Plaistow native Linda John-Pierre talks timing, talent and tongue piercings
- Credit: Helen Maybanks
For some success is defined by money. For others family and friends matter most. For actress Linda John-Pierre, success is doing what she loves at a consistent level.
By this metric, the Newham-born star of Mamma Mia! The Party is successful.
Though humbled by that suggestion, Linda is aware of her talent. A self-confessed "singer first", the 51-year-old began performing when she was three. Competitions were won, and wedding gigs were booked. By her own admission "I haven't had any formal training, but my voice has always stood me in good stead".
From a young age Linda was clear in her ambition. Having daughter Chanel as a teenager somewhat delayed those plans, but Linda's clarity never wavered. She took her first steps into the industry when Chanel was 14.
Far from tentative, Linda embarked on a two-month tour of Sweet Soul Music with a new venue every night.
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She felt the time was right; her daughter was now a trustworthy teenager. That contentment was mildly tested as Linda returned to a freshly pierced Chanel. Of her reaction, Linda laughs "well, she couldn't talk to me as her tongue was swollen".
This attitude typifies Linda. From our time together she impressed me as someone totally unfazed — measured, pragmatic and never inclined to think of any situation as a crisis.
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Linda admits she hasn't always felt this way, but values the trait: "Fifteen years ago, I would worry about a contract coming to an end. Now I don't as I know the planet takes care of me. Rejection is water off a duck's back - you can't let it affect you. It was difficult in the early years, but now I'm older and more experienced in all three elements of the industry, I just move on to the next".
Linda is also too consumed by the present to labour over the future. She beams at the mention of Mamma Mia! The Party, describing it as "the best job I've ever had - I feel like I play the character very well, and I've learnt a lot about myself and working with others".
As a member of the production's first cast, Linda has played Debbie since last July. At one point she was performing seven times a week, though this has decreased slightly. Rather than fear the workload, Linda is energised by this "immersive" show.
Preserving that energy matters, which is why Linda's life offstage is very different. She values space and silence, invigilating exams to satisfy the latter. When I joke that she is essentially monetising silence, Linda responds "I think it's healthy to have a different element of something positive in your life as an actor."
Linda ensures she has that. During a quieter period, she gained diplomas in counselling and business management. In the future she wants to do a special effects makeup course and study journalism.
The now is occupied by Mamma Mia! The Party — conveniently located at the O2 — close to the Stratford home where Linda grew up and her parents remain. Linda's father is also a strong singer, but prioritised caring for his family. Linda says talent isn't the only thing she inherited, crediting her parents' work ethic.
That example led Linda to her first job when she was 16, with Chanel nine months old. She happily recalls earning "£45 a week cash in hand at a fabric and haberdashery shop".
For Linda this was the first step in a lifelong ambition to show that "single parents can still have a dream". Linda's achievements come full circle when Chanel watches her perform; she is both best friend and trusted (constructive) critic.
As we finish talking, I remark that it feels like Linda has lived four lives in one. Though full of admiration, I ask how she sees the future. With customary pragmatism, Linda replies "most performers will probably go as long as they can, but I would like to be in a position where I get offered work and have the choice of whether I want to do it".
If Linda keeps performing at this level, no doubt the choice will be hers. For tickets visit mammamiatheparty.com/gb/en/new-tickets/.