BIG INTERVIEW: Alex Frith, the queen of the dance
THERE are few advantages to being run over by an RAF lorry when you are just a toddler and it was a momentous happening for the young Alex Frith.
For a while doctors feared she wouldn't recover. But her long convalescence led to a flowering of her imaginary life which led to one of the most satisfying chapters of her adulthood.
Alex, who has been the face and the unflagging motor of Swansea's flagship fundraising shows Bumbles of Mumbles and The Best is Yet to Come, explains: "I was run over by an RAF lorry when I was 4 and I was in a coma for 3 weeks, so I missed so much schooling. I was bullied when I returned to school because I used to have to wear this knitted pixie bonnet to hide the bald patch."
She traces my hand on a deep tramline under her hair at the back of her head.
"I had a fractured skull and broken legs. I was a mess."
But she did pull through, and having to spend so much time resting and recovering in her sick bed led to her dreaming up the Bumbles of Mumbles characters that are so familiar to Swansea children now.
"I would lie in bed and think up all of these characters" she recalls.
"This is where they all come from, my imagination."
However, taking centre stage herself, as a performer, has never been her thing, she says.
Though when pressed she does have some teenage memories of doing a turn at some of the dance halls and nightspots of her hometown of Barry, when she was a teenager.
"You know in Gavin and Stacey, when Joanna Page's character meets the bus driver at Barry Island? "There is a building behind her, which in my day was known as The Merry Friars.
"When I was 15 I went to a dance there and I went up to the band and asked if I could sing. I sang Mr Sandman.
"And then once, at Bindles Ballroom in Barry, at 16, I asked again if I could sing, and I did Blue Moon. But I have never really been a performer, although it sounds as if I have.
"I suppose the reason I put on the shows is that when I was growing up, in the 1940s, there was nothing in Barry for kids to do, so although you used to have all of these wonderful films with singing and dancing -— Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and the lovely Disney films, there weren't places where children could do that themselves."
Having said that, cinema was a real source of wonder for Alex and her friends at that time.
"Disney films were like something from out of space, especially when Technicolour came in. And in those days you would watch them, transfixed, and wait for it to start again and watch it all over again.
"I remember going to see the Wizard of Oz when I was grown up, having been hypnotised by it when I was a little girl, and when it began it was all in black and white.
"I was so disappointed because I thought 'this isn't at all what I remember.'
"I had forgotten that it all starts in black and white and then it turns to colour, like magic."
So that magic is what Alex tries to conjure up when she steps into her ball gown, and welcomes her excited brood of children and teens to the Swansea Grand Theatre stage every year for Bumbles of Mumbles and for The Best Is Yet to Come.
And seeing young people blossom on that stage, from shy creatures into performers who can enjoy the applause, is something she never tires of, she says.
"Putting on the Bumbles of Mumbles show introduced me to the talent of young actors and singers. I had been doing that one for about 7 years when I approached the Evening Post about putting on another one, which I called the Best Is Yet To Come.
"Opportunity Knocks was on the television, with Hughie Green, and I thought 'how would it be if I did a talent show?'
"I decided there would be no winners because I didn't want to break anyone's heart."
She tells me enthusiastically about some of the entrants for the October 25 gala, with a 17-year-old who dazzled her with his Welsh rendition of Phantom Of The Opera and with Bring Him Home, not to mention with his startling resemblance to Superman.
"He said he was in the show at the age of 11 and here he is now, 6ft 3in and stunning."
Surprisingly enough, though Alex is a proud mum of two girls herself, she didn't try to bundle Samantha and Alexandra up and shoo them out into the spotlight. "No, no. Alexandra hated singing and dancing as a child. When she was in Ffynone School she had to be in Mary Poppins. "She just hid under the umbrella.
"So she is a barrister now. And Sam is a social worker, in fostering. "
Having said that, a career in drama was a distinct possibility for Samantha.
"She grew up with me, with it, and she first went on the stage as a sand shrimp with a fake broken leg. Then she was Dearlo, the hero of the Bumbles, then she was the wizard.
"And when she was at school she played the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for her exams.
"We managed to get her into RADA summer school, to see if that was what she wanted to do, but she came back home to us and said 'it isn't the path I want I want to take, I want to work with children'. But she is always backstage helping and checking everybody is happy and OK."
So it may be that the Bumbles and the Best have someone waiting in the wings to pick up the baton when Alex's enviable energy begins to dim.
But, despite some recent health trails, it seems unlikely she will hang up the sequins any time soon. "I just think if you are lucky in life and in health, and if you don't have to worry about where the next penny is coming from, then you have to give something back. I will keep going with the shows until I go gaga."