I first met Jayde Adams in 2013, in a basement somewhere off Shoreditch High Street at the comedy club she was running with her then-boyfriend (and, weirdly, his mum). I was on the bill, Jayde was the compere and I watched in awe as she effortlessly, with much no-nonsense Bristolian charm, marshalled an extremely variable line-up into a slick night of entertainment; charming and berating the audience as necessary, expertly managing the energy in the room while being extremely funny and, just to cap it all off, singing spine-tingling opera and doing a spot-on Adele impression. I did that gig a few times, and no matter who else was on, famous or beginner, it was Adams that was the star. She also took great portrait photographs of each of the acts during their set. A triple threat.
Since then, she’s made an Amazon special (Serious Black Jumper) and found her own audience. She’s starred in sitcoms (Alma’s Not Normal for BBC2), charmed the nation on Strictly Come Dancing, is about to take the lead in Ruby Speaking, an ITVX comedy show written especially for her. Oh, and she has a huge role alongside Aisling Bea in the upcoming movie musical Greatest Days, a gorgeous, moving and joyful exploration of obsessive fandom, grief, female friendship and growing up, set to the music of Take That. She plays Claire, a former champion diver still living with her mum in Clitheroe. She’s wonderful in it. That’s more than a triple threat. If she wasn’t so damned likeable, she might be the most threatening woman in comedy.
And she’s still the performer I met in a Shoreditch basement a decade ago. It was all there. Well, almost. “The only thing I look at differently now is that I am much better at communicating what I will and will not accept in my life,” she says over Zoom. “I’m very, very clear on what makes me the best version of me for television, or stage, or film.
And that has come from experience and age. I had to learn it in really difficult ways. There’s something I always say, I said it on Strictly: there is no art without failure. And I feel like my life over the last 10 years has shown that. When it’s worked, I’ve thought, ‘Oh, I’ll carry on doing that’. And then when something’s not gone right, I work out what went wrong and fix it.”
Greatest Days is a perfect showcase for Adams, and not just because it brings together her Swiss Army Knife of skills: singing, dancing, acting, comedy. Emotionally it resonates with her as well. “This story of grief is just so interesting to me as someone who’s grieved herself,” she says. Adams’ older sister, Jenna, died from cancer in 2011, and her death was part of the motivation to go into stand-up. “I’ve been able to step away from my own stories of grief and actually use everything that I am because of that in this performance.”
It was Jenna, two years older, who was the original Take That fan in the family and passed that on to her younger sister. “She had their first album, and then I came in slightly later,” she says. “I think it was Babe and the video. Mark Owen has never looked sexier. My whole family are massive fans. My mum’s always saying, ‘Oh, you’ve not seen a show until you’ve seen a Take That show.’” Jayde stops and blinks incredulously. “Mother, you’ve seen my shows.”