The People's Poet
PUBLISHED: 12:33 11 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
She may be nursing a nasty cold brought back from holiday in Russia, but there's still no mistaking the familiar voice. Pam Ayres apologises profusely for coughing and spluttering but, true to form, the popular poet makes light of it with the down...
Her latest book 'Surgically Enhanced' made it into the top 10 bestseller lists, and publishers are now bringing out smart new editions of her other two books: 'With These Hands' and 'The Works', which come out this month.
Many of Pam's poems are now in school textbooks throughout the world and she recently featured in a poll to find Britain's 20 funniest women.
Since making her first appearance on the ITV talent show 'Opportunity Knocks', career highlights have included an evening when she performed at a Royal Gala Charity Reception in St James's Palace attended by the Queen. She has also entertained the Queen at the Sandringham WI and was awarded the MBE in 2004.
During 2006 and 2007 she performed in more than 120 concerts including her 13th concert tour of Australia when she entertained a packed audience in the Sydney Opera House.
Earlier this year she co-starred in a BBC Radio 4 sitcom called 'Potting On' and viewers of BBC1's 'The One Show' recently saw her revisiting her modest childhood home in Oxfordshire. She describes her return after 55 years as a sobering experience.
"My husband was staggered that eight of us slept in that one house. Everyone was horrified that we didn't have flush toilets; that once a week my dad and one of my brothers staggered up the garden with this great heaped bucket, and stuck it in a hole in the garden. But it was the same for everyone."
A former member of the Women's Royal Air Force and secretary for a technology company, Pam is now married to concert agent and theatre producer Dudley Russell. Their two sons are aged 24 and 26.
Home is just over the border, in a Cotswold stone house just outside Cirencester, where she looks after a smallholding of 11 cows, five sheep, six guinea fowl and three dogs. She provides a foster home for rescued labradors and, along with Jamie Oliver and the Duchess of Richmond, Pam is a patron of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust.
This month she leaves home to embark on a round of concerts that takes in four dates in Somerset and she's looking forward to it.
"I like the unusual landscape in Somerset and the strange drainage channels that you don't find anywhere else"
"I've been to Somerset many times for performances and we always have to take a nostalgic trip to Bruton where Dudley went to school. He has very fond memories of King's and whenever we are that way we have a look round.
"I love going to Street and pottering around the outlet village - you can pick up all sorts of stuff. And I like the unusual landscape in Somerset and the strange drainage channels that you don't find anywhere else. It has a different atmosphere."
However, chatting about Somerset does throw up one particularly unfortunate childhood memory.
"I grew up hotly resentful of Weston-super-Mare because when I was very small my auntie took my sister on holiday there - and she didn't take me. My sister came back laden with beautiful shells, and I remember sitting in the corner of the room gnashing my teeth with envy."
A doll her sister brought back from her trip to the resort met an untimely end.
"I murdered that dolly. I pulled her arms and legs off," confesses Pam. "I grew up with a hostility towards Weston which I have to say has since dissolved!"
The tour, which takes in Yeovil, Taunton and Bath, as well as Weston, starts in Southport and ends in Canterbury in November.
"Tours are tiring and the motorways are boring and hostile places but once I get to the theatre it's fine. I've got my little suitcase and I lay out my stall with my mascara and my devices to cover blemishes. Then when I go to talk to the audience I love it. The older I get, the nicer it is.
"I was mortified and terrified for years and felt frightened and unworthy. But I have been doing it for a long time now. I give it my best effort and people say nice things and it's fun.
"Last year's tour was 98% sold out and at this stage in my career - I'm 61 - that's gratifying."
Pam finds she is still recognised when she's out and about - especially when people hear that warm country accent of hers.
"People are always nice when they come up to me. They say: 'Thanks for all the laughs', which is lovely on the one hand, but it does feel a bit like I'm on the way out, with one foot in the grave.
I hope I've got time to provide a few more." BY SARAH FORDOctagon TheatreBrewhouse TheatreThe Playhousewww.pamayres.com