WHEN Jodie Prenger won the hearts of the judges and the British public on the BBC TV reality talent show I’d Do Anything in 2008, her dreams of appearing on the West End stage were finally realised.
The Blackpool-born singer and actress, who admits she had almost given up on her ambitions after having spent many years going to "countless" auditions, won the competition. She went on to find fame as Nancy in the subsequent Cameron Mackintosh production Oliver! and her star status was assured.
Since then she’s not looked back and has a CV bursting with leading roles both on stage and screen.
She is now back doing what she loves best – performing on stage and is in the middle of a lengthy nationwide tour of Calamity Jane in which she plays the lead.
Although the tour started in June last year, and despite the incredibly physical nature of the show, it’s clear she’s having a whale of a time.
"It was only supposed to be a six months run but was so successful and so well received that they extended it,” she tells me.
“It’s going so well and we are all really enjoying it. Everyone in the cast is stupidly brilliant and the reaction from the audience, well, I’ve never seen anything like it! You get everyone dancing and singing – it’s amazing!”
The show is arriving at the New Wimbledon Theatre tonight for a week-long run and Jodie couldn’t be happier.
“I'm really chuffed we are going to Wimbledon because I love that theatre,” she says cheerfully. “We opened Spamalot there so it holds special memories for me.
"The audiences there are always fantastic and really get into the swing of things so I can’t wait to get back there.
"I'm really short though - only 5 ft 3 and the shortest in the cast. Everyone thinks I'm really tall - probably because normally I wear six inch heels. So anyone coming along will need to bring glasses to see me!" she adds chuckling.
Calamity Jane tells the story of gun toting, sharp shooting Jane who can outrun and outshoot any man in Deadwood.
Hard, boastful and desperate to impress, she travels to Chicago to recruit a star, Adelaide Adams for the Deadwood Stage.
But things don’t go too smoothly for Calamity, as everyone in town favours the new girl and she struggles to keep her jealousy and pride in check.
It takes her long-standing enemy Wild Bill Hickok to make her see sense.
As Calamity, Jodie steps into the cowboy boots made famous by Doris Day who made the role her own in the 1953 film. And she admits there is a certain amount of pressure, not least because when she was growing up she idolised Doris Day.
“I was nervous about it initially because it was a role written for her, but I hope I’ve done her proud," she says.
“I love the film and have seen it so many times. It’s just got everything – a cracking story, brilliant music and plenty of action - basically the way I see it, you are born, you see Calamity Jane and then you die – that’s all there is too it!
"The songs are sensational. In fact there are a few which didn't make it in to the film but we've got them in the show which is brilliant."
She says her favourites change every day because "they are like kids - you can't pick between them" - but adds that she loves Secret Love, Windy City and Black Hills particularly.
It's not just the musical numbers that attracted her to the production. The character of Calamity herself was a major draw.
“She’s brilliant and I’m absolutely loving playing her,” Jodie says warmly. "She's a real strong woman. In fact, bar her being an alcoholic, a smoker and, some allege, a prostitute, I've got every trait she had!
"She's defiant and always thinks she's right of course, like me, but she goes on a journey. In the end we get to see her vulnerable side as well as her strong side.
"I love playing women who are gutsy, brave and feisty and who have a real depth to them."
As well as showing off her incredible voice, the role has enabled Jodie to add to her skills including learning how to lassoo which she says was "great fun" and playing musical instruments.
"I do a bit of tinkling on the ivories, a few chords on the ukulele and I'm a dab hand at the spoons - they are my speciality," she jokes.
"And I get to wear all the buck skins - I have honestly never been so comfortable on stage.
"What I love is that every night people come to see us and they've dressed up as well - we've had kids in cowboy outfits and one woman last night came as Wild Bill which was hilarious!
"It's so full on though that most days I go home to bed. Mind you there's nothing like a bath and a cheese sandwich at the end of the night," she laughs loudly.
"Most days I'm in bed with a cup of tea! It's not very rock n roll is it?"
With such strong feelings for the show Jodie admits she will be sad to hang up her boots and the costume at the end of the run this summer.
However, when she does, she has plans to emulate her idol once more and open an animal sanctuary.
"I found out Doris Day opened an animal sanctuary which is what I've always wanted to do as I love animals," she says. "In fact if it wasn't for I'd Do Anything, I'd have opened one by now," she says.
"I'd have a sheep with alopecia and a three legged goat. It's definitely going to happen one day."
But before that there is also the small matter of a charity bike ride immediately after the Wimbledon run in which some of the cast and crew will cycle to the Palace Theatre in Manchester to raise money for Hope For Justice.
"It's an anti trafficking and slavery charity and we're cycling the 250 miles in 24 hours to raise lots of money for them," she says.
"I'm no cyclist but some of the stories coming out of this charity are the most horrendous you'd ever hear.
"The challenge is going to be exciting though - I hope I don't get saddle sore - the audience will be asking why I'm walking like John Wayne otherwise!"
Calamity Jane is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway until Saturday, March 21. Tickets from £15. Visit www.atgtickets.com/wimbledon or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.
Visit www.justgiving.com/CalamityJane15 to sponsor the team on the cycle challenge.