How doon survived the school of hard scots

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Emmy-award winning Doon Mackichan has come a long way from the days when she was a comedy foil for the likes of Hale And Pace and Jim Davidson.

The comedian and writer is back on our screens in Channel 4’s satirical, Friday-night sketch show Smack The Pony.

Mackichan and her co-stars, Sally Phillips and Fiona Allen, have picked up an Emmy for the show, which features a video dating agency, spoof pop videos and a whole cavalcade of quirky characters.

The 37-year-old puts the show’s popularity down to the on-screen chemistry between the trio. She says: "The combination of us three is very interesting and different. We all bring our own experiences to the show.

"There is no cockiness, no arrogance and we are not showbiz. I think that comes across on the screen."

Mackichan was born in the cocktail bar of the Lanesborough Hotel in London’s West End. "It used to be St George’s Hospital", she reveals.

Her family lived in Sunningdale, Surrey before moving to Scotland, where she grew up on a farm in Fife. It was here she developed her interest in acting and comedy as a way of keeping the school bullies at bay.

"I had such a posh English accent compared to the rest of my classmates," she recalls. "For the first few years I had a really horrible time. I languished away in a bottom stream of this state school in St Andrews and just kept my mouth shut.

"I stayed there for a few years having a miserable time. I developed a Scottish accent pretty quickly to stop me from getting my head kicked in.

"It’s always hard adjusting to another culture. I was taunted for being a nancy Southern girl and it was just horrendous. I literally remember hiding in the toilets.

"What saved me was joining the drama group. Because of my accent I was always cast as the bitch in plays - which was great fun.

"I was also able to make people laugh rather than cowering in the toilets thinking: ‘I’m the little girl from Surrey in a big, bad, 1000-pupil, scary state school’."

Things started to change for the young Mackichan when one of her teachers realised she might not be as dim as they first believed.

She says: "I was just rubbish at maths and that was the way they assessed you. Then one of the teachers realised that I could speak fluent French and write English essays."

Although she is now winning praise for her comic performances in Smack The Pony, Mackichan admits she had to bide her time, waiting in the wings.

After going to Manchester University to study drama, she started doing stand-up comedy in pubs. She became part of a double act called Rabbitt and the duo landed a regional children’s TV show called Wake Up London. "We did a gig in the North Pole pub in Greenwich and this TV producer was in the audience. He asked me to play Cinderella in Hale And Pace’s Christmas Show.

"For me it seemed like the big time," she laughs. "I had a car come to pick me up to take me to the studio. It was a different world.

"Jim Davidson was playing Dick Whittington, Harry Enfield was the narrator, Hale And Pace were the ugly sisters and I was an Essex Cinderella.

"At the time, I was a radical feminist. I had quite hairy legs and the make-up department suggested I shave them because of the short skirt I had to wear. I told them that I might be on the TV but I hadn’t sold out any of my principals.

"All the crew started singing ‘Gillette The Best A Man Can Get’ every time I appeared. I was feeling smaller and smaller. Jim Davidson was utterly horrified. He thought I was some sort of bearded lesbian," says the mother-of-two.

"Harry Enfield came over to me and was really sweet, saying not to bother. Despite this, I had a fantastic time and it was my first TV airing."

The next few years saw her playing comedian Brian Conley’s straight girl, as well as appearing in radio comedy shows, the theatre and continuing to do stand-up.

One of her latest projects involves turning a real-life experience into a comedy drama. It is the tale of the day she decided to swim the English Channel.

She recalls: "Foolishly, I did it in a relay team with five other people to raise money to take a show up to Edinburgh.

"At first I thought I’d get on the reserve boat and use it for the publicity. But one of the team got an ear infection so I had to start training - I ended up swimming at Brockwell Lido in London every morning for an hour.

"You had to get used to the bitter cold. I was only in the Channel for four hours but you are swimming against the current and it’s very rough.

"It was an amazing experience, I never have to do anything heroic again. I thought I would feel great afterwards but it just felt awful. I was deeply cold and miserable.

"I went home and just lay on the bed frozen and crying. I felt like I had been beaten up all over.

"I’m in the process of writing a screenplay about it. It should be the next Full Monty," she jokes.

Smack The Pony is currently on Channel 4 on Fridays at 9.30pm.