Annie Lovewell with her STARS award

Head Cleaner scoops STARS Award

Friday 28th May 2010

Head Cleaner scoops STARS Award

For once, Nottingham Playhouse has won applause not for its actors or directors, but for a true backstage superstar. Annie Lovewell, the theatre’s Head Cleaner, was the toast of Thursday night’s Nottinghamshire STARS Awards, where she lifted the trophy for Unsung Hero.

Nottingham Playhouse’s staff have greeted the award with delight: it would be hard to think of a worthier winner. Annie has been a key member of the Playhouse team for almost 32 years, making her jointly the longest-serving member of staff, and has been its Head Cleaner since 1994. At 74, she continues to work well past most people’s retirement age with a tireless energy that would put many younger workers to shame. Heading up a small team of dedicated cleaners, Annie is first in the building at 6am, six days a week, and doesn’t leave until everything is polished and tidied to her exacting standards.

On top of that, Annie is a great favourite at the Playhouse, not just for the vigour and expertise she brings to her work, but for the kindness – and the wicked sense of humour – with which she treats her colleagues. Returning actors too are always quick to seek out Annie. Yet none of the 150,000 visitors who come to the theatre every year see Annie or her close-knit team: Maureen, Sheila, Paul, Helen and Kevin. Their work keeps the Grade II* listed building a source of pride and pleasure for the people of Nottingham, but until the STARS award ceremony none of the applause has come Annie’s way.

The annual Nottinghamshire STARS Awards are designed to acknowledge and encourage the very finest standards in the county’s leisure, hospitality and culture industries. The judges recognised in Annie a nominee who richly deserved the accolade of Unsung Hero, and were rewarded when her down-to-earth wit, warmth and modesty made her the hit of the evening. Yet, after being feted until well after midnight, Annie was back on duty at 6am on Friday morning, and showing off her trophy to a stream of well-wishers as they gradually clocked on some hours later.

Annie’s efforts have not gone entirely unnoticed by the public, however. One of the stories the STARS judges took into account came from a letter of praise from a theatregoer whose elderly mother had lost the diamond from her engagement ring sometime in the course of a visit to the Playhouse’s pantomime Beauty and the Beast last December. With her mother deeply distressed, the lady called the theatre the following morning more in hope than expectation that the gem had been handed in. It hadn’t, but Annie found out where they’d been sitting, went personally to search beneath their seats – and against all the odds, retrieved the diamond.

Annie’s Unsung Hero award wasn’t the only acclaim for Nottingham Playhouse in this year’s awards season. The venue’s Customer Relations Manager Richard Surgay also received a STARS nomination, as Best Ambassador for the Industry. At the national level, the Playhouse also enjoyed recognition recently in the Theatrical Management Association awards, receiving nods in the Most Welcoming Theatre category and in the Eclipse Award for promoting cultural diversity – titles which have already brought it three wins in the last few years.