On stage, Ed Petrie will be appearing at The Hawth Theatre in Crawley at the end of this month in their show Skellig, with the production running until 3rd April and, last year, he played The General in Our War, his first dramatic role in 20 years. Ed has had a long-running career with CBBC, having presented shows such as All Over the Place and Marrying Mum and Dad, and he was part of the presenting duo Ed and Oucho, with whom he reunited for their own YouTube channel. Most recently with CBBC, Ed played Mr Turnbull in last year’s release of Princess Mirror-Belle, and he has previously presented BAFTA Kids Roadshow and CBBC Live. Catching up with Ed, he tells us about his upcoming show Skellig, working with CBBC and presenting with Oucho.
Can you tell us about your upcoming show Skellig and about the character you’ll be playing?
It’s based on a book of the same name by David Almond and it’ll be on at The Hawth Theatre in Crawley, 31st March – 3rd April. The main role I’ll be playing is “Dad”, along with a lot of other smaller parts. That’s my casting bracket these days – dad. My days as a fresh-faced, bouncy kids TV presenter are clearly slipping behind me!
Was there anything that drew you to the production and how much did you know about the story before booking your role?
I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard about it before. I’m genuinely ashamed too, because it’s really good and everyone I talk to seems to have heard of it. It’s taught as a set text at schools these days so maybe I’m just showing my age again! I bought the book before the audition and devoured it in pretty much one sitting. I wanted to know more about these characters and particularly Skellig him/itself. I’d never come across anything quite like it. I figured if I was this intrigued then audiences would be too.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see Skellig and who do you think it will appeal to?
It’s only on for a few days and nearly all the tickets are sold already so get in there quick I say! I met the cast for the press day and the instant I walked into the room I could tell they’d done a great job matching the actors to the parts. Everyone was how I imagined them in my head, which is a good omen I think. Audience-wise I guess it’s the older kids and teenagers who will connect with it best, but there’s nothing inappropriate for younger kids and I think it’ll stand up as a piece of theatre for regular adult theatregoers too. You can connect with it on the level of what’s happening to the kids, but also the challenges the adults are going through too.
How will you prepare for the role and what are you looking forward to for opening in the show?
I enjoyed the book so much that I bought the prequel, My Name is Mina, and read that too, which was very swotty of me. At the moment I’m immersing myself in the script and, although I want to have the lines down before rehearsals start, I’m trying to keep an open mind and save my work on the performance for when we get in the room. It’s going to be quite a stripped-down physical piece and I think that’ll point the way when it comes to how to approach our performances.
Last year, you played The General in Our War, what can you say about this?
I’ve primarily been a comic actor and kids TV presenter. Our War was the first dramatic role I’ve tackled in 20 years! The pandemic gave me a lot of time to reflect on how I had originally set my sights on being an actor when I was a kid. I was lucky enough that a paid professional role came up in a theatre production just down the road from my house! It was about the part that black people played in the Second World War and it was a real eye-opener. Their presence in London during the Blitz has been pretty much airbrushed out of history and was much more extensive than I’d realised. It felt like something really important to be a part of and we’re hoping to take it on tour this year, which I’m very excited about.
How different do you find the experience working in theatre opposed to being a presenter?
Whisper it, but I actually find it easier! As a presenter they try and get you up on screen as much as possible to keep things on budget, so the schedules are relentless. But in the theatre you have to give some proper time to development and rehearsal, which I find very refreshing. I also grew up doing a lot of amateur dramatics as a kid, so I get a lovely warm nostalgic feeling when I arrive to work.
You’ve recently played Mr Turnbull in Princess Mirror-Belle, what was the show like to be part of?
It was in the middle of the pandemic, which meant it was a joy just to be working for a start! It’s based on a series of books by Julia Donaldson, so it was quality material too. And the filming was in Glasgow, one of my favourite cities in the UK. I’ve worked with BBC Scotland every year since my earliest days with CBBC back in 2007 so I always feel at home there. There was a particularly good array of Tunnocks confectionary on set too. I’m a big fan of a Caramel Log or three.
What do you enjoy most about being part of CBBC and working with them over the years?
Where do I even start? It was honestly my wildest dream come true to find myself working as their main presenter 15 years ago, and I never dreamed I’d continue to work for them for so long. I’m still very proud of all the content we turned out with Oucho the cactus, I had a lot of creative input into that. All Over The Place, my comedy travelogue show, was bucket list stuff every day. I literally travelled half the globe making that. And Marrying Mum and Dad changed my life. I loved the wedding ceremonies the kids organised for their parents so much that I trained as a Humanist wedding celebrant and perform weddings for people as my side hustle!
