I do consider myself very lucky to be doing the job that I do. I'm now in my 24th year of work and I enjoy every minute. I am of the generation brought up with the original Muppet Show and Sesame Street, and I just couldn't wait to see what antics they would get up to, especially the great Gonzo - my hero.
I remember as a child trying to sculpt a Kermit the Frog out of clay at a local pottery class and I tried my hand at making a Gonzo out of a toilet roll.
I'd always been very creative as a child, making most of my toys all from scratch and none from kits. I would find some pictures of something I wanted to make, like the Titanic or a steam engine, and I would just get on with it. The artistic talent is in my family. My sister Jacqui is a very talented illustrator and my mother, Janet, an amazing wig-maker and my father, Philippe, was an engineer.
I originally set out to become an interior designer and went to Middlesex University to do my foundation year. I had access to a great workshop and had great fun experimenting making things - mainly sculpture. I was about to commit to four years at University when one afternoon, browsing through the architect magazines in WH Smith, I found an advertisement for apprentice model-makers for a firm in Islington. I gave them a call and they asked me to bring in a portfolio on the Friday. They offered me a job on the spot and I started work on the Monday.
The first part of my career was building architectural models. I then worked for the Tussauds Group, building models of roller coasters for their theme parks, followed by a spell with Cameron Mackintosh, doing a lot of set design assistant work and model boxes for some of the biggest shows in the West End and on Broadway, such as Oliver!, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera. I tend to be a bit of a chameleon when it comes to work and I love to have a go at anything if it involves making: could be models, props, costumes or puppets.
I was very lucky to work for nearly seven years at the Jim Henson Company. Just walking down the corridors at work sent goosebumps down my spine. I had to pinch myself. They were lined with several Skeksises from The Dark Crystal amongst other Henson movie memorabilia. I learnt everything about puppet building from all the lovely people I worked with over the years and made some very good friends too. Four of the years were in production working on children's TV programmes The Hoobs and Mopatop's Shop. It was really the end of an era when Henson's London Creature Shop closed down, much to everyone's dismay.
One of the things I love about my job is that you never know what famous character you might have in your carrier bag when you leave the fabric shop after hunting for materials.
The PG Tips monkey, I am pleased to say, is one of them.
I also had a great experience being part of the build team for Marvin the Paranoid Android on the movie of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and working with the lovely Warwick Davis on set - getting him into and out of the costume each day.
Avenue Q has been part of my life for nine years now. I started out maintaining the puppets for Cameron Mackintosh's West End version, and then gradually producing my own puppets to replace the old and worn out. I'm really pleased to have been asked to work on this new tour because it has allowed me to put my own creative spin on how I feel the characters should look. Everyone has their own interpretation. I like to think hardened fans of the show will be pleased with the new look.
The set of puppets you are seeing tonight is my third. The first couple I built on my own and, as each set has 34 puppets, last year was a very busy year. On average, there are five identical puppets of each character, each one with a different costume. I am pleased to say that for the third set, I brought in a very talented crew of makers to help me. They include Janet Jomain, Ellie Humphreys, Daisy Beattie, Mark Mander and Mark Friend. Thanks chaps for all your wonderful work.
The puppets for Avenue Q take approximately five months to build. There is a lot of material cutting and the characters are made up of many pieces, so you have to be on the ball. Every part has to be labelled with the characters' initials and then placed into an organisation box. The whole puppet is fabricated out of thin flat foam and each character has a set of patterns. I pattern the puppets so, should I need to reproduce a character, they will be identical every time. The puppets for the movie Muppets Most Wanted, which I worked on a couple of years ago, are made in exactly the same way. During the movie, you are not seeing one Kermit the Frog; you are seeing several that may have been made from a single pattern.
Puppet characters I create are very much my babies. A lot of hard work goes into them; I only let the public see them once I'm happy with how they look. Hearing an audience enjoy a show, appreciating my work, is a great buzz for me. It's a bit like being a real Geppetto. I bring them into the world and they become stars...How magic is that!