Francine Lewis won high praise for her uncanny impressions on Britain’s Got Talent. She tells Francine Wolfisz all about her slow-burning rise to fame
When it comes to making a great impression, there’s no need to look any further than the very talented Francine Lewis.
The Jewish performer from Enfield has rarely been out of the headlines since auditioning for this year’s Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) – and went down a storm with the judges and public alike with her uncanny impersonations of Katie Price, Stacey Solomon and Cheryl Cole, to name but a few of the celebrities in her wide and witty repertoire.
The 37-year-old beat off stiff competition from thousands of other hopefuls and after unanimous praise from judges Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon, Amanda Holden and David Walliams, landed a place in the finale of the high-rated ITV show.
Although she was pipped to the top spot by Attraction, a shadow dance troupe from Hungary, the comedienne has said she is nevertheless proud of what she achieved – and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of Lewis from now on.
We spoke just before the BGT final – and within minutes I discover the married mum- of-two is just as bubbly and hilarious off-screen as she is when performing her impressive routines.
“Hello, my famous namesake,” I say to her. “Oh, you’re Francine as well?!” she laughs. “My God! I so rarely meet another Francine!”
Once the mutual giggling has ended over meeting another person with the same name, I manage to bring Lewis back down to earth (albeit for a brief time) and ask her why she had decided to audition for the show in the first place.
“I wanted to get back into the industry and there’s no better way than a show like that,” explains Lewis, who achieved minor fame in the past as a hostess on The Generation Game and featured on Channel 4’s sketch show, Very Important People, last year.
“It could have gone one of two ways for me. It could have been a disaster, but thank God it all went the right way. I had a feeling this could be the right thing to do. It was my gut instinct and it turned out to be the most amazing experience for me.”
She also admitted feeling “terrified” with nerves just before going on stage for the first time and said that while she had secured television 4appearances in the past, none had yet made her a “household name”.
“There might be people saying, ‘she’s more experienced than others’, but that’s not true. I don’t feel different to anyone else, otherwise I wouldn’t have entered the competition. I haven’t done any stand up or live shows since I can’t remember when – probably years and years ago!
“It’s also completely different when you are doing something for television, because you can do the scene over again. But this was a live performance and I was truly terrified!”
Lewis, who shares her Hertfordshire home with husband Joel Ryan and children, Brooke, 10 and Jake, seven, tells me she started doing impressions when she was just five years old.
Her first imitations were of her teachers and fellow pupils at Eversley Primary School in Enfield.
She laughs: “It was actually quite a weird thing to discover. As a child, I loved watching television, especially films and my mum was always watching these American soaps. So I would watch them with her and learn all the voices. I would spend hours just practising in my bedroom.
“My mum eventually noticed what I could do and then I would also take off my family and friends. People found it really funny and I would love to entertain everywhere I went. I was like a little performing monkey.”
Lewis went on to join Kids & Co Drama School in London, where she studied acting, singing and dancing.
Her first break came in the mid-1990s when she appeared on Garry Bushell’s weekly television show, Bushell On The Box, before being offered a slot on The Big Big Talent Show, presented by Jonathan Ross.
Other opportunities began to come her way, including Friday Night’s All Wright and Loose Women, but she failed to stay in the spotlight.
Her success on BGT, however, might just begin to open doors for her.
“If it does that and helps me do the thing I’ve always loved, then I’ll be more than happy,” says Lewis.
“Just to do the work I’ve always dreamed of – that’s all I want really”.
During her final performance on BGT, which was the highest-rated show of the year with an audience of just over 11 million, Lewis showed she really has got talent, with an impressive mix of impersonations and sharp one-liners.
As Alan Carr, she told judge David Walliams that he was “so far in the closet, he’s in Narnia,” while as Janet Street Porter, she said: “I’ve had so much bridge work done, that I have to pay a blimin’ toll charge every time I eat.”
She even brought back her popular impression of Jewish X Factor star Stacey Solomon and saved the best for last as Katie Price, with a musical extravaganza featuring Glamour Girl, a comical adaptation of the Aqua hit, Barbie Girl.
While she failed to scoop the ￡250,000 prize and the chance to perform at the Royal Variety Performance, Simon Cowell told her: “I really think we saw a star emerging tonight”, and the rest of the judging panel called her, “a genius, so clever and talented”.
Bolstered by those words, the support of her family, and the “absolutely fabulous” response from members of the Jewish community, Lewis – who has attracted more than 90,000 followers on Twitter – believes there has never been a better time for her to finally achieve her dream.
She adds: “I’ve always said to get to the final means I’m a winner in my mind.
“I would love to be back in the business, have a career again and show it’s never too late.”
Image credit: Malin Christenson