Jane McDonald — things you didn't know about the performer and TV presenter

Jane McDonald
Jane McDonald has become a national treasure. (Image credit: Channel 5)

Jane McDonald has become a national treasure ever since singing her way into viewers' hearts over 20 years ago.

The entertainer was turned into an overnight celebrity after appearing on the 1998 BBC docusoap The Cruise and, as well as enjoying a successful music career, Jane has gone on to become an award-winning TV presenter, panelist, and author.

Yorkshire-born Jane is also the face of Channel 5 series Jane McDonald: My Yorkshire, as well as travelling further afield for The Seychelles with Jane McDonald, Cape Verde with Jane McDonald, Jane McDonald's Magical Morocco and On Safari with Jane McDonald.

Most recently the star has also hosted The British Soap Awards 2023.

Jane's very proud of her roots, but what else is there to know about the singing sensation? Here are a few facts you may not know about the popular star...

Jane McDonald started out performing on the pub and club circuit

Born and bred in Wakefield, Jane began her singing career the way many aspiring artists do - by performing on the pub and club circuit. Accompanied by her dad Peter, she toured venues all over Northern England and had to provide her own equipment. 

After Peter passed away in 1993, Jane landed a job singing on the Zenith cruise ship, and later went to work on the Century. Her talent clearly impressed and she was promoted to the headline act on the Century's sister ship, the Galaxy. Then at the age of 35 came a call that changed Jane's life forever when producer Chris Terrill asked if she'd be interested in starring in his new BBC docusoap, The Cruise

She was one of the first reality TV stars 

TV tonight Jane relaxes at Bridlington

These days Jane is a much-loved face on TV.  (Image credit: Channel 5)

Episode one of The Cruise aired on Jan. 13 1998 and followed a group of staff on board the Galaxy as it made its maiden voyage to the Caribbean. Entertainer Jane instantly became the standout star of the fly-on-the-wall show and captured viewers with her down-to-earth personality and impressive vocals. The Cruise averaged an audience of 13 million for its 12-episode run and made Jane a household name. 

Now propelled into the world of celebrity, she was signed by independent record label Focus Music International, and released her self-titled debut album in June 1998. The album of classic covers went straight to Number One, remaining there for three weeks, and achieved platinum status by staying in the Top 10 chart for two months. 

She got married on TV 

1998 was certainly a year to remember for Jane, as she also got hitched to Danish fiancé Henrik Brixen. The couple met onboard the Galaxy, where Henrik was working as a plumbing engineer and began a whirlwind romance. Due to Jane's soaring popularity, their wedding was featured in a special spin-off episode, The Cruise Special: Jane Ties the Knot, and watched by millions. After becoming man and wife, Henrik jacked in his former occupation and started managing Jane's singing and primetime TV presenting career. 

However, the fairytale wasn't to be and four years later Jane and Henrik announced they'd gone their separate ways. In an interview with The Mirror in 2018, Jane revealed for the first time it was Henrik's decision to walk away from their marriage. Speaking about their split she said: "We’d come to a point where Henrik had made quite a few enemies and he said ‘If I don’t leave, you are never going to have a career.’ And this is why I never talk about Henrik in a bad light at all because he was the one that walked out of the marriage to save my career.” 

She found love again with her teenage sweetheart

When Jane was a 17-year old barmaid she started dating Eddie Rothe, the former drummer of 60s band, The Searchers. The couple lived together for a brief period but split up due to Eddie's, whose real name is Walter, hectic rock and roll lifestyle. 

After 27 years apart and marriages to other people, Jane and Eddie, who was also a drummer in Liquid Gold, reconnected during a chance meeting when he was appearing on ITV's This Morning and she was filming in the same studios.

Jane recalled her happy reunion with Eddie in an interview with The Mirror: "My make-up artist Donna dragged me to the This Morning green room, and I just walked in and he picked me up and swung me around. And that was it." Having found their way back to one another, the soulmates set up home together in Wakefield and Eddie popped the question to Jane on Christmas Eve 2008. 

Tragically, Eddie passed away in April 2021 aged 67 after a short battle with lung cancer, and Jane nursed him during his illness. Speaking in an emotional interview on Loose Women, her first following Eddie's death, Jane expressed how grateful she was they had enjoyed thirteen blissful years together.

She had a close relationship with her parents

Jane's a grafter, and no doubt inherited her work ethic from her parents. While her mum, Jean ran a boarding house, her dad Peter worked as a miner and chimney sweep. After having to take early retirement due to injury, Peter then became his teenage daughter's roadie, driving Jane from gig to gig in his battered old van. 

