Singing from an open book: in conversation with Carrie Hope Fletcher

Some are simply destined to tread the boards – this is how it was for musical theatre star, author and vlogger Carrie Hope Fletcher who started out at the age of five with a Honey Nut Cheerios advert and never looked back. Words by Emma Clegg.

“Both my parents hate attention. If ever I’m in a show they will book the back row and they will be gone before I’m even out of costume, and they will call me from the train to say ‘well done’. They are averse to any sort of attention, so I’ve no idea where my brother and I get it from.”

These are the words of musical theatre star and stage sensation Carrie Hope Fletcher who is bringing her solo concert tour Carrie Hope Fletcher – An Open Book to Bath Forum in June. And her brother is singer songwriter Tom Fletcher, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of pop rock band McFly.

Despite having parents who prefer the back row to the spotlight, Carrie and Tom have a strong strand of music in their DNA. “My dad played guitar and he used to play in a band, so the house was always filled with music. My mum was a massive fan of musicals, so there has always been that love of music in the house, and that is where our musical tastes stem from.”

Carrie stepped into the spotlight early, at the age of five, as the young actress playing Little Red Riding Hood in a Honey Nut Cheerios advert. Her stage presence was clear to see even then. “It’s one of those jobs that follows me around – it’s still being shown in some countries,” laughs Carrie.

Every song in a musical is close to a moment when the emotions are so great that the words no longer convey what you want to say

“But that was the beginning of everything, I guess. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actress. There was a vague period of my life when I wanted to be an archeologist, but that was because of Indiana Jones, so even then it was all about an actor. I have always loved acting and performing.”

And so it came about that Carrie made her West End debut at the age of nine playing Young Éponine in Les Misérables. Carrie’s theatre credits since include Fantine in Les Misérables: The Concert, Veronica in Heathers, Wednesday in The Addams Family, Éponine in Les Misérables, Truly Scrumptious and Jemima in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Beth in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and Jane Banks in Mary Poppins. More recently she has appeared in The Witches of Eastwick as Sukie, Treason the Musical as Martha Percy, was named best performer in a female identifying role in a musical as the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, and last year she portrayed Grusha in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Embracing opportunity
Perhaps because it started so very early, Carrie’s career developed around taking up chances rather than as a result of any formal performance training. “It was just how everything panned out,” she explains. “I started writing a musical with my brother when I was about 16 after I’d done my GCSEs, just on a whim because we thought it would be fun. And because my brother was in a very successful band it got a lot of attention when we started talking about it to people, and Universal Records signed the soundtrack even before we’d finished it. This meant I had to choose between working on the musical or doing my A Levels and it felt like too much of an opportunity to miss out on.

“For me it was very much about being in the right place at the right time. Things just work out in a funny old way and you end up being in the place you wanted to be. I think if you have the opportunity to go to drama school, absolutely do it – it’s an invaluable education and there were so many things I had to learn on the job that others already knew. I do feel I had to work twice as hard to prove myself because I didn’t have a formal training.”

Vlogging and communication
As well as her stage work, Carrie is a best-selling novelist and a vlogger with her popular self-titled music and vlog channel attracting more than a million views a month.

“I feel like talking and communicating with people is so underrated these days,” Carrie says. “The videos and the YouTube channel at first were just a fun thing to do when I was 18 because I had the time, but then it took on a life of its own, and I saw how positively people were responding to me chatting about my life story. I’d get comments like, ‘you’ve just put into words what I’ve always been feeling’ and this spurred me on to talk about anything I could.

“Then when I got into theatre it attracted a massive group of musical theatre fans from all over the world. So YouTube became this amazing space for me to share things that I was passionate about with lots of other people.”

On tour and stage nerves
Carrie’s new tour from May to June includes 18 venues, with Bath the penultimate one on 10 June. “This tour of mine is a huge amalgamation of musical theatre and vlogging live. It’s me sitting down telling all of these stories mixed in with musical theatre songs. Every song I sing will have a story behind it and a reason as to why it’s there.

“It’s going to be very simple and honest. It’s called ‘An Open Book’ because that’s what I am – I have always been an oversharer and have always worn my heart on my sleeve – and I don’t know if that’s why I’m an actor or if it’s a result of being an actor.”

Carrie comes across as supremely confident and exuberant on stage and on her vlogs, but she’s having none of it. “It’s all fake. I am a very anxious and nervous performer. I usually have a little bit of a cry before I go on stage for the first night. I get terribly nervous, and never more so than when I have to be myself on stage. When I play a character I’ve got something to hide behind, whereas being myself on stage is terrifying.

“That’s why I’ve said yes to this tour, because it’s a challenge. The way I’m going to do it is make myself into a character. I think it’s the only way I’m going to be able to confidently walk on stage every night. And I’m so pleased I’m coming back to Bath because I performed there with The Addams Family in 2017 and our time in Bath was one of the best weeks of my tour – it’s such a beautiful place.”

The power of the musical
Musicals are the most popular genre for London theatres. Attendance in the capital reached almost 9.3 million in 2019, compared to 4.2 million for plays. “Music has always been a really powerful way of conveying emotion,” says Carrie. “That’s why people cry at songs or turn to music at pivotal moments in their lives: it’s why we play music as we walk down the aisle, it’s why we play music at funerals, it’s why when we are going through heartbreak we turn on Whitney Houston.

“Music can be the soundtrack to everything that we are feeling. And sometimes it can convey emotion in ways that we don’t have otherwise. Every song in a musical is close to a moment when the emotions are so great that the words no longer convey what you want to say, so you have to turn to music and song.

Carrie concludes, “There is nothing like live theatre – it’s that experience in shared theatre with a bunch of people in a dark room who are all feeling the same thing that you are feeling – it’s a collective experience.”

Why not go and embrace the collective experience with Carrie on 10 June at Bath Forum?

Carrie Hope Fletcher – An Open Book, Bath Forum, 10 June, 7.30pm; You can also find Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube @Carrie