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Credit Eric Richmond

How would Boyz II Men do ‘Mistletoe and Wine’?

Nineties pop sensation and ex-McDonalds employee Kavana and award-winning Hollyoaks actress Gemma Merna star in So This Is Christmas. Full of Xmas tunes, boasting dancing and a live band, the show turns up at New Theatre Oxford on 6th December
Credit Eric Richmond

"Lovely as Cliff Richard is, it’s not really my vibe"

Sam Bennett talked to the pair about classic Christmas songs and shameful Secret Santa gifts…


It was only on listening to my conversation with Kavana and Gemma Merna back that I realised I sounded like someone wanting to make a man yet to turn 40 feel 100, strike fear into a pair of performers before they take on a 16 date tour, and dig up the past. I’m sure I can only justify one of these aims in the name of good journalism. I began by asking Kavana how different the pop industry is today from 20 years ago when he first started out.

“Oh my god, you’re making me feel ancient!” Kavana said. “It’s totally different. I put a single out a couple of months ago and didn’t realise what an absolute task it would end up being. Back in the day there was no iTunes or any of that; you did your promotion, the record went in the shops and it charted – that simple. Now a lot of people are self-releasing which I did. I set up a small label. But then you have to hire press people and there’s the whole digital distribution which I struggled to get my head around, and there’s the social media…it’s totally different.”

Credit Eric Richmond


Not content with making Kavana feel old, it seems I tried to frighten Gemma ahead of the So This Is Christmas tour. On the face of it, this Christmas show seems like it would be scarier to her than Kavana, given his lengthy experience singing in front of people. Is she scared? “No because I did a lot of theatre before Hollyoaks, which people don’t know about. Once you’re in TV people think you’ve done that your whole career.” She answered. “And also when I was in Hollyoaks I sang with the cast for Children in Need, so I did little bits where there was a live audience. That was one of the reasons I agreed to do this job, just to see if I still enjoyed doing theatre work. At the moment I’m really enjoying it. It’s a learning curve and a great little challenge in my life.”

It appears I had more scare tactics up my sleeve; weren’t some of the songs in the show a little bit daunting? “I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Fairytale of New York’.” Gemma admitted. “But we’ve got it to a point now where we really enjoy ourselves. And now I’m loving the song!” Is there a challenging number for Kavana? “When I first saw I was doing a solo of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, I thought, lovely as Cliff Richard is, it’s not really my vibe.” He said. “But you’ve just got to make it your own. You’ve just got to think ‘how would Boyz II Men do it?’”

There was no putting a stopper in them! “It’s not Oscar-winning!” Kavana said. “But we’re not just singing songs, it’s a full show!” Gemma jumped in: “and it’s suitable for everyone”. They bounced the show’s promotion between the two of them with enthusiasm which we’ll no doubt witness in the show itself. “And I get to dress up as Father Christmas.” Kavana added.

The tour actually features a performance that takes place on 27th December. Will this Gateshead gig be more of a challenge, given that the big day will be over and perhaps people won’t be feeling quite as festive? “You’ve made us worried now!” Gemma said. Had I really made a breakthrough and got those nerves bubbling away? Not really. Kavana reminded me: “There’ll still be New Years to look forward to. People also want to extend Christmas as much as they can – this is an extension!”

I must have been having one of those days; I obviously thought I should go the whole hog and dig up embarrassing Christmas memories. “I had a terrible Secret Santa episode once.” Kavana recalled. “I was doing Aladdin and a fan gave me this lovely present. It was a candle that I then gave to one of the girls who was playing an elf for Secret Santa. I was all ‘I know you like your candles and I got this especially for you’. But it had my name engraved on it! There’s no way of getting out of that is there?"

And there was apparently no way to faze him and his co-star. And I bet the soulful singer managed to charm his way out of that little Secret Santa mishap in any case!

Tickets for So This Is Christmas are available at atgtickets.com/oxford


Images by Eric Richmond


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