Any nerves Rachael O’Connor felt at returning to the Millennium Forum to star as Snow White in this year’s pantomime disappeared the moment she walked into rehearsal this week.
The Drumsurn woman, busy making a name for herself in the past few years as a singing star thanks to her appearances on BBC1’s The Voice, grew up around the stage at the Forum.
“I have such fond memories of playing Sandy in Grease there among other things,” she says, “but it had been six years since I had been there and I was nervous as it had been so long since I had seen everyone.
“But as soon as I walked in again, it was like I had never left.”
As well as her pantomime debut, Snow White will be her first foray back into the acting world as Rachael has spent the last few years concentrating on her music career, as well as starring in Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.
Recently she has been working with a management company in Sweden, working with a number of producers and songwriters.
“The plan is to have a few songs and a few shows lined up for next summer,” she said.
“My passion will always be singing, but it is lovely to have the opportunity to do that and be able to act as well.
“This is my first real acting job since I was 15. It’s important to me to show people that I am an actress and it is lovely that I have the chance to do that in front of a home crowd.”
Rachael arrived at her first rehearsal on Monday fresh off the plane from Poland on Saturday where she had been performing Lord of the Dance.
She tours frequently with Flatley’s company which provided her with one of her first breaks when she acted as understudy to Derry’s own Nadine Coyle.
“I got to know her then and we still keep in touch,” she says.
“Although I’ve obviously had a busy few days I have managed to catch up with what she’s been doing in the jungle.
“Fair play to her - I couldn’t have jumped out of that plane and I felt so sorry for her when she was crying.
“It’s so funny, though, that as soon as someone from Derry is on the TV, here people go ‘that’s our Nadine’ and want to see her do well.
“She’s always been an inspiration to me.”
William Caulfield’s turn as the Dame in the annual Millennium Forum pantomime has become something of a cherished Derry tradition.
“Going to the panto was always a big deal and a huge day out when I was growing up,” says Rachael.
“My cousins, my nana, my mum, my aunt, everyone came and back then I remember thinking that I’d really love to be the princess, so when I heard this year the pantomime was Snow White I knew I just had to go for it.
“I’m finding it so exciting and everyone is so excited for me. It’s a real privilege to be acting alongside a cast like this one, especially with William as growing up he was always the dame who always got me laughing.
“When people think pantomime, they say ‘sure it’s only a bit of craic’, but even on day two of rehearsals and when you see what everyone has to do to make it work, you start to realise how complicated it actually is. We are in for a very intense two weeks of rehearsals and then the four-week run. It might be my first pantomime at the Millennium Forum and I could be back next year, I could even be here as long as William - who knows?”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs performs at the Millennium Forum from Wednesday 4th to Sunday 29th December.