Linda Lusardi and Sam Kane are one of the UK's best-known celebrity couples. They must also be amongst the busiest. As is often the case, each of them is probably best known for a particular moment in their working lives - even though both careers have moved onwards and upwards since their respective moments of initial fame. For Linda, that point was a spectacularly successful career as one of the country's top models, while for Sam it was a role in a popular television soap opera.
These days, in addition to frequent television appearances, Linda is kept busy promoting her own range of beauty products, and Sam has only recently found time to take a break from the stage work that has kept him busy since his last TV role. Any rest, however, will necessarily be brief as the couple have to prepare for the hectic pantomime season, which will keep them fully occupied at the end of the year.
Regtransfers visited Sam and Linda at their home in Hertfordshire to deliver the personalised number plates that Sam had bought Linda for her birthday in September. What we expected to be a short visit turned out to be a very enjoyable day that kept our interviewer and photographer so ‘busy' that they didn't make it back to the office at all that afternoon…
LU54 RDY is Linda's first private number plate, although several years ago at a photo shoot she was offered a chance to buy L1 NDA. “Oh it was perfect, absolutely perfect,” she says. “They said I could buy it if I wanted to before they sold it at an auction. Ah, but they only gave me one evening to decide because it was going to auction the next day.” Sadly, Linda couldn't talk her husband at the time into agreeing to the purchase, so the registration was sold at auction. “Every time I think about that I kick myself that I didn't buy it!
Although that one might have got away, Linda is delighted with LU54 RDY. Sam decided some time ago that it would be a great birthday present, and he arranged for Regtransfers to secure the registration on his behalf as soon as it became available.
“It was something I thought about when they first started issuing the new number plates,” he says. “When was that? 2000 wasn't it when the ‘00' ones first came out? Well, I was just looking for new registration numbers on the website and I saw that thing that lets you make up your own number plate and see if it's available. I had hours of fun playing with that!
“I worked out that when the ‘54' registrations came out, by seeing the numbers as letters, LU54 RDY would work. The only variation is the last letter, which is a ‘Y'. Linda's name actually ends in ‘I', but they don't issue that letter on registration plates.”
Although the idea for Linda's gift had occurred to him two years earlier, Sam didn't forget and when the release date for ‘54' registrations drew nearer, he contacted a friend who put him in touch with Regtransfers. When RT called Sam a few months later to say that the number had been secured on his behalf he was delighted. “I can't thank you guys enough. I'm thrilled to bits.”
Sam has a couple of personal registrations too. “I have V24 SAM and K5 KNE. The KNE one was a bargain. I don't know if I'll get any more, but I think they're really nice to have,” he says. Linda adds: “And I think when you just run out of gift ideas for people it's nice if you can find something like this.” “Actually,” says Sam. “I've just organised one for my brother as well. He's a mad Evertonian, so I've got S222 EFC for him. You might know that Everton's theme tune is the music from Z Cars, so to him, the 2s will be Zs. He's chuffed to bits… In fact, he's putting them on his car today.”
The mention of Everton strikes a mischievous chord with Regtransfers' photographer, who just can't resist asking a question that has obviously occurred to Sam and Linda before. When Sam is in Carousel how does he reconcile singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' with his Evertonian loyalties? “Well, the good thing is I never have to sing it, I'm dead. Billy Bigalo is the lead character in Carousel and he's dead by the time that's sung.” Linda points out: “Although you do have to lie on stage dead, listening to it every night!” “Yeah, I do have to listen to it,” Sam admits. “But I wear my Everton shorts under my trousers while I'm onstage.”
For the moment Sam is resting from his stage work, but at Christmas, he and Linda are appearing in pantomime in Woking. “We direct as well,” he says. “So it's a really big gig for us this year.” With all this theatrical commitment, Sam must love acting and singing. “It's a ruthless business, it really is. It's full of so many people who want to get in your place, overtake you. I think it's really important just to keep your feet on the floor, and just to treat it as a job - which is what it is, you know. It's a very nice job, it's got lots of trappings, and how many jobs can you do that you wanted to do all your life? But at the end of the day, it's still a job and it puts the bread on the table.
“But don't get me wrong: we love it. It's something I've always wanted to do, and Linda's been acting now for seventeen years… which is a lot longer than I've been doing it, so she's got more experience than me, but you know I've just had a few lucky breaks.”
One of those breaks seems to have been the demand for Sam's 'man's man' aura. “I think there's a shortage of leading men who look like leading men, you know?” he says. “Blokes who look like blokes on stage. But I think it's just important now, I think it's going back to the way it used to be where men looked like men and acted like men. When you're up there doing your role and performing your piece, you've got to look like the part you're playing.”
