VIKKI Stone has arrived. The exuberant musical comedian has taken over the sofas of a bar in Leith and is simultaneously attempting to eat some lunch, apply make up for our photoshoot, talk about her UK tour and control her dog Bert.
Werther’s Original of hue and twice as sweet, the playful two-year-old cocker spaniel is delighted to be out of the car after a journey up from the last gig in Lancaster and tail swishing like a rotor, is sniff-patrolling Sofi’s bar, checking under the piano, greeting friendly lunchtime customers and sizing up the platter of cheese, ham and olives on the low table in front of us. Like Stone’s future as a rising star of the comedy scene, it’s only a matter of time...
After charming Edinburgh with her comedy show, Definitely, she’s loaded up her car with Bert, her piano, various outfits, instruments, techy equipment, a metre-high Perspex camel and taken it on the road, with dates in Scotland this week. To call Stone’s performance stand-up doesn’t do it justice. She sings, plays piano, dances and acts and if this sounds wholesome, it isn’t. She may look cute, but her appearance and potty mouth are reminiscent of Lily Allen, only more foul-mouthed. She could be the bastard love child of Victoria Wood and Tim Minchin and the sharp observational skills and musical abilities that see her stabbing the pomposity of celebrity culture and talent shows, have also seen her racking up the TV credits. She’s done This Morning where she sang her stalker song for stalkee Phillip Schofield, her You Tube impression of Dragons’ Den’s Hilary Devey went viral, she’s been on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! Now!, That Sunday Night Show, Richard Hammond’s Secret Service, Britain In Bed and Most Annoying People. She’s on The Now Show next week and singing on Radio Four shortly.
Her live performances have garnered the Soho Theatre One Night Stand Up Award and after a sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, this year’s show won four and five star reviews. Keen to capitalise, Stone is now on her UK tour but is in danger of being upstaged by Bert. After a run-on part at this year’s Fringe show, he’s been expanding his part and is now officially a performing dog.
“This is the first show he’s been in,” she says, slapping foundation on her face. “But he loves it and I’m so much enjoying having him on the road. He’s now fully licensed as a performing dog by the council who came round for a demonstration – it’s to do with theatre licences. Bert loves being in the act. He’s very good at sitting in the dressing room and waiting for his music cue, then comes on and runs through a tunnel. Only problem is he’s getting faster and faster because he gets a posh treat at the end, so I’m having to speed up too.”
“If I have him in next year’s show I will properly have to teach him something and I don’t know if that’s possible. I can harmonise with his growling I suppose. And I think costumes are a good idea for him.”
Hearing his name, Bert pauses, poses, lets his tongue bungee jump and drinks up the attention. Is he becoming a diva?
“He’s already out of hand. He’s got a rider for the tour,” she says, rolling her eyes, one with a recently applied long black flick of eyeliner.
What is it?
“A dog bowl.”
That’s one less item to pack into the overloaded tour car. Maybe Stone should have stuck with the flute? She is, after all, a classically trained musician.
“Yes, but it wouldn’t have been so much fun. And I like being sat behind a white grand piano,” she says.
Ahead of her are next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, there are plans to write a musical for the one after that – “something historic, Gunpowder plot-y” – then she’d love to do “Lady Gaga-sized stadia”, and there is also the promotion of the artform she invented across the internet. “Dog bearding,” she says. “You hold a dog under your chin and it looks like a beard. Look.” She shows me her mobile, and yes, it does work. Bert, however, doesn’t do “bearding”, preferring to let next door’s French sheepdog engage in this internet practice.
“New media has changed comedy,” says Stone. “People can do it for themselves and make up routines and tweet them. I love that. That’s what makes me laugh. In musical terms my inspiration has always been Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. I’m addicted to their voices, but they’re funny too. You get serious and you get props. There’s a gap for funny musical women. Marie Lloyd started it off then in wartime the theatre bosses wouldn’t put on women doing comedy, said there wasn’t an audience. Victoria Wood resurrected it, but I didn’t see her stuff till much later and by that time I was watching Tim Minchin, but he’s a bloke.”
Born in Rugby, Warwickshire, 28 years ago, Stone doesn’t come from a musical background but says “it was always going to be music”.
“My parents don’t know anything about music – my dad’s a mechanic and my mum worked in environmental health – but I was singing and dancing from the age of six. They had a piano given to them and I wanted lessons so my dad asked the bloke who played the piano in the pub to teach me. I learnt the theme tune to Lawrence Of Arabia and would play that,” she says. “My mum was more into discipline and said, ‘If I’m paying for the lessons, you will practise’. I really wanted some Doc Martens, cherry red ones, and she made up a chart with 100 boxes. Each practice she scored off a box. Eventually I got them after eight weeks.”
She also won a scholarship to Wells Cathedral School, a specialist music school, then trained at Rose Bruford College and did a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music. She was flautist for the National Children’s Orchestra and a member of the National Youth Music Theatre, performing in various productions.
