Gina Murray is the Spirit of Sherwood at this year's Milton Keynes Theatre panto Image The Ambassador Theatre Group Limited

Gina Murray is playing the Spirit of Sherwood as Robin Hood comes Milton Keynes Theatre

When it comes to the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, Gina Murray can safely argue for both sides. Her father, Mitch Murray, is a hugely successful songwriter and producer. Her mother, Grazina Frame, is a film actress, and her sister, Mazz, a West End performer. Gina grew up surrounded by showbiz celebrities and started acting professionally when she was still a teenager.

It’s this happy collision of genes and upbringing that have resulted in a successful career as a multi-talented performer and, this winter, taking on the role of The Spirit of Sherwood in Robin Hood.

Gina on: growing up in a showbiz family

You come from a show business family. When did you first realise that your home life wasn’t perhaps like that of most people?
When I was a teenager, I would say, because I really thought that everybody had that lifestyle – until friends started saying ‘Are you for real?’ But it wasn’t until I was in my twenties or thirties that I realised how special it was.

Who did your father work with that we might we have heard of?
My father was a songwriter in the 60s and 70s and he wrote songs for the Beatles (you may have heard of them!) They recorded How Do You Do It before it was given to Gerry and the Pacemakers. He was one of the only songwriters to write for the Beatles who wasn’t a Beatle. But he was not happy with the Beatles’ rendition. They purposely sabotaged it because they wanted to write their own stuff of course. George Martin said to them ‘Well, when you can write a song as good as Mitch Murray then you can write your own songs.’ He wrote more songs for Gerry and the Pacemakers, he wrote for Freddie and the Dreamers, for Tony Christie, Georgie Fame, Manfred Mann and Cliff Richard among others.

When did performing become a serious career goal for you rather than just a fun after-school activity?
My mother was also an actress and singer so it was really the family business. At the age of nine and ten, my sister, Mazz, and I (she’s currently starring as Mama Morton in Chicago in the West End – a role I’ve also played in the West End) we were offered secondary school options. And my mother said ‘You can either go to a regular school or you can go to… Theatre School… and it’ll be amazing! You can sing, you can dance and you can act every day. And I said, ‘it sounds fab, yeah!’ We’d always sung, harmonising together, my sister and I, so it was a very natural process. And Maz always says she went because I went. At the age of fourteen I thought I’m going to do some education so I left Redroofs Theatre School but after a while my mother and I realised that to get education was a road to nowhere so what’s the point? So I dropped it all and went into the West End! The young Patsy Cline was my first West End role.

Gina on: ‘Woman’

With your sister Mazz and, from time to time, one or two others, you have performed all over the world as a girl singing group, Woman. Tell us about the group?
It’s been a natural evolving group of powerful females with too many children between us. We tried to set out to do something ridiculous which is to get record deals because we wondered why there was nothing out there that we wanted to buy, music wise. There’s a market out there for teenagers but we still love music and I thought, what are we supposed to buy? I’ve always loved American country music and there didn’t seem to be anything coming from this country that was anything near that or indeed something from somebody over the age of seventeen. So we thought we’d better do it. It started as a charity thing to help Breast Cancer and the Caron Keating Foundation and it kind of snowballed. We didn’t really set out to do more but then we thought well, it might be a good idea. And it ended up with us doing a tour with the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire and Billy Ocean and we had an amazing time – while breast-feeding several toddlers! It’s a rock/pop country blend and we lean towards songs that tell a story.

Do you ever have any disagreements about what material you should cover?
We have plenty of disagreements but not generally about the material. It’s more about food. The focus is on what we should have for lunch and then, after that, the important stuff is decided. We just have fun. We didn’t sit down and say ‘we are going to write a country song about loss’ or whatever it is, we just wrote songs and then saw what happened after a smoked salmon bagel. We were new mums at the time and it was all about getting out of the house and we wrote about things that were relevant to us at the time. My dad used to say ‘just write what you like and hope other people like it too’.

Gina on: stage and TV

You are clearly multi-talented because you’ve co-written and starred in a comedy show in Hollywood! So, Gina, you do comedy as well?
Apparently so! As you get older there are many more roles for character actors. So if you can turn your hand to comedy, you’ll work more. But also, my whole life both my father and my sister have made me laugh. It’s that Jewish humour one liner thing that we’ve inherited that’s always been around me, so I just ran with it and it’s seemed much more fun than doing serious stuff although I do like occasionally to do that.

Do you get nervous before you go onstage? And is it more nerve-wracking for you to sing live or act onstage?
Sing always. Because there are more things to go wrong. And you get more nervous as you get older because you’re more aware of the pitfalls and then you find you’re thinking of shopping lists as you’re singing. When you’re in your twenties you’ve got nothing really to worry about.

What has been the most enjoyable TV part that you’ve played so far?
When I was in Witless for the BBC, that was a dream job for me. It was a drama but with so much comedy, I just loved it. And there was a little advert I did for American TV. Typically actors don’t expect to have an amazing time working on a commercial but with that one I was hired as an American. Somehow I pulled the wool over their eyes. And then when we were filming the client came along and said: ‘Oh, Gina, that British accent you do between takes is amazing!’

Gina on: Christmas… and Robin Hood

Have you played Milton Keynes Theatre before?
Yeah, I just did it as Velma von Tussle in Hairspray. I love the theatre, that’s one of the big reasons I took the job.

Talking of love, why do you love Panto?
Oh who doesn’t love panto? I’m a kid really at heart. There’s something magical about panto. It’s intrinsically British, unique to us, and when it’s done well there’s nothing better because it’s comedy on all levels for all ages. And it makes me feel so Christmassy!

Can you tell us about the part of the Spirit of Sherwood that you’re playing?
It’s a bit of a secret so all I can tell you for now is that I have a good frock! And a lovely wand…! And there’ll be lots of comedy.

You’re going to be working hard over Christmas, what home comforts do you like to have in your dressing room?
(Loud laugh and then in a diva-ish American accent)What my rider?! Ooh, I don’t even think about that. It’ll all be generally food based. But I’m not a light traveller and I do like to have things that remind me of home – oh and make-up. I have way too much make-up.

With rehearsals followed by two shows a day, when do you get to do your Christmas shopping?
Ahh, well I might just have to wait for my sister or my mother to do it for me.

What would you like to find under the Christmas tree this year?
Happiness and world peace? And diamonds. But not necessarily in that order.

And finally, Gina, why should people come and see Robin Hood this year?
Number one reason: Shane Richie. Number two: Robin Hood is not often performed at Christmas time and while it has all the charm of a traditional panto it’s actually very exciting and different. It’s not just Cinderella or Aladdin again. Number three: we have got such a good company I think there’s going to be something really special about it. Number four: No two shows will ever be the same.