The next project for both of them is the pantomime of Snow White in December. “If it weren't for pantomimes, theatres would close,” Sam says. “They give the theatres six or seven weeks, guaranteed full bookings.” So what kind of production will Snow White be? “Oh, it's fantastic,” Linda smiles. “None of your cardboard cut-out horses in this one. It's certainly not your old amateur dramatics type thing. This is a big, lavish, West End-style production.” Sam nods. “It's beautiful to look at. It's beautifully lit and the sound is fantastic. Linda plays the wicked queen, she's just sensational.” “And the effects are great,” says Linda. “We have a big flying butterfly this time. Flying rigs are really massive in theatres, and a massive cost too. Then there are all sorts of magical illusions that come in for the transformation from me to the hag. “Then there's the mirror! I did Snow White for seven years as Snow White, and then I've played the wicked queen for five years.
"In that time there's been so many different mirrors! We've tried every effect: television screens; boxes on stands with people inside and lights shining on them; people pushing their face through gauze. Sometimes things have gone terribly wrong. For example, when we've had voices on tape, you asked it a question and it didn't answer or the wrong answer came! Oh, but the magic mirror this time is just… Well, you know the mirror in Shrek? The way it's kind of holographic. We've got exactly the same kind of effect. It talks and the mouth moves and everything.”
It's a busy time for the couple, but surely they get plenty of time to prepare for such a complex production? “No, we only have 10 days rehearsal,” says Linda. “And it really is a busy schedule. We usually get Christmas Day and New Year's Day off, but I think we're working Boxing Day.” “That's right,” Sam agrees. “Two shows every day, it is a busy schedule, it's exhausting.” All the more exhausting because they have an hour's journey home at the end of each day. “Well we have to,” says Linda. “Because the kids are at school.”
The logistics may be a challenge, but Linda and Sam are veterans, having done seven or eight pantos together. Working together provides a welcome opportunity for them to see more of each other. The nature of both careers has meant more time apart than they would like.
“Sam was in Brookside for three years. He lived in Liverpool until he met me and moved to London. Then he got the Brookside job which was back in Liverpool, and he had to commute from London for the three years.”
And where did they meet? “In a panto, of course! I was Snow White and Sam was the Prince.” Linda has done her share of acting outside of pantomime too. Her first role was in the stage play Funny Peculiar which gave her a taste for acting. “I also did Pygmalion with Philip Madoc. Philip played Higgins and I was Eliza.” Linda hesitates for a moment. “I'm not sure I should really tell this…”
“But Philip already told it on your This is Your Life,” says Sam. “Oh, yes. I suppose that's all right then. “Well, Philip had just come from doing some really heavy Shakespearean play, and at the first day of rehearsal for Pygmalion he knew every single line. I was worried, and I said to the director, 'But I don't know it yet'. He told me that was all right, and that I shouldn't know it because he wanted to work through it with me. He told me not to worry, but I sat at home really concerned that Philip knew it and I didn't. “I found out later that most people don't know their full part at the first day of rehearsal. They have an idea of it, but they mostly learn as they work through the two weeks of rehearsal.
“Anyway, we opened, and I was sure that the press were coming along to rip me to pieces as it was the first time I'd done any serious acting. Well, in the second half there's a scene after Eliza has run away from the ball. Higgins goes to his mother to tell her that Eliza bolted, and she tells him that she's not surprised considering how he spoke to Eliza.
“Well, I was waiting in the wings watching, even though I wasn't due back on for a few minutes. Anyway, when Philip said that Eliza had bolted, his mother delivered the line about not being surprised and then he just stood there. He saw me and rushed over to the wing saying, 'What's my next line?', so I told him. He went back on and said the line, then she said her next line - and then Philip ran over again and said 'What's my next line?'. I told him what I thought it was, and he said, 'That's not right. That's not this play. Get my script'. So I ran to the dressing room and got his script, and when I got back he was standing at the side of the stage.
The lady playing his mother was sitting at the writing desk on the stage waiting and the director was calling to her, asking if she was all right, and she was saying, 'I'm perfectly all right, just carry on'. Well, I gave Philip his script and then he was going, 'My glasses, my glasses!' “ Linda laughs. “I went and got his glasses, and for a while, it was as if he'd never seen the play before in his life. He read the rest of the play from the script with his glasses on.
My next scene was a big dialogue that goes on for twenty minutes and at the end of it he ends up going for my throat. Not at all like My Fair Lady, it's much heavier, and the funny thing was that Philip did the whole scene with the script in his hand. I was so new to the business that I just had to keep telling myself to pretend I was still in the rehearsal room, and just carry on.
“I got wonderful reviews and they just slated poor Philip for stumbling over the lines. It had never happened to him before, and fortunately it's never happened since.”
Sam recalls Philip's contribution to Linda's This is Your Life. “They were telling me what incidents had happened, and I thought that Philip would never turn up in a million years, but he was fantastic. He went on last - top of the bill at the end of the show - and he told that story. I thought it was wonderful.”
“It was the Christmas This is Your Life,” says Linda. “They surprised me on stage where I was playing the wicked queen. They kept the audience and everything. Lionel Blair was talking to the audience, as he always did, and then he said that we had a special guest. That was when Michael Aspel came on.
