Theatre’s heart-warming panto love story is a real family affair: DSC 6772

18 Dec 2023

Theatre’s heart-warming panto love story is a real family affair

Arts Christmas events Events

It’s a real life storybook romance worthy of its very own festive fairy tale.

This Christmas, Leeds pantomime legend Jez Edwards will be taking to the stage at The Carriageworks Theatre alongside his beloved wife Gemma, 14 years after they first met performing in the very same production.

The couple’s eyes met in rehearsals for Snow White in 2009, when Jez had embarked on his first trip to Leeds and Gemma was making her panto debut.

Now parents of two children, the pair have come full circle, starring in this year’s adaptation of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale, with Jez playing comic relief Muddles and Gemma donning her wings and returning to the stage for the first time in eight years as the Forest Fairy.

Recalling their first meeting, Jez, who also famously voices Cormack in kids TV hit Chuggington, said: “Walking into rehearsals on the first day is always interesting as you meet the cast for the first time and you discover all the different characters and personalities you are going to be working with. 

“I soon saw that Gemma observed and laughed at the same things that I did. After first day of rehearsals we went out with a group of us and Gemma said ‘it’s my round, I’ll get these.’ I’ve never heard anything so beautiful!”

Love soon blossomed before the couple tied the knot, moved to West Yorkshire and welcomed children Elsie and Wilfred into the family.

While Gemma took an extended break from performing, Jez became a festive fan favourite in Leeds, returning each Christmas to have audiences in stitches at The Carriageworks year after year.

But this year’s panto is now set to be an extra special family affair, with Elsie and Wilfred both in the audience watching their mum and dad on stage.

Gemma said: “Touring in theatre shows and the unpredictable schedule of a performer is extremely difficult to navigate when the children are young, especially when Jez and I do a similar thing, but now they’re a bit older it’s something I’d like to do more of as it feels good to be back doing what I love and doing something for myself.

“I think there will be a lot of mums out there who will resonate with losing some of their identity when they became a mum, so it’s super important for me to claim some of that back now.”

Jez added: “I’ve always wanted the kids to see their mum on stage doing what she does best, so they can see where they get their dance talent from.  I knew she’d be apprehensive about returning after such a long time away, but I couldn’t be prouder of her.  She’s an inspiration to our kids and to all mums who are fighting their way back to being themselves again. She’s my hero.”

Over the next month, Jez and Gemma will be busy juggling family life with rehearsals and practising lines at home, with Snow White running all the way through Christmas until January 7.

Gemma said the couple’s contrasting approaches to performing have helped them strike a balance.

She said: “Jez and I work very differently. I’m a stickler for perfection and being word perfect, where as Jez is much more of a ‘fly by the seat of his pants’ type of guy.

“In terms of running lines together at home, it’s more a case of me running my lines from memory and Jez reading off the script in the hopes that they’ll stick in his brain.”

But for Jez, the real reward for their hard work together is both being part of Christmas for so many families in Leeds.

He said: “Leeds has become more than just a venue, Leeds has given me everything.  I met my wife.  We now have a family and live in Yorkshire.  I couldn’t be more grateful. Panto has always been about family for me.  

“My family used to go which is why I wanted to be a part of it.  Now I get immense joy seeing families and groups coming back to The Carriageworks year after year. Being here 14 years is my greatest career achievement.  Being a dad is my greatest life achievement and that is all thanks to the amazing Fairy I met all those years ago.”

Located in The Electric Press building, on Millennium Square, the theatre showcases the best national and international touring productions as well as local artists and performers.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Panto season is such a key part of Christmas for so many families across Leeds and the hard work and dedication of everyone at The Carriageworks ensures it’s always a fantastic performance.

“I hope theatre-goers of all ages have a fantastic time and a very merry Christmas.”

Snow White will be at The Carriageworks Theatre on Millennium Square until Sunday, January 7.

For more details including timings and how to book tickets, visit: Home Page - Carriageworks Theatre


For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team