Like father, like daughter for Brian and Lucy

Posted 7th December 2023

Brian Conley will be donning his familiar Buttons costume and spending Christmas at Milton Keynes Theatre in this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, and he’ll be joined by a very familiar face this time – his daughter Lucy will be making wishes come true in the production.

They both sat down with Pulse’s Sammy Jones for a chat at Chicheley Hall…

Brian is the king of British Pantomime in our opinion, and we’ve seen enough of them to know. Mind you, he’s had plenty of practice when it comes to honing his craft in the seasonal spectaculars – he’s added the giggles and sparkle to more than 35 of them.

Nothing gets in the way of Brian and panto. Not even the birth of his daughter.
“I was induced two days early so he didn’t miss a performance, which my mum agreed to,” giggles Lucy, “I am fully a panto baby!”

The two clearly share a passion for entertaining, and they have a wonderful father-daughter relationship too. He is most definitely the proud father: “He’s my biggest cheerleader,” Lucy grins, “It’s very sweet.”

Having been a familiar sight in the wings watching her dad play in numerous productions, this Christmas she will earn her wings – as a fairy in training on the stage.

“I’ve got to give Cinderella a happy ever after and then I’ll get my wings!” she explains.

“I’m excited to change the show up a bit; me, dad and our director Kathryn came up with this little storyline. Kathryn is amazing, she came over, we sat in the kitchen and kept thinking of different ideas and then we had this learner fairy thought. It just works well with the show and is quite different…”

You shall go to the ball next Christmas with the spectacular family pantomime Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre

Forget any ideas you might have about nepotism being behind Lucy’s upcoming stage engagement as Fairy 312. She has worked hard for her spot in the cast list; Lucy trained at the Oxford School of Drama and now goes out doing stand-up and improvisation. This might be her first year in panto with her dad, but last Christmas she starred in Goldilocks & the Three Bears in Richmond.

“I really wanted to feel like I had earned it and I don’t want to be in a position where I am going to let people down,” she told me, “You want to know that you are capable of taking on something like this, so I’ve been training really hard…”

Perhaps, given her dad’s super successful career, it was inevitable that she would want to follow him into that spotlight. She showed signs very early on: “When Lucy was two, we were in the lounge and I got a microphone and started singing ‘Somewhere beneath the sea…’ she didn’t know the words, but she started making noises,” he recalls of the old family video which now features in the one-man show Brian has been touring in 2023.

That’s a one-man show with a little help from Lucy…
“I show it to the audience, and then I come on singing it, but the audience don’t know that Lucy is also a part of the show – then she walks out as this 21 year old woman… it sends shivers through me,” he admits.

Brian has appeared in award-winning West End musicals and television sitcoms, presented his own chat show, recorded five albums and completed numerous sell out tours of the UK, as well as appearing a record eight times on The Royal Variety Performance billing. He’s been there, done that and not only got the t-shirt, but also gained a wonderful reputation as one of our very best entertainers in the process.
Lucy’s burgeoning star is a chance for him to relive some of the early year magic once more.

“It’s a bit like as a parent when you’ve got your little kids and you see Christmas through their eyes – seeing it through her I am aware of how much I take for granted,” he admits.

And what is Lucy learning from dad?
“How he handles situations,” she answers with no hesitation, “He is just so professional about everything – there have been times where he has messed up very well known songs and I firmly believe the audience thought they got it wrong… he is just such a pro.

“On stage he obviously plays this very silly character, but he is the smartest person I know. He is so intelligent and has really honed his craft.”
It might come as some surprise that the man who raises the smiles on the stage is every bit as funny at home.

“I don’t know when he turns off. He just doesn’t change,” Lucy smiles.

“It is very much his character, but all his family are like that; my uncle Alan, my auntie Lil …all of dad’s side of the family are in this sort of industry. My grandad used to rig cameras for the BBC, and my nan is the funniest person in our house – that’s where he gets it from!”
Was there any anxiety about Lucy entering the perilous world of show business?

“Of course,” Brian says, “When I was a young kid and went to stage school there were only four of them and I didn’t stop working from the age of 12. Now it’s a huge business and there are millions of bloody schools out there taking money off of people who probably shouldn’t even be there.

“So I appreciate how difficult it is. You have got to be talented, but you do need luck, and I look at my career and think I’ve had a bit of luck here…”

But luck wouldn’t have sustained his career. That is down to talent and hard work. Even after close to five decades on stage and screen, he keeps coming back stronger. In 2023, he has been causing mischief in Eastenders. Another discipline that requires dedication.

