Former cruise ship entertainer Jan McNeill shared stories of meeting celebrities and piracy on the high seas with members of Crewkerne & District U3A at their monthly meeting in the Henhayes Community Centre. Jan who lives in Misterton has been an entertainer most of her life, since she entered a talent competition at the age of six and sang On The Street Where You Live. After a spell at a holiday camp, where she had a dual role as Auntie Jan the children’s host by day and as an entertainer in the evening, she began working on cruise ships in 1972.
Having moved to Yorkshire with her husband, where there was a thriving working men’s club scene, Jan said: “Working in variety shows meant I was able to learn and perfect my craft. Then came an offer to work on a Greek cruise line that was too good to turn down. This was the start of 20 years of entertaining on the high seas and visiting many destinations around the world.” Jan McNeill regards the pinnacle of her career as the time she and her husband worked on the luxury line Seabourn Cruises. It was during this time that she met Cliff Richard and many other famous people, including Shirley Bassey.
On one occasion when Jan and her husband were enjoying a cruise as passengers, the ship was ambushed by Somali pirates. The U3A meeting was attended by more than 90 members and Jan began with a couple of songs to get people happy and relaxed. She also brought along a collection of memorabilia from her days as a performer, including some wonderful headdresses and masks. Chair of Crewkerne U3A Anne Bright said: “Her songs and anecdotes, all beautifully delivered, made it a great afternoon’s entertainment.”