Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Interview: Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Interview: Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Born and raised in Richmond, the actor tells us about her comedy, crushes and love for Richmond Park.

Richmond born and bred, Margaret Cabourn-Smith still gets stage fright. Especially performing in front of her friends and family. She’s now moved to Ealing – after living in Hammersmith for a while – but her parents are still in Richmond and have now planned to take all their neighbours to the local theatre to see their daughter perform in Spike. “So many of them remember me scuffling around on the school run! And now they will see me in this massive show.” 

Spike comes to Richmond in early November, as part of a short tour across the country. It tells the fascinating story of Spike Milligan, the brain behind the famous Goon Show, and his triumphs and battles with the BBC. Margaret plays the sound assistant Janet, responsible for the show’s iconic sound effects. “Over the course of the play, I move from gramophone records to magnetic tape, which is very exciting. I get to play the trombone! And to make the sound of birds with an umbrella. The sound effects were really, really important to the Goon Show. They added to the chaos,” she says. 

Richmond Theatre was her first encounter with performing arts. “My parents used to take me to panto there, for the first time probably in the 1970s, which is terrifying,” laughs Margaret. “It’s a really, really beautiful theatre, and probably responsible for my whole career.”  

She always wanted to do comedy. After university, she ended up doing Edinburgh Fringe with various comedy groups and finally landed gigs across TV, stage and radio. Now, her career spans countless credits, including Holby City, Evermoor and The IT Crowd, numerous Penny Dreadful radio plays, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and The Now Show. “I loved The Missing Hancocks, a radio show that I got to do in front of a live audience. It is a bit similar to Spike. We recreated what the old radio shows would have been. To be honest, I love anything with a live audience. One of the reasons I enjoy doing Spike so much is that it’s about radio and theatre, which are two of my great loves.” 

But she still gets nervous. “In Spike, I start the whole show. But I always think – as Margaret, I love this job, and as Janet, I also love this job. Because frankly, if you don’t love it, there’s no point in doing it. No one’s in it for the money.” 

She enjoys touring although finds it quite gruelling at times. “The main problem is that I have two children who I miss very much when I’m away from them. But it’s a treat to be doing such a lovely, funny play at a time which is quite dark for people.” 

In March this year, Margaret started her podcast, Crushed by Margaret Cabourn-Smith, where her guests talk about their crushes from various periods of their lives. “I honestly thought it would be quite a silly, light-hearted thing. And it is. But actually, a lot of really deep things have come out of it as well. I think it’s very human. We cover a lot of stuff about the heartbreak that we all go through, too.” 

She makes her guest take a “compatibility test”. Basically, all you need to do is to write your and your crush’s full names down, search for any letters L-O-V-E-S in both names, and then keep adding each pair of numbers until you arrive at a two-digit number – and this is your percentage of compatibility. Naturally, I did the compatibility test for myself and my crush. We got 99%! I had to mention it to Margaret. “Oh my god, do you know how rare that is? And it’s scientific evidence!” she laughs. 

“I wanted to do a podcast about something I was an expert in,” she says. “I was going to write a memoir called Everybody I’ve Never Slept With about all the people that I’ve just imagined being with me. I feel like it says more about me than the people I have been with in lots of ways.” 

She comes back to Richmond regularly. “I absolutely adore the riverside. And the park, too. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid. We grew up really near to it and it was the place I was dragged to on Boxing Day. But now I think, it’s just the most amazing thing!” 

“I’m very glad my parents are still around Richmond. I would never want to be too far from it.” 

See Spike at Richmond Theatre 8-12 November.

Image by Pamela Raith Photography