He's behind you!

Well, actually my Prince Charming was right in front of me...

Published by: Jemma Gillard
Published on: 5 January 2012

I'd never heard of the Fairy Godmother appearing in Aladdin! But someone had definitely waved her magic wand over me...
I was 18, and starring in the Christmas panto Aladdin at the Kings Theatre in Portsmouth.
Pantomimes were in my blood, had been ever since my parents had taken me to see them when I was a child.
I could remember it as clear as day, the three of us with our hands cupped around our mouths yelling ‘he's behind you' as the villain comically chased after the panto dame.
The elaborate costumes, the cheesy songs, the naff jokes... I loved it all!
‘When I'm older, I want to be in panto, too!' I'd gushed to the actors as I jostled to get my programme signed afterwards. I'd meant it, too.
As soon as I was old enough, I'd begun my training at dancing school in Southsea, Portsmouth. And now here I was, on my first day of rehearsals for Aladdin which I was dancing in.
But it wasn't what was behind me that had taken my breath away. It was what was right in front of me - a tall, dark and very handsome man. ‘I'd climb his beanstalk any day,' I giggled to myself.
I was shy though and, among the glamorous dancers, I'd never felt more like Cinderella who couldn't go to the ball. My Fairy Godmother must have been listening though, because as soon as I smiled at him, he came over to talk to me. ‘You're by far the best in that troupe,' he grinned. ‘You dance beautifully. My name's Bill.'
‘Nice to meet you,' I blushed. I felt star-struck!
After that, we kept giving each other shy smiles across the stage. Then, a few nights later, Bill, 19, pulled me to one side. ‘Would you like to go out for a bite to eat afterwards?' he asked.
‘I'd love to!' I grinned. Red Riding Hood herself couldn't have asked for a better offer!
‘So how did you get into panto?' I asked, tucking into a posh chicken dinner.
‘Through my dad really, he's an actor, too,' Bill smiled. ‘But I've always loved panto, it's so much fun.'
Funny, good-looking and a panto fanatic! If a genie had popped out of a lamp right there, I couldn't have wished for more.
After dinner, Bill offered to take me home. ‘Your carriage awaits!' he smiled, helping me on to the bus for the 10-mile trip to my home in Cowplain, Hampshire.
‘See you tomorrow,' he grinned, leaving me with a peck on the cheek. I was so happy, I floated into bed...
But when I saw him next day, he told me he'd missed the last bus home. ‘I had to walk all the way,' he chuckled.
‘Oh no, you didn't!' I gasped.
‘Oh yes, I did!' Bill grinned.
From that moment on, he was my leading man. Love blossomed behind the scenes and on stage. Before we knew it, the curtains closed on our panto season - but not on our love.
Despite Bill heading back to London, he came to visit all the time. We even performed together again in a show of Red Riding Hood at Bristol's Hippodrome.
At one rehearsal, he took my hand and led me on to the stage.
‘I've got a surprise for you,' he chuckled.
‘What is it?' I giggled, smoothing down the skirt of my tutu and clutching my fairy wand.
Bending down on one knee, Bill smiled. ‘Will you marry me?'
‘Yes,' I gasped. He kissed me - and it couldn't have tasted sweeter to Sleeping Beauty.
We married a few months later on a Sunday morning in Portsmouth - but there was no swanky ball afterwards. We were both in a production called Come to the Show in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, and had to rush back before the curtain went up!
‘The show must go on!' we told our guests as they waved us off.
On the journey back, I snuggled up to my new hubby. ‘What a whirlwind day!' I laughed.
‘It was the best performance of my life,' Bill smiled, giving me a squeeze.
Soon after, I gave up dancing to become a full-time mum to Lori and, four years later, Gay. Bill continued to perform around the country, and even started his own variety act travelling around Europe and on board cruise ships.
Where possible, me and the kids went along, too. As soon as the lights dimmed in the theatre and the curtain rose, my heart would flip. I missed the thrill of being on stage, but I had so many happy memories of appearing in panto - after all, it gave me a husband and two kids!
‘That was never in the script,' I'd joke.
Bill eventually gave up panto in 1978, but the cheesy one-liners and glamorous make-up stayed a big part of our lives. We still go to the Kings Theatre every year to watch the panto. My favourite is Aladdin.
There really is nothing quite like it. Lori, now 53, and Gay, 49, have their own kids now, and grandkids too, and we all go together. Even better, we often get our photo albums out when the family comes over, and reminisce about our days in the spotlight.
Just the other day, I showed them to our great-grandsons Teddy, four, and nine-month-old Harry. Thankfully, they love the panto, too - we take Teddy with us every year and love seeing his little face light up.
‘Look, that's where Gran and Granddad met,' I told them, proudly. ‘Look at our costumes!'
‘Wow!' he gasped. Wow indeed! Thanks to panto, I found my very own Prince Charming - and, 64 years on, we're still living happily ever after.
Joy Johnson, 82, Southsea, Portsmouth