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Shona McGarty: ‘I’d love to combine music and EastEnders!’

(Image credit: BBC/Hat Trick/Pete Dadds)

We’re used to seeing EastEnders star Shona McGarty as mouthy Whitney Dean in the BBC1 soap. This week, however, the actress unleashes her spectacular singing talent in Bruce’s Hall of Fame, where she pays homage to musical legend, Aretha Franklin.

Here, Shona talks to What’s on TV about performing "Chain of Fools" and how she’d like to rope her EastEnders co-stars into a charity musical performance!

How did you get involved in Bruce’s Hall of Fame with Alexander Armstrong?

"They phoned my agent and asked if it was something I’d like to do. I said ‘absolutely, yes’ especially when they told me the line-up! I’m a huge fan of Beverly Knight. She’s got an amazing voice. As soon as I said yes I felt a bit under pressure!"

Who else were you looking forward to sharing the stage with at London’s Dominion Theatre?

"I couldn’t believe Kimberly Wyatt, from The Pussycat Dolls, was also performing on the show. I used to do dance routines with my mates to The Pussycat Dolls when I was younger. It was amazing to be on the same stage as her. We had a chat and she was so lovely. I’ve never known anyone be able to get their leg up so high. She’s always the one doing amazing dance moves in the Pussycat videos!"

Why did you choose to perform Aretha Franklin?

"I love her! She’s got such a powerful voice and, like me, music is her first love. Also she grew up singing in a gospel choir, which is what I do too. I sing with a lovely choir every Sunday.

"When the producers asked me who I wanted to do, I knew it had to be Aretha. I love Motown. Some of my friends think I’m a bit old-fashioned. If I’m giving any of them a lift in my car I’ve always got Motown on. They’ll ask, ‘Have you not got any Justin Bieber?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘No, we’re not having Justin Bieber in my car! You can walk!’"

What other singers do you like from that era?

"Diana Ross and Sam Cooke. I sang Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come for Children in Need. I was so nervous at the beginning because it was filmed live and I’m not used to live. My voice was shaking so much at the start I sounded like a Bee Gees tribute act! But I settled down and, as soon as I’d finished, I loved it so much I wanted to do it all over again!"

Were you nervous before you went on stage for Bruce’s Hall of Fame?

"Terrified! I always get sweaty palms when I’m nervous. Luckily there was no chance of the microphone slipping out of my hands because it was on a stand. Plus, I had a dance routine to learn, so I had to remember that. No pressure!"

How was Pointless presenter Alexander as Bruce’s stand-in host?

"Alexander was a brilliant host. He’s a lovely man, with such a gentle, calm manner. He made everyone feel relaxed.

"He had to fill in for Bruce last minute after Bruce had had an accident. None of us knew who would be taking his place until we got there. It was a shame Bruce wasn’t there, he’s a legend isn’t he?"

Did anyone from your family watch your performance?

"My boyfriend Ryan Harris, mum Jennifer, my dad Patrick, my younger sister Camilla – she’s an actress too and has an incredible singing voice - and her fiancé Matthew all supported me. They loved it and were very proud. Ryan had been to all the rehearsals with me so I felt like it’s something we’d gone through together. I’ve been with Ryan for over three years and he helped me with my nerves when I was getting ready in the dressing room. He loves it when I sing. And I love that he’s not in my industry. He’s a down-to-earth, grounded electrician."

Jessie Wallace (Kat in EastEnders) did the show last year and performed as Nancy from Oliver. Did she give you any tips?

"Yes, we spoke about it after I’d already filmed it. She told me how much she’d loved doing it and I agreed. It’s an amazing feeling performing in front of an audience. I’m so used to being in front of a camera.

"I’d love to combine music and EastEnders – I reckon all the singers should do a big musical thing for charity – me, Jessie, Rita Simons (Roxy) Sam Womack (Ronnie), Shane Ritchie (Alfie) and Jamie Borthwick (Jay). We all love singing. Jamie loves all the older stuff like me from the Rat Pack era. He’s got a brilliant voice!"

Watch Shona, Catherine Tate, Beverly Knight and magician and illusionist Jamie Raven pay tribute to the artists that inspired them in Bruce’s Hall of Fame with Alexander Armstrong on BBC1, January 2 2016, 6.00pm.