In an interview with The Scotsman Jane remembered their adventures together: "I sat on my speakers in the back of my dad’s van, a rickety old Toyota covered in rust, driving for miles and hours up and down the M60 and M62. We did that for 15 years. It was great and we both loved it. That’s where the passion comes from." 

Sadly Peter, who originally hailed from Fife in Scotland, never got to see Jane become famous, but Jean was there to give their daughter encouragement. After living together until she was 45, Jane still popped back to her mum's every Sunday for a roast dinner and was heartbroken when Jean died in 2018.

She famously told off Gary Barlow

Jane is immensely proud of having been a cruise ship singer and doesn't take kindly to anyone criticizing her former career. Back in 2011, The X-Factor judge Gary Barlow found himself in Jane's firing line when he remarked contestant Sami Brookes' rendition of Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, made her sound like a 'cruise ship singer'. 

Sami stuck up for herself by saying she loved cruise ship singers and would be delighted to do a duet with Jane McDonald. Later on the live Xtra-Factor show, Jane called in to speak to Sami and told her not to take any notice of Gary's snide comments. 

Reflecting on the exchange years later, Jane commented: "When I was on the cruise ships, that was a success for me. I was traveling the world, with a brilliant orchestra, costumes. That’s why I got a bit angry with Gary Barlow. The whole industry has a downer on cruise ship singing, but most X-Factor people wouldn’t get through a cruise ship audition!” All is clearly forgiven and forgotten as Jane joined Gary for a spectacular duet of A Million Dreams on #TheCroonerSessions! 

Her TV series won a Bafta 

Jane returned to the seas in 2017, fronting a new travel series, Cruising with Jane McDonald. The Channel 5 documentary saw Jane embark on a series of adventures onboard some of the world's largest and most luxurious ocean and river cruisers. 

Once again, Jane's warmth and humour was a hit with viewers, and the series went on to scoop the Best Features category at the 2018 BAFTAs, beating the likes of Antiques Roadshow and The Secret Life of the Zoo. When her name was read out, a clearly gobsmacked Jane jumped to her feet and looked around in a state of excitement and shock. Taking to the stage to collect her accolade, the presenter produced a piece of paper revealing someone else had written her acceptance speech because she was so convinced she wouldn't win. Jane's endearing reaction had her fans taking to social media, labelling her achievement as 'iconic'.

Jane's success story is still continuing

Following the huge sales of her debut album, Jane was signed by acclaimed label Universal Music and released two albums under them. In 2009 she released her first album under her own label, titled Jane, and it achieved silver status within six weeks. Other impressive achievements on Jane's career CV include having sell-out concerts at the London Palladium and Royal Albert Hall and performing to a full house at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. 

In 2015, she played the iconic role of Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS at Blackpool Opera House. The star marked 20 years in the spotlight with a 'Celebrate 20' tour, and in 2019 Jane reflected on her remarkable life in the release of her autobiography, Riding the Waves - My Story

Jane McDonald's fact file

Frequently asked questions about the singer and TV presenter...

How old is Jane McDonald?

Jane McDonald is 60, she was born on 4th April 1963.

Is Jane McDonald married?

Jane has been married twice. Her first marriage to a man named Paul was between 1987-88. She went on to wed plumbing engineer Henrik Brixen, but they split in 2002.

Does Jane McDonald have any children?

Jane McDonald does not have any children.

Where was Jane McDonald born?

Jane McDonald was born and raised in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

How tall is Jane McDonald?

Jane McDonald is five foot four.

Twitter: @thejanemcdonald

Instagram: @thejanemcdonald

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

Laura Morgan
Freelance writer

Laura has been a journalist for over a decade, writing about soaps, TV entertainment, fashion, beauty, and food. After graduating from university, she started her career working at a national soap and TV magazine. During her seven-year stint there she joined the cast of Emmerdale for a tour around the famous village, partied with soap stars at awards bashes, interviewed her acting idol David Suchet, and sat in the front row of Strictly Come Dancing

Her heart lies with the soaps, and her all-time favourite character has to be EastEnders' Pat Butcher - no one rocked a big earring quite like her. She's also a huge fan of detective crime dramas, particularly old school Inspector Morse, Endeavour, and adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. When she's not writing, she loves a spot of second-hand shopping and going on adventures with her young son.