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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones