How We Met: Ronni Ancona & Alistair McGowan

'We went out for seven years and became increasingly aware of how different we were'


Alistair McGowan, 43, is an impressionist, actor and comedian who has starred in his own television show and recently played the MC in Cabaret, at the Lyric Theatre. He lives in south-west London

When I used to picture in my head the kind of girl I would fall for, she looked a lot like Ronni. I first saw her at a comedy club where she was the compere. She was wearing a baggy red jumper and a scarf wrapped around her hair, which was all wild curls. She was a vision – and funny.

We talked briefly about the night, and I told her I liked her [impression of] Marilyn Monroe, but I was very shy because she was so attractive. About a month later, I watched her perform at a comedy night. She was so unlike any of the other female stand-ups, who were often aggressive. Ronni would charm the audience as much as she would amuse them, with her crazy combination of puns, surreal gags and impressions. Women in particular would warm to her because she was feminine but didn't need to talk about women's issues – she was just funny.

About 18 months after we met, she rang me about a gig. I'd almost forgotten about her because I thought she was out of my league. But then she rang me again and suggested we meet up. We went to see Husbands and Wives at the cinema and afterwards, we sat eating a bag of chips and that was that – we were together.

The first TV we did together was a show called The Staggering Stories of Ferdinand De Bargos, for which we used to re-voice old footage. That led to more work and everything started to take shape. Ronni was becoming more versatile and we wanted to do something bigger. In 1998, I was performing at Edinburgh on my own when a BBC executive approached me to do a show. Almost the first thing I said was that if I did a show I wanted Ronni involved.

And so Alistair McGowan's Big Impression was born. Ronni had an ever-growing repertoire of voices but even I had no idea how good she was going to become. The only problem was that, just before we started filming, we split up – our relationship had run its course. It was difficult; the challenge was not taking it out on each other and remaining friends.

Ronni is unique. She says she's like a strange woodland creature – she's all cosy and cuddly and likes to hibernate – but I see her as a wild horse. You want to tame her and when you think you have, off she bolts again. It's what makes her so attractive. She's also an absolute charmer. She plays with words so beautifully when she speaks and really engages people. You won't meet another person like her.

Ronni Ancona, 40, is an actress and comedian, who became a household name in Alistair McGowan's Big Impression. She lives in west London with her husband and their two daughters

I was the world's worst compere when I met Alistair. He, however, was genuinely brilliant. I think I saw him at a comedy club in Islington before I even met him. He was on before me. He did very well; I died. I remember being equally impressed by his look. He used to wear these big crisp white shirts and a brown suede jacket.

We got on so well on our first date. I remember going down the escalator at the end of the evening and Alistair asking if he could see me again. I said that would be nice. "How about tomorrow?" he asked. I found him attractive and a sensitive soul – poetic and artistic – which was especially appealing for a girl in her early 20s, so I said yes. We went out for seven years and, while we have always been close, we became increasingly aware how different we were as time went on.

Alistair's a very interesting character. He's very artistic and quite theatrical, yet he lives a very ordered, mannered and routine life. I wear my heart on my sleeve and am much more emotional.

It wasn't until we split up that things got off the ground with Alistair McGowan's Big Impression. It was so exciting but it was tricky and there were some very low points. In one sketch, we were playing Jo Wiley and John Peel at Glastonbury. We'd had the most almighty row behind the tent before we went on. But, if anything, the tension added a little frisson to some of the sketches and it made the show better.

Of course, there were times when our differences did affect our work. Our diverse senses of humour caused huge problems. He likes puns and jokes and I preferred the surreal, esoteric stuff – my favourite sketch was Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in the burger van, which Alistair never liked. There were times, though, when it was magical between us. In terms of chemistry, our most successful pairing was Helen and Paul from Big Brother. We could draw on the strength of our relationship and just improvise.

I've become addicted to what Alistair thinks about the work I do on my own. I respect him hugely as a performer and writer and get very upset any time I see anything nasty written about him. He's such a brilliant actor and can turn his hand to anything. He really is my best friend in the whole world – I know it sounds a bit eight-year-old to say, but it's true.

Alistair McGowan is in 'They're Playing Our Song' at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1 (020 7907 7060, www.menier chocolatefactory.com) from Friday until 28 September

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker