BR Are people over familiar?
LB Well one lady in the gym said I looked younger in real life, which is quite good [laughs]. I’m writing everything down. It’s just amazing to be trending on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve got the offers coming in but I haven’t got an agent or a manager!
BR Why not?
LB People are still trying to fathom out what I actually am because I’ve got a few celebrity friends.
[Lorraine is referring to last week’s tabloid outrage at the fact that, unlike a lot of BGT auditions, she has been performing for years. Notably her tour with Billy Bragg]
BR I have noticed that the press keep mentioning the Billy Bragg connection. Have you found it hard that people see you as having a leg up?
LB I don’t know really. The fact is that as a musician, you go through these ups and . . . In fact [laughs] on the phone to a press lady yesterday, she said there had been a lot of negative things said about that. I said “Look. That happened in 1988 for goodness sake. You weren’t born then.” You know, most people weren’t even born then. I’m 53. I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I wouldn’t keep sitting around waiting for a blinking record contract. I’ve been going out doing the records myself, you know, creating my own label and stuff. It’s The Little Red Hen isn’t it. If no one else will do it, you should do it yourself. Luckily the digital revolution came along when it did and enabled us to be able to do that. The record industry is dead anyway.
Being chosen as a golden buzzer act
LB I’m run down, you know, I can’t sleep very well, but, at the end of the day, I’m absolutely thrilled to bits. David Walliams has endorsed me as his favourite act. Out of 18,000 other people. It’s just phenomenal. If I didn’t have semi-finals next week, I’d take a much lighter view on everything going on at the moment but I’ve got to concentrate so much, cuz I’ve got to be absolutely brilliant. All us artists, including Timberlina, [Rye’s own drag superstar Tim Redfern and friend of Bowen] are struggling artists, who have had little bits of glory and then it’s back to the hard work. That’s why I went on the blinkin’ show. Work wasn’t coming in. I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do on a small scale. I thought: wouldn’t it be fun to take that to the next level. [Watch her audition here.]
LB I love the fact it doesn’t have a multistorey car park. Ha, ha, ha! It hasn’t been ruined in the 1970s! I love the views of the estuary. Oh, and the charity shops. Obviously number one is the fact that the wonderful cabaret artist Timberlina lives there! Ooh God, I love the scallop festival!
BR You’re pretty famous now. Is it likely you’ll be coming back to Rye to judge a scallop pageant next year, if we have one?
LB Oh God. I’d love to! I’ll say yes! Obviously at the moment I’m keeping really down to earth but I haven’t got a blinking clue what is gonna happen after this. Maybe nothing. Maybe I’ll just be spat out after the next X Factor singer comes along. You know.
BR I see you working with Pee-wee Herman. He always had funny, quirky, cabaret-style women on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He’s gathering momentum in the UK and has a new film coming out. I think you two are destined to meet each other.
LB Oh yeah, I know! I know Pee-wee Herman. Can you send me a link? Oh, breakfast is here.
BR OK, I’ll let you get on. Anything else you’d like to add?
LB Well, just that I wish you good luck! It’s great, going from meeting you at the scallop pageant to you becoming a superstar interviewer!
BR Well, thanks Lorraine! Hopefully I’ll see you at scallop week next year!
LB Brilliant! Thanks, bye!
Truly British. Truly talented and still truly lovely. Break a leg Lorraine! You can watch her compete in the BGT semis on ITV from 7.30-9.30pm on Monday May 25. The semis run from Monday to Friday. Plus: Sing Burt Bacharach in Bexhill with Lorraine Bowen, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sunday June 28, 10:45am, £16 (booking and information on 01424 229111).