What is All Over The Place like to work on and do you have any stand-out highlights from your time filming the show?
I honestly think it was the best job in television. You’ll notice use of the past tense – sadly, a travel show wasn’t very pandemic friendly and I don’t think it’ll be coming back now! But it ran for ten years and we got to film all over the UK, USA, Australia, Europe and Asia. We had plans for Central and South America, but never mind! I think my stand-out highlight was either singing a song on top of the Great Wall of China or any of the shoots we did in Mongolia. Mostly because I spent every five minutes thinking “How the hell did I end up in Mongolia?!”.
As a presenter on Marrying Mum and Dad, what is the show like to do?
It’s so life-enhancing. All the family set-ups are the sort that a stern Victorian would tut loudly at – people who had kids but never married, blended families (usually the mum re-marrying) or same sex couples. What I learnt very early on was that love really does conquer all and no matter what some couples had been through, their relationships seemed just as solid as more conventional ones. In seven series, not a single couple has split up or got divorced (they have to check every time before they repeat a series!). I think that says a lot.
How is it working with Oucho and can you say about your YouTube channel?
God I miss Oucho. When we auditioned the puppeteers back in 2007, Warrick (the guy that performs him) and me clicked instantly and seem to have a sixth sense when we’re performing together. We just make each other funnier. We only worked together for three years but we were in each other’s pockets that whole time and the man is like a brother to me. We come from very different backgrounds too. He’s ten years younger than me and grew up working on a market stall in the East End and I went to a boarding school. On paper we shouldn’t click at all! But we missed working with each other so much that for our own amusement we self-funded some YouTube shorts for our 12th anniversary. I was really pleased with how they came out and we put them up on our own YouTube channel and then stuck a lot of our favourite stuff from years back on there too. Check it out!
Can you tell us about some of the other presenting work you’ve done, which has included Hacker Time?
Well, once you’re in at CBBC you are IN. They want you in everything (probably because we get used to being paid less than actors and presenters in grown-up telly!). So I’ve had the most amazing time popping up on Blue Peter, Saturday morning TV, panel shows, any format going really. One of my favourites was Hacker Time. Warrick actually brought Phil (the guy who puppeteers Hacker) into CBBC to play one of Oucho’s cactus mates years back and he basically never left. He’s absolutely mad and such fun to work with. For five or six years he’d get me on Hacker Time to do silly sketches that we filmed all round the country. Lots of dressing up, silly voices and adventures to weird old pubs and things in the evenings. Too much fun really. Shouldn’t be allowed.
What are events like BAFTA Kids Roadshow and CBBC Live like to be involved with?
It’s always a pleasure to meet the kids (and now young adults too!) who grew up watching my stuff. It’s a very pleasant level of fame. People seem genuinely interested to meet you and have lovely questions about our job but they’re not screaming and being a nuisance because, let’s face it, I’m a kids TV presenter on a Freeview channel. I’m not Tom Holland.
You’ve appeared in a number of pantomimes, how do you find the experience?
I LOVE panto. It’s how I first got interested in performing as a kid because my family always went to one at Christmas. I’ve been doing it for over ten years now and I love seeing kids, parents and grandparents all laughing, and remembering how it felt doing that with my family all those years ago. I consider it a real privilege to be part of something that special. Obviously it’s the cheesiest and campest thing in the world, but that’s the point!
Where does your love of presenting and acting come from and how did you start?
I refer you back to my thoughts on panto! Although, funnily enough, I did used to present my own TV show behind my parents’ shed at a house we left when I was six years old (in my own head, obviously!). But it wasn’t the sort of ambition I went around telling people about. Being on screen back in the 80s seemed like such a big deal. It was another world, so far from Rustington-on-Sea where I grew up, and no one knew anyone doing that sort of thing. But thinking about it, I guess that’s where it started.
What are some of your favourite TV shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I’m a dad to two small children now so most of my spare time seems to consist of running around after them and trying not to lose my mind. As for TV shows, I’ve spent so many years dressing up in ridiculous costumes, having custard pies thrown in my face etc that my TV viewing seems to get increasingly dark and serious. I seem to spend all my time watching true crime docs and things about politics or the dark days of history. Ying and yang I guess!
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