Interview with Pui Fan Lee
What made you decide to embark on a career in the Arts?
I started when I was quite young. At the age of 13 I joined a small group called The Central Television Workshop which was a drama group based in Nottingham. I was really very lucky because that TV group was sponsored by the local TV station. It meant that when TV shows were being made and they needed a kid, we got the chance to audition. So I was a really lucky kid, being a child who had never taken part in any drama at all or anything at school, I was literally plucked from the street to be part of this little group and then I was lucky enough to be on telly when I was a kid.
So that sort of started the journey, then I went through school as normal doing lots of little shows and everything and in the end I decided that I was going to go to drama school. I did actually go to LAMDA when I was 18 and there we have it.
What has been a career highlight for you?
I had quite an unusual career really, in that 20 years ago I went for an audition and I ended up being Po in the Teletubbies. That was definitely one of the most surprising jobs I ever took on. I wouldn’t say that it was the most challenging artistic role, in terms of drama after three years of doing my classical training at drama school to be in a red furry costume running over hills. But it was a job I took on not knowing the consequences of that show and how big it would be globally and historically. So in terms of amazing surprise, that has got to be one of them.
What advice would you offer to young people aspiring to have a career in the Arts?
I think that nowadays things have changed, in that I think it’s to do with how much you do. I think learn and do as much as possible. Because so much technology is available, I’d say make your own things, try out as many different things as possible, meet as many people as possible and do it. Don’t wait around because there are people next door that can make a movie in an afternoon because they’ve got the know-how and they’re found out how to do it. I would just say, follow your dream but also do as much as you can and hopefully you’ll get noticed.
Why did you choose to work with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra?
I’ve actually got quite in a connection with Bournemouth in that my co-presenter Chris Jarvis lived there for the last decade or so, he just moved to be closer to his parents. So I have spent a lot of time in Bournemouth and we’ve worked at the Bournemouth Pavilion a few times. I love Bournemouth!
Last year I worked with the BSO at Lighthouse, Poole and oh my goodness it was a lovely experience. They were a really fantastic company to work with and I’m really looking forward to working with them again this Christmas.
After presenting last year’s concert in Poole of The Snowman, what was your most memorable moment?
I will be introducing the wonderful animated movie The Snowman again. There will be a lovely young treble who comes and sings along with the Orchestra. In terms of memorable, when they young person comes to join in during that part of the concert and story, I’m sorry we’re all in tears. It’s the most joyous parts of the story when he flies though the air.
What do you find most enchanting about the story of The Nutcracker?
There are two things. The music itself, the Nutcracker Suite, I didn’t realise I was so familiar with it because you hear it all your life, with different sections on TV ads and everywhere. And the story itself is completely nuts and crackers all at the same time. It’s a very old story and yet it’s magical, fantastic and new, as well as being as modern as some of the newer fantasies that hear around at the moment.
What do you find most enchanting about the story of Paddington Bear’s First Concert?
I love Paddington. I’ve recently seen Paddington 2 the movie, so it’s perfect timing in that Paddington to everywhere. I recently did a really lovely charity event at Paddington station with the Paddington people and Prince William and Kate. So I’ve got a very big connection with Paddington at the moment.
Paddington Bear’s First Concert is an original story by the recently departed Michael Bond. With the music, a lot of the older members of the audience will remember the original music from the TV show, that’s all in it. The story is so wonderful and his character comes through. I love it because it’s fun, Paddington gets himself into a real mess, and it’s a really lovely story.
What is your relationship with classical music?
I must say that I have a very limited relationship with classical music. However, over the last few years doing these concerts at Christmas, I’ve found this whole new love of classical music. The first time I sat on the stage with the Orchestra a few years ago, honestly, I thought my whole world had opened up. It was just incredible and so humbling and overwhelming.
I just feel like I’ve opened up a whole new section in my being. I hear things differently now, I never used to hear all of the different instruments and everything. I feel like I’ve learnt a new language, well I haven’t learnt it yet I’m just scratching the surface here.
But I have a lot of love for music and I hope that will be the same for lots of the young people who come to the concert. Hopefully they will have the same experience I’ve had.
Do you think it’s important to introduce young people to classical music?
Oh my goodness, of course. I feel like nowadays, especially with technology where you can play the piano on an app, it’s often digressed from real music, listening and playing. I think that when people actually come and see it’s like nothing else, you can’t compare! It’s not the same as putting on a CD or a record or anything like that, it’s the whole atmosphere. Also entering the venue, where we play, is just a phenomenal experience for them.
I think that the whole thing as a package, going to the venue and listening, hearing and seeing is a multi-sensual experience.
So to answer your question, definitely!
What are your interests outside of work?
Well at the moment I’ll tell you what I have in front of me as well as all the music and everything for the Nutcracker. I am surrounded by pink raffle tickets at the moment; I’m helping to do the school fair. I’ve got two sons as well. I’m a proper soccer mum; both my sons play on a Saturday league and Sunday league, so you’ll see me around the South East in my wellies around some football pitch. So my weekends are taken up by being that embarrassing football mother.
I love cooking actually, that is my other passion. I really love cooking, so that’s what I like to do to run away from everything.
The BSO’s live screening of the Snowman, with the winning young singers, also features Cbeebies presenter Pui Fan Lee narrating the tale of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in Poole (Tuesday 19 December) and Paddington Bear’s First Concert in Portsmouth (22 December).
For an example of what this concert will be like, please click here for a video of last year’s concert rehearsal.