I knew it was somebody's This is Your Life. I looked at Lionel and thought it couldn't be him because he'd just introduced Michael… and he was looking at me! Sam had tears running from his eyes and I thought, Oh… it is me! Then I just burst into tears, thinking it doesn't happen to people like me. Then I thought that I hoped they hadn't got the kids out of bed, because Jack was only a baby and it was about ten o'clock by then.”
Both have had work commitments that have taken them away from home: Sam's long run with musical theatre and Linda's appearance on Channel 4's The Games. The Games was a big hit with the children, who were avid viewers. “Yes, they did watch it. One of the stipulations that I had was that I would be able to phone home at least once a day… I wasn't going to do it otherwise. I used to phone home about 8' o clock in the morning and the kids would say: 'Oh mummy you tried really hard!' and I'd say I was sorry I didn't win. They always said: 'Oh it doesn't matter - at least you tried'. So they loved it. I think it was half term week actually, so they sat down and watched it every night. They had their popcorn ready to cheer on Mummy.”
So had Linda been enthusiastic about the offer to join The Games? “Actually, no. I kind of wondered who else was in it. And they all turned out to be so much younger than me… But then Sam told me not to be ridiculous. He said I couldn't pass up a chance to train with Colin Jackson and be pampered and looked after all the way through with sports massages!”
The massages were certainly needed, as the show made serious physical demands on the participants. “At first, you know, I was just walking wounded. I could barely get out of bed to get to the car; but a couple of weeks later you kind of get through that. Your muscles are just so much stronger. By the end of it I was a completely different person. It was fantastic and I didn't realise that at my age you could improve your body as much asI did. For example, the first time I tried to do the 100 metres, I struggled to finish and I thought I was going to have a heart attack at the end of it. But later on I had a photo finish with Isabella Harvey, who is 22 and runs 6 miles a day. That's how much I improved!”
Since The Games Linda has been busy with another project. “I've launched my own skincare range, so I've been doing Ideal World on television, which is sort of like QVC. I've been doing that once a month.”
There are seven products in the range which is called Linda Lusardi's L7. The cleansers, anti-wrinkle creams and skin firming tonics in the range are made from natural ingredients, the most exotic of which is probably the alpine edelweiss that provides the common element running through the range.
“Edelweiss lives up in the Alps, and because of the strong sunlight at altitude it's had to create its own sort of sun screen,” says Linda. “The scientists in Switzerland have found that extracts from the edelweiss can actually repair skin cells that have been damaged by the sun.”
At the moment the Lusardi L7 products are only available from the L7 website, and from Ideal World on the days when Linda appears. The main reason for keeping distribution controlled at the moment is that Linda doesn't want to generate more demand than they can currently supply. Judging by the interest already evident, supplying major retail outlets at this stage would be quite a challenge. The vital edelweiss is an endangered plant, so it has to be farmed specially. As Linda points out, now interest is established they can increase the scale of the farming. It is obvious that Linda is taking the project forward one step at a time according to a well-formulated plan, and that plan includes expansion.
Her enthusiasm is obvious. “The properties are unbelievable. It really is fantastic. I've been using it for a year and I've seen a big improvement in the lines around my eyes. We were looking at photographs I had taken about 12 months ago and, compared to how my skin is now, I looked old!”
Home for Linda and Sam is in the Hertfordshire village where they have lived for about eight years. “It's not been all plain sailing,” says Linda. “When we moved in I was just about to give birth to Lucy, who's 7 now. When they built this house they cut a lot of the trees down, and the trees take the moisture out of the soil. Without the trees, the earth swells up where the moisture is not being taken. Anyway, they built the house and they didn't build it properly: they didn't put the right protection round the piles. I think the house was about six years old when we bought it, and about three years after we moved in we started noticing some cracks. We got the insurance company round and they said that because the crack was wider at the top than it was at the bottom it meant the house was being pushed up by the pressure under the earth… It was pushing the house up and cracking it in half.
“Anyway, I had to move out for a year. Sam was away and I had a brand new baby. I had to move away, they were in here a year and they had to dig all underneath. They had everything out: kitchen out, bathrooms out, everything out. The whole house was gutted.” Drastic though all that sounds, it still hasn't completely solved the house's problems.
“They sunk new piles down a long way,” says Linda. “A bomb could go off now and it wouldn't move, but when they did the concrete floors they put metal trunking in for the pipes to go in. Unfortunately, they didn't solder the pipes before they filled in the floor! This was about 3 years ago, then about a year ago we started to get patches of water coming up through the carpet.”
All this meant that they had to move out for another two weeks while further repairs were done to half of the house. Linda continues. “Then about a month after that, it started to smell under the stairs, so it's obviously running from that half of the house now, so the kitchen's got to come out. We've had nothing but nightmares since we've moved in.”
Sam laughs at this. “But we do love it here. That's why we're still here!” “I love it,” says Linda. “We're not overlooked and we have great neighbours. This is our bit of peace and quiet.”
Our reporting team concur with Linda's sentiment and are reluctant to leave the tranquility of the couple's delightful home.
Interview: Angela Banh, Rick Cadger, Photography: Stan Thompson
© Regtransfers.co.uk - The World of Personal Number Plates Volume 3 Issue 1