Here’s to getting back into the Groove

Here’s to getting back into the Groove


The last few weeks in the UK, you couldn’t scroll through a newsfeed without seeing the above text; a desperate, yet justified, call to the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to do everything he can to re-open our theatres and live entertainment venues for performances and boy, we really do crave a live audience.

I have a feeling that whatever happens, we’ll find a way to reach out to fans. It won’t be easy but our industry is a creative one and right now, we’re having to think more creatively than ever before – Six the Musical to go on tour as a drive-in concert, Hamilton breaking twitter after being released on Disney+ and 800 past performers from Cats, recreating the Jellicle Ball Choreography by Dame Gillian Lynne for YouTube.

It’s not just performers, but the many staff members it takes to pull off theatre. The people backstage who work tirelessly to make a stage show happen. It isn’t just us performers that need our theatres back.

For me, in the absence of face-to-face performances that I really miss. I have been busy doing a number of exciting things including filming my singing workshops for schools. I have appeared on radio and in the press. I have spent this time working on my future strategy, but I haven’t been performing. The thing I love to do the most and what is fundamentally, my job.

I’ve not been singing as much as I would have liked, so when I got a call from Royal Composer, Olga Thomas, to say “Joanna sweetiepie, we’re going back in the studio” I let out a triumphant cheer of joy that scared the birds out of the trees. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve worked with Olga on many occasions before, resulting in two classical number one singles and a great friendship, so for Olga to say that she would like me to sing on her new composition (lyrics by Adrian Warwick) in the not too distant future got me very excited.

“Joanna, are you free on Friday to record?”


 ‘Friday?’  That’s one week away!  I suddenly felt the strangest sensation, a mixture of huge excitement to be working again and ‘the fear’, as it would mean going back into Central London, in a recording studio whilst we are still in this pandemic, even though our rules have been relaxed. ‘Count me in’ I said, without hesitation. I was so excited at the prospect of going ‘back to work!’ however, I was unprepared for the sudden feeling of fear that arrived with it.

My fears have grown and evolved considerably in the last few months about all sorts of things but the anxiety of going back to work was not one I expected. This got me thinking, if I am feeling this way, how are others approaching the return to work or the return to normal?

I wanted to know more, so I caught up with four fantastic women who work in completely different industries to see if their stories could offer me some insight and reassurance.


Lucy Tammam  is a Fashion Designer and owner of Atelier Tammam, a simply beautiful couture fashion boutique in Bloomsbury, West London. They create one-of-a-kind bespoke garments, all sourced sustainably from suppliers in India, and offer alterations, restorations, styling, and a dress hire service. When closed during lockdown, they took the opportunity to design a small collection of climate inspired scarves which helped producers in India to pay their staff and survive the crisis.

Turning her attention to the design studio and boutique, which has just reopened, Lucy told me “COVID-19 has been terrible for my anxieties around things being properly clean and the situation has made me want to step up our efforts. We are installing a Samsung AirDresser which will mean we can sanitise dress samples as soon as they have been tried or worn, ready for the next customer. We’re also ensuring a weekly deep clean of the whole premises and daily disinfecting of high touch areas.”

“As soon as I got back to the studio my anxieties pretty much disappeared. It was SO GOOD to be back in my beloved Atelier. I’m so happy to see my customers again and they really appreciate the efforts we have made to make the showroom safer.”

Mandi Dunford is Assistant Head Teacher at Oakwood School in Horley, Surrey. During lockdown, teachers all over the country have worked tirelessly to continue educating our children, adapting to new technologies, and finding the balance between teaching those in person who could go into school and ensuring that work set for those at home could be accessed via virtual learning. Our teachers have been heroes, just ask the many millions of parents who have had to step in and provide additional home-schooling as they doff their caps to our educators.

Not seeing all of your students every day must be tough. Mandi told me “At first, it was really strange; the day we heard schools were closing, there were so many tears from both students and staff alike. Some students are BRILLIANT though and message me to ask questions and respond to my comments with a ‘thanks Miss’ and a ‘hope you are well’. Saying that though, it is definitely hard without the widespread interaction.”

I realise whilst talking to Mandi that she has already had to adapt to a ‘new normal’. I think I was making a huge assumption that it would be really bad, when the reality provides many unexpected happy moments.

“Teaching those (children of key workers) who could go into school has been great, they have loved being there and seeing some of their friends.

When pupils fully return in September it will be so good to have them all back, but it IS odd to think theatres cannot open when 1,300 students and 140 staff will be able to share a building.”

Katie Michaelis is a well-known freelance make-up artist and social influencer with thousands of followers across the world. Operating in Sydney, Australia, she was unable to work with clients during their own lockdown, but saw the positives of having some time back to update her business website, edit photos and rearrange her studio. However, Katie started to feel the pressure with more people looking online for videos to watch yet the world events made her feel somewhat uninspired:

“Rather than trying to force out content, I decided to take some time off and focus on my well-being,” she told me.  Bravo Katie! “This time off social media allowed me to reflect on my goals and helped me regain inspiration.”

With Australia, relaxing their rules sooner than the UK, I wondered how she felt about returning to work.

“I felt very anxious working face-to-face with clients again. Although I knew that I was taking all the necessary precautions, I had no idea who my clients were, where they had been and how many other people they had mixed with. However, with no vaccine in sight, I could not let my concerns prevent me from re-opening my business and taking on new jobs.”

Finally, I caught up with Francesca Gosling, a midwife working for the NHS. Like Mandi, Francesca had to keep working throughout lockdown as quite obviously, “Babies have no idea about the pandemic and they just keep coming!”

“I was really grateful to keep working through lockdown. It was good to feel useful and to have a sense of normality. At the beginning I did feel nervous going into work. There were lots of changes and new practices and I was also worried about spreading any potential virus around the wards or bringing it home and making my family sick.”

This has clearly been a very stressful and worrying time for Francesca and everyone in the NHS.

“Sadly, we lost a doctor and a nurse to Covid-19 in our hospital which was shocking and very upsetting yet, as a result of these challenging times we really pulled together and the team in maternity has never felt closer or stronger. The Thursday night #clapforcarers was amazing for morale. It was so appreciated. From rainbows in windows, to priority in supermarket queues, to a mass of voluntary support; we never felt alone.

“As a workforce we are more flexible and resilient than ever…which should help us with the baby boom that we anticipate for around Christmas time!”

Four fantastic women, each doing brilliant, important jobs. It was a pleasure to speak to them.

Having spoken to each of them and hearing about their anxieties or, more appropriately for me, how they have adapted to them, my own nerves calm about going back into a studio again. In fact, they turn into the opposite as I found myself giddily excited about recording a new song again, having put the job at hand into perspective.

Armed with my trusty facemask, plenty of hand sanitizer, a bottle of water and my routine of vocal warm-ups, I parked up near London Bridge Station and walked towards “The Hit Factory” where countless number 1 pop singles were made by the likes of Kylie, The Sugarbabes, Craig David and Jenifer Lopez in the 80s.

My mic, which was once used by John Lennon is waiting for me.  We hit record. The studio is safe. The vocals go really well and I love singing Olga’s beautiful new song. Olga is looking her usual gorgeous and glamorous self, even behind a mask and hairnet. This is what it’s all about. This is what I do this job for and I CAN’T WAIT to share the song with the world.

Now, I just need an audience.

  • As this went to print, the UK Government announced a funding package for theatres.