Katy Ashworth loves being a big kid

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I’VE spent my professional life being a big kid,” says actress Katy Ashworth – and she couldn’t be more happy.

The 26-year-old is a popular fixture on Cbeebies’s I Can Cook, one of the channel’s highest rating TV shows, but come Christmas time she transforms into a panto star.

For the third year running, the actor and presenter is playing the role of Peter Pan, a character she fell in love with as a child.

“It was my favourite book growing up, along with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” she said. “I just love J M Barrie and his imagination.

“It’s very different to other pantos as you have this beautiful linear story and so many beautiful characters. I think girls always give the role something different when they play Peter and I play him quite boyishly.”

Rehearsals are in full swing for the show which opens at the Empire next Thursday and runs until January 6.

Joining Katy will be Tom Lister, best known as bad boy Carl King Emmerdale, as the dastardly Captain Hook. Nickelodeon and CITV presenter, actor and stand-up comedian Sy Thomas joins the cast as Smee while Sarah Jane Buckley stars as the loveable Mrs Darling. Sarah is best known as crazy Kathy Barnes in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks.

Katy said: “We’ve only been in rehearsals for five days, but it genuinely feels like we’ve all known each other for ages.”

This year’s festive Empire offering is a return to form for the theatre who, for the past two years, have hosted White Christmas and Legally Blonde instead of a pantomime.

“I head about this,” said Katy. “There’s been a massive hype about the show, so we’re really looking forward to getting out there and meeting the audience, it’s such an amazing theatre to perform in as well.

“People can expect some fantastic musical numbers from the show, some spectacular flying and a lot of laughs.”

Katy, is of course, no stranger to making children giggle. The most recent series of I Can Cook with You saw Katy travelling the country to farms and factories riding on combine harvesters and cooking with children in a fun way.

She’s also become known for her comedy sketches with fellow CBeebies presenters.

Despite the long slog of panto, she says it’s something she looks forward to every year.

“It’s hard work, but I love it,” she said. “Panto is my favourite time of year and I would hate to be without it.”

* Peter Pan is at the Sunderland Empire from December 13 to January 6 with tickets priced £10-£25. Tickets are also available from the Box Office on High Street West, from Tel. 0844 871 3022 and online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.

* PETER Pan is a character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie.

A mischievous boy who can fly and who never ages, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Native Americans, fairies, pirates, and occasionally ordinary children from the world outside of Neverland.

Peter Pan first appeared in a section of The Little White Bird, a 1902 novel written by Barrie for adults. The character’s best-known adventure debuted in 1904, in the stage play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

The play was adapted and expanded somewhat as a novel, published in 1911 as Peter and Wendy (later as Peter Pan and Wendy, and later still as Peter Pan).

Countless interpretations of Peter have been made over the years including Hook in 1991, a film by Steven Spielberg and Disney film Return to Never Land in 2002.