Christmas REALLY gets underway next week with the opening of this year’s Sands Centre panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Collabro star and Carlisle lad Matt Pagan leads the cast as The Prince, along with ex-Hollyoaks star Sarah George as Snow White.

Stevi Ritchie, who has appeared in X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother, is the Henchman, with CFM Radio’s Robbie Dee as Dame Dotty, Dean Winters as Muddles and international movie star Jimmy Vee, who has played R2D2 in Star Wars, as the leader of the Seven Dwarfs.

Matt is thrilled to be leading the show on his home turf.

He said: “I did this show last year in Ipswich. I only ever do Snow White. First ever one was here with Robbie Dee in 2013.

“He is so good. I have no idea what goes on in other shows. This is all I’ve ever done in panto. Put me in Cinderella and I’ll go ‘what happens in this story?’

“The script changes depending on where you are. I put a few cheeky extra lines in sometimes.

"I’ve done Newcastle, Ipswich and here. They’re all a bit different.

“People in the south tend to be a bit more reserved. Obviously the audience at the Sands Centre is always amazing. It is always packed out and it is always fun.

“Sometimes in panto you have good days and bad days and the audience aren’t as receptive, but here, it is always brilliant.”

Collabro have just released their new album Love Like This and he’s just back from the US and Japan with Collabro.

“The most enjoyable for culture and the way the audience reacts is Japan.

I think that is one of my favourite places. You turn up at the airport and it is packed with fans.”

As if travelling the world and selling pout UK-wide tours with Collabro wasn’t enough, as well as appearing in panto every Christmas, Matt has just started a voice coaching business.

He says: “It is really going well.

“I love my job completely when we are one the road and touring, but I find that having something else on the side , it keep[s your mind on everything.

“I never had any training and what I’ve learned in the industry, it is nice to be able to pass it on.”

Snow White is the first-ever panto appearance by Sarah George, who is best known as Celine McQueen in Hollyoaks and was nominated for Best Soap Newcomer in the 2015 TV Choice Awards.

It was after seeing panto with her Nana that Sarah decided she wanted to be an actress. As she grew up in Sheffield, her Nana used to take her to see a show every Christmas.

Needless to say, she is very excited to be starring in her first.

“I’ve been to enough, I think I’ll be all right. I’m a seasoned panto-goer.

“I think the first one was Cinderella. I used to like it when they used to throw pastries and sweets into the audience, but I’m sure health and safety would have something to say about that now.

“And there used to be a bucket game where you’d win some sweets, it’s always about sweets!

“When I was a kid I was obsessed with Coronation Street and with Fred Elliott. I used to do little shows in the living room. I was obsessed.”

Mum was in sales and dad was a social worker, so there is no family history of acting.

“I’ve just always liked to make people laugh and entertain people,” she says.

“When I realised you could do it for a job I thought ‘ok I’m going to go to university and learn how to do it properly’. Luckily I got an agent and it went from there really.

“Hollyoaks was a crazy two years. It doesn’t feel like it really happened now. I was 22 or 23 when I got that. It feels like a long time ago now.

“Soaps are pushing boundaries a lot more now, they are trying to get people thinking, I think that is important.

“For Hollyoaks, they have a younger demographic and their viewers are going to get bored if a storyline goes on for too long, but with Coronation Street, you can have a Whodunnit that goes on for a long time.”

Sarah has been in New Zealand travelling for two years with her boyfriend Dale. She had been back a week when the panto role came up.

It was day before he returned to New Zealand.

“If I ever needed a reason not to get back on the plane, that was it.”

Sarah wanted to travel because she felt she missed out on it during her university years.

“I had only been out of university for a year when I got the Hollyoaks role,” she explains.

“I felt I needed to go and travel and find out who I am. Taking a year out was something I had been itching to do.

“When we did finally do it, we ended up taking a bit longer and now we are going for residency just in case we want to go back.”

Stevi appeared in the same Panto in Ipswich last year, in the same role as the Henchman!

He said: “I know the role really well, I know the script pretty much already, I’m ready to go!

“This will be my 14th or 15th panto. I love them. Every year it is fun. The money helps, but it is about the enjoyment of it, the magic of a panto.

“Anything can go wrong, the ad-libbing, the audiences reactions, the kids reactions, everything like that, to make a really good solid show as a cast.

“We all work together, no-one is a star and everyone loves it.”

There have been plenty of mistakes in the shows along the way. Stevi remembers: “There was one show where the audience wouldn’t laugh - at all - and at some point, this person came off the stage and said ‘well that got the so-and-sos laughing (but in stronger language) and his mic was still working!

“Things can go wrong. Once I went on with just my boxers on. I was late running, I missed my place and was only half dressed.

The audience knew and loved it.

“I’ve made sure since then that I check my script. You get complacent halfway through and you think you know the show, you chill in your dressing room and forget when you’re on.

“Last year I was appearing with Natasha Hamilton from Atomic Kitten and I thought I was on and snuck onto the stage and Tash turned round and said ‘Ramsbottom what are you doing?’ and I realised I wasn’t supposed to be on!

“So I sneaked off and she was laughing her head off. Literally howling. It’s that sort of unknown that I love.”

As well as the pantos, he is busy with his one man show A Night With Stevi Ritchie and recently appeared at Stanwix Park Holiday Centre.

Stevi, who lives in Essex says he still gets goosebumps when he remembers X Factor.

“Every day I pinch myself that I did it. I’m so grateful. I never thought in a million years that I, of all people, would ever go on a show like that.

“I look back on it an think I’m so lucky to get on it.

“That Simon and the producers wanted me that year, even if I was a joke act or whatever you want to call me, I go on it.

“I remember my first day in the studio with the X Factor stage, I just cried my eyes out with joy.

“The cameras were on me and they said ‘why are you crying Stevi?’ and I said ‘I’ve been watching this for 10 years and never thought this would happen to me.’

“It makes you well up because it all becomes real when you get in the X Factor studio and you see the seats where the judges sit, it just....oh I get goosebumps, it makes you feel ‘wow I can’t believe it’.

“For seven years I tried and it was hard. I auditioned year after year. One year I thought ‘Simon is back this year, I’ll give it one more go’ and after waiting hours in the rain and the cold I got through and I was on live shows.

“No looking back, no regrets whatsoever, I love the show.

“Simon and the team are just absolutely phenomenal people and I love them so much. To give me the opportunity and now I am making a living from what I love - to sing, perform and entertain.”

The show is produced by Enchanted Entertainment and is the biggest panto in Cumbria. It runs from December 11-31. For tickets, go to or call 01228 633766.