The call to join the cast came in during Covid, which saw him lose his role in the magnificent 9 to 5 musical when the curtain came down on life as we all knew it, overnight.

“It all fell through,” he remembers, “Then suddenly I get a call saying ‘Do you want to be in EastEnders’ and I’m like, ‘Let me check my diary!’” he giggles.

“Nothing can prepare you for doing something as huge as EastEnders; it is a juggernaut, and when you are there you can be lost like a rabbit in headlights.

“You have got to know where to go, you’ve got to sort out your admin and make sure know what scripts are important to learn, when. At first it is absolutely terrifying, because suddenly you are there with Gillian Taylforth, or Natalie Cassidy, or Steve McFadden – people that have been there forever and it is just rolling out of them.

“And you’ve got to learn two names – you have to know them by their character and real name!”
It’s no secret that Brian will soon be ‘doof-doof-doof-doofing’ his way out of Albert Square – after spending far longer there than the initial contract suggested.

“I’ve had the most amazing time over the last two and a half years, but I feel it’s time to spread my wings,” he explains. Not that he fancies taking on his daughter’s angelic role. He’s looking to Manchester for inspiration instead.

“I’m thinking of going to do Coronation Street now!” he says, chuckling at his own joke.
Brian was last in panto here in the new city six years ago, when he was joined by Gok Wan. Life has changed significantly for everyone since then. The pandemic saw to that. How has life changed for you?

“Well, I stopped dying my hair in lockdown,” he smiles, “I had this era – that decade in the 90s when I was on Saturday night TV, getting 15 million viewers a week and I had ‘a look’, and once you’ve got a look, that’s it. You can’t suddenly change it.

“But in lockdown I just let it all go and suddenly I was doing EastEnders and I thought ‘this is an opportunity to not worry about it’. I am so glad I did.

“Of course, my girls are much older now too, and have very much left home, so in some ways my wife and I have got closer because we haven’t got the headache of worrying about them and picking them up from school and things like that.

“As I’ve got older I think I’m much more content with where I am in life, and about what makes me happy and what is important.”
Right now, it’s panto that is important on the work front. In order to bring the laughs on stage, a whole load of grafting goes on behind the scenes.

“It’s a commitment. When people have paid good money, especially in this climate, I know they want to have a good night and we are gonna take them on that journey.

“The big thing that’s always in the back of my mind is they have got to go away and tell their friends – that’s the only way the show will survive and do well.

“I always say ‘give me the first week full and we’ll take care of the rest,’ and whether it be a matinee or an evening show we give it everything.”
With two performances a day, and only Christmas Day off during the five week run, it’s intense and all consuming. Lucy might pop to the shops to pick up some presents while here, but she won’t be found propping up any bars post-show.

“I am definitely going to get home and rest. It’s another leaf I have taken out of dad’s book; when I was 17 I would be like, ‘everyone is going out, shall we go out?’ but dad would always go home. At the time I’d think ‘Why is he doing this?’

“Then, when I did the show last year, I messaged him and said, ‘I am so sorry that I ever tried to get you to go out after the show!’”
By the time you read this, Lucy will be well into her seasonal countdown: “I’ve started celebrating Christmas on November 1, because I want time to listen to the music and enjoy the season. In panto you get that Christmassy feeling, but it’s not like Christmas at home. Panto is worth it, though, that’s for sure!”

Crossroads Pantomimes are bringing this show – and another 23 pantos – to stages across the country. They are the undisputed leaders in their field, with the production values to match. It’s a spectacle in every sense.

Take that coach which will take Cinders to the ball…
“That’s very special; it has animatronic horses, and it turns 180 degrees,” Brian says, getting technical, “I sit there on top as the coachman, and I look at these big bruisers in the audience, guys who if you saw them in an alley you would be frightened they were gonna beat you up, and they are sitting there with tears in their eyes going, ‘This is why I’m here!” he says, smiling broadly at the memories.
What is it that makes this recurring role of Button’s so irresistible?

“It’s me – he’s a cheeky young lad,” he pauses, “Well obviously I’m not that, but I have always based a career on that cheekiness.
“Milton Keynes is going to be a lot of fun and it has to be in the era we’re in – it has to be an amazing show.

“It is so tuned up and all of it works and all of it is making sure that at the end of the night the audience all stand and applaud – and I don’t want polite laughter, I want to see them with their hankies out, I want to see them rocking in the aisles!”

Cinderella runs at Milton Keynes Theatre from Saturday, December 9, 2023 to Sunday, January 14, 2024. To book, visit or call 0844 871 7615