“They’ve abolished the government-based awards I had, which is a shame. If they don’t give them out then classical music would never be studied by people who couldn’t afford it. You’d end up with classical music becoming very class-based and it’s already too much like that anyway. At Wells you felt there was a divide between the scholarship pupils and the ones that paid to get there. The scholarship kids had to fight to get there and had to be really talented. I didn’t pay fees but still had to pay for instruments. I remember needing a flute when I was 13 and it was proper scraping around to pay for it. I play the piccolo in the show, a wind instrument, so it keeps my mum happy after all the sacrifice,” she says.
Stone also got a grounding in music technology, setting up mixing desks and learning “what plugs in where”, invaluable for a one-woman touring show. “It’s been incredibly useful and it’s really satisfying being the girl that fixes it. Men stand around mixing desks like they do at barbecues, legs far apart, chatting, and then I come along and press a few buttons and sort it, ha ha,” she says.
After graduating, the Royal Academy link saw her working as one of Elton John’s backing singers on one of his arena tours. Being an ex-pupil, John gives former Royal Academy students work. She also performed for Andrew Lloyd Webber in the private theatre at his Sydmonton Court home.
“With Elton we did the NEC, Wembley, Albert Hall – that was one of my first jobs. He didn’t come to rehearsals; someone else played the song until the performance. He did come to meet us though. We were all lined up and he had his little dog Arthur with him and Elton said hello to each of us. I said, ‘Does your dog travel well?’ And he says, ‘Yes, he’s only made a mess on the plane once’, and he moved on. That was it. Then my mate says, ‘Can I have a shot on your piano?’ Next day my mate plays Elton in the sound rehearsal. I asked about the dog. I asked the wrong question.”
Stone learnt from this experience, however, and since then hasn’t been backward about coming forward. “I never had any help, didn’t know anyone. No nepotism, just a lot of knocking on doors and asking. If you don’t ask you don’t get,” she says.
After the Elton tour, Stone did panto then open mic stand up spots. As well as the Lawrence Of Arabia theme, the young Vikki had spent her formative years acting out Fawlty Towers sketches with her younger brother. “I was Basil and Manuel – he got the women. Well I was about eight and he was four, so I was dominant,” she says. Her brother went on from this to train as a clinical psychologist and just received his doctorate from Edinburgh University, after being interviewed in the same room Stone used as her dressing room this summer. “Odd,” she says smiling with one perfectly made-up Cleopatra eye, the other bare and innocent.
“Wish I had a doctorate. Anyway, the stand up was just me talking, doing awful stuff. I did a joke about traffic cones in which the punch line was conefidence. Awful.
“Then someone said, if you have other skills use them, they make you stand out. I thought, ‘oh yes, I can sing and play’ so I started writing songs, about five years ago. I saw an ad in The Stage for Last Comic Standing and auditioned. I was used to huge queues after auditioning for things like Mamma Mia! so I arrived hours early and was first in the queue. More famous people were there – but I got through! I didn’t know anything about comedy, didn’t know who Reginald D Hunter or Glenn Wool were. I didn’t know anything, so I wasn’t nervous.
“They said to me, there are 300 people out there, are you nervous? I said, ‘no, I’ve done 3,000 at Wembley, and I’m only doing one song and a bit of chat. I’ve been performing and singing since I was six.”
It’s this get-up-and-go attitude that she reckons impressed Hilary Devey, and saw her inviting her to perform at an extravagant party she was throwing to celebrate her haulage business’s 15th anniversary. “I saw her on Dragons’ Den and thought she’s a superb character so I did an online sketch of her. Her agent phoned up and says Hilary loves your sketch and wants you to come and do it at her party. I did stand-up, song and dance and did Hilary. She’s 100 per cent like she is on TV, only drinks Cointreau straight, and gets all those shoulder pad dresses made bespoke. I did my bit and then these two guys shuffled on unannounced and started playing. No-one was dancing at first ’cos they thought it was a tribute – but it was Status Quo!”
Her mouth forms into a perfect ‘O’, white teeth flashing as she applies magenta lippy and smacks them expertly together and continues. “Then Hilary invited me up to her suite and she was lovely. She has a sense of humour. She’s very aware of what she must come across like. Then she mentioned me in her book and on Desert Island Discs. I think she likes me ’cos I’m doing it for myself like she does.”
Phillip Schofield is also happy to be the object of Stone’s humour and invited her on to This Morning to perform her song about him after it went viral on the internet. Whether scientist Brian Cox, another crush, will ever live out the risqué fantasies she has about him in The Cox Song and “smash his atoms into her dark matter” is still a matter of much fervent speculation.
Too much for Bert, who at this point makes a grab for a slice of ham and chaos ensues as her canine co-star attempts to upstage her. It’s time to move, time for their close-ups, and Stone climbs into her silver skyscraper stack heeled Kurt Geigers, slips into a bright orange tube dress and poses by the piano. With a thump of his tail, Bert joins her at the keyboard. It’s show time. n
Vikki Stone is on tour now playing The Stand, Edinburgh, on Tuesday and The Stand, Glasgow, on Wednesday. www.vikkistone.com