We're behind you! Panto has a bumper year!

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Panto is having a bumper year, despite the recession. Adam Sherwin reports

Christmas has come early for "resting" Hollywood actors and reality show also-rans.

Panto season has arrived (oh yes it has) and bumper ticket sales means there are lucrative opportunities for anyone who can rustle up an Equity card. Advance bookings are strong for this year's crop of thigh-slappers. Qdos, the UK's biggest pantomime producers with 23 shows, said it had already recorded takings of £18m. The company, which has added an extra week to its Sleeping Beauty at Newcastle's Theatre Royal, estimates that 1.5 million people will see its productions before the final curtain comes down in February.

The fad for "posh panto", which reached a peak with Sir Ian McKellen's Widow Twankey in the Old Vic's Aladdin, has faded. This year, children will be entertained by reliable favourites such as the Krankies and John Barrowman in Robinson Crusoe in Glasgow and Brian Conley and Basil Brush at the Birmingham Hippodrome's Cinderella. Panto "dames" can earn around £8,000 a week – but often have to pay for their own outfits. The highest-paid star this year will be Steve McFadden, the EastEnders actor, who has secured £200,000 for his stint as Captain Hook.

Baywatch alumni Pamela Anderson, now in her third year on the panto stage, and David Hasselhoff, are getting £125,000 each to tread the boards.

Last year, panto sales were hit by heavy snow, which prevented coach parties from reaching venues and forced cancellations. But bookings for Hasselhoff's Peter Pan at the Bristol Hippodrome are 25 per cent ahead of the same period last year. Reality television stars have found panto a useful way to extend their stay in the spotlight and earn some cash. Harry Derbidge, a17-year-old member of the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, will earn £15,000 for playing piratical second fiddle to McFadden in Woking.

Strictly Come Dancing contestant Edwina Currie turned down the chance to follow Ann Widdecombe on to the stage, when she was offered the role of the Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty in Windsor. Britt Ekland snapped up the part.

But Neil Hamilton, Currie's former Tory colleague, is appearing as Baron Hardup, with wife Christine as the Fairy Godmother, in Kettering's Cinderella.

Oh yes they are...Who's playing where?

Chatham

Vanilla Ice is the star attraction at the Chatham Central Theatre production of Peter Pan. The 1990s rapper plays Captain Hook but admits he had never heard of panto before the offer. "I'll be putting my own spin on it. I'm sure there'll be some rapping involved," promises Ice, whose good friend Adam Sandler has promised to see the show. "Adam might be kidding," the Ice Ice Baby chart-topper adds.

Dublin

Terrible twins Jedward have masterminded their own bespoke panto. The duo auditioned 800 children to appear in Jedward and The Beanstalk at Dublin's Olympia Theatre. How much will they earn? "A lot," says manager Louis Walsh.

Dartford

The pantomime inherent in Strictly Come Dancing is given free rein when former contestant Ann Widdecombe stars alongside judge Craig Revel Horwood in Snow White at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. The ex-MP plays the Widdy in Waiting.

Cheltenham

"A bonafide Hollywood actress is appearing in pantomime in Cheltenham this year," the Gloucestershire Echo boasted. Emma Samms, who starred in the US soap Dynasty, will play The Good Fairy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Everyman. "I'm not going to be there as a celebrity. It's a job and I'm proud to be joining a cast of talented people."

Woking

Controversy surrounded the £200,000 fee reportedly pocketed by Steve McFadden, the EastEnders star, for playing Hook in Peter Pan at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. Harry Derbidge from The Only Way Is Essex plays one if Hook's pirates. It is McFadden who is shifting tickets.

Also showing...

Gareth Gates will play Aladdin in Milton Keynes. Hackney Empire's Cinderella contains witty allusions to phone hacking and the Olympics. Dame Edna Everage represents the Spirit of London in Dick Whittington at New Wimbledon Theatre, London. Chloe Madeley gets her big break in Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.

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