After recently rocking Strictly and Celebrity Gogglebox, queen of TV Rustie Lee is set to star in a quirky new food show with DNA on the menu. The proud Brummie who says Birmingham runs through her like a stick of rock reveals all to David Johns – and explains why she loves playing bingo!
There’s not a lot in showbiz that Rustie Lee hasn’t seen or done. The proud Brummie with the huge laugh and even louder personality has quite some CV – cookery TV, reality TV, breakfast TV, game shows, acting, singing, panto… she’s even been one of the Loose Women and popped up with the Strictly gang, as well as on Celebrity Gogglebox!
But Rustie’s far from done! As if to prove there’s still lots left in the tank, she has just filmed a show that even by her standards, is a bit ‘out there’. A kind of Come Dine With Me meets Who Do You Think You Are? “This is a bit of an exclusive for you,” Rustie roars with laughter as she reveals she is taking part in a new Channel 4 series called DNA Diners which will hit our screens in March.
In the show, Rustie hosts a dinner party for a group of people, one of whom is related to her – but which one? Get the right answer and there’s cash to be won by the lucky contestant. “I’ve just finished filming and it was so much fun,” said Rustie. “I think people are going to love watching it.”
HAVING A GOOD TIME
Fun is Rustie’s middle name. You get that feeling when talking to her that her career has always been about more than just the money. She really is one of those celebrities who loves giving people a good time while have loads of fun herself – and making a nice living too, of course… And then there’s that trademark booming laugh!
As well as making others laugh, Rustie is never shy about laughing at herself. “Oh my god, yes, on Strictly It Takes Two, I couldn’t help embarrassing myself – as always!” she said. “I was appearing with the wonderful Rylan Clark and some of the Strictly celebrities and dancers. We all had those paddle things to hold up as to who we thought would be appearing on the show next – and I managed to reach down and pick up my mobile phone by mistake and hold that up instead. I was just chatting so much and having such a good time, I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing. So embarrassing, but everyone fell about and we all had a great laugh.”
Like most of us, Rustie is a huge Strictly fan and when we asked if she’d like to appear on the show as one of the dancing celebs, she let slip another ‘exclusive’. “One time, I was actually up to be on the show,” Rustie revealed. But she didn’t quite make the cut. “It’s all about them getting the mix of celebs right for the series and I wasn’t quite what they wanted at that time,” she explains. Her appearance on Strictly follow-up show, It Takes Two, was such a big hit with viewers that Twitter was awash with calls for Rustie to be made one of the full-time presenters. “Oh my god, yes, I’d love to be presenting it,” she says. “Please, my love, tell the producers that people liked it when I was on there. It would be just wonderful!”
The day we spoke with Rustie it was only a few hours after her great friend, dancer and entertainer Lionel Blair had passed away, aged 92. Rustie had just appeared on Good Morning Britain to pay a very personal tribute. She had worked many times with Lionel and they had struck up a great rapport. “He was a very endearing man and a real gentleman,” said Rustie. “It made me think about my mum who passed away at 87. Mind, my grandmother lived until she was 106 – and even then she thought she was too early to go! Fingers crossed I can make it to a good old age – and keep my marbles at the same time!”
Rustie grew up in Birmingham after arriving in the city from Jamaica aged four to be reunited with her parents. She went to Handsworth Wood Girl School and later to Birmingham College of Food and Domestic Science, where she graduated with distinction as a Master Baker. She worked in her family’s Caribbean bakery and later set up Rustie’s, the first-ever Caribbean silver service restaurant in Soho Road, Handsworth.
It was there that she was spotted by BBC producers of the Pebble Mill at One show who invited her to showcase Caribbean food on the programme. Rustie’s first-ever TV appearance was on Pebble Mill hosted by legendary comedian Eric Morecambe. Appearances on ATV (Central TV) followed before TV-am came calling. She built her reputation as Britain’s No1 authority on Caribbean cooking during an eight-year residency on TV-am. Rustie then became the first-ever black presenter of a Saturday Night prime time network entertainment show, Game for a Laugh.
Her recent TV appearances have taken in morning TV, game shows, reality TV and causing fun and controversy on the hit day-time programme, Loose Women. Rustie’s career is not just television. She has appeared on stage in many West End national tours, including South Pacific, Smokey Joe’s Café, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and more than 15 pantomimes. Recently, Rustie took part in the Lunch and Laughs tour with the likes of Lisa Maxwell, Claire Sweeney and Kate Thornton which included a date in Birmingham. Afternoon audiences were treated to a glass of fizz, lunch, shopping, prizes and the girls presenting their own version of Loose Women with singing! “It was all about people forgetting all their worries after a horrible 18 months and having a good laugh,” said Rustie.
In another celebrity first, Rustie has teamed up with actor Christopher Biggins, fitness guru Derrick ‘Mr Motivator’ Evans, celebrity astrologer Russell Grant, model and actress Linda Lusardi and Britain’s Got Talent finalist and musician Jean Martyn for Bingo All Stars – a unique online bingo experience.
Rustie said: “Andreas, my manager – as well as my other half – set up Bingo All Stars and every week I come together with the other celebrities and we have a great time with people playing on the site. It’s been a lovely thing for people to enjoy especially during Covid.”
Rustie is incredibly proud of her Brummie roots and says that despite moving six years ago to West Sussex – “to be nearer my son who lives in Bournemouth, my other half’s friends and nearer to work in London” – she will always be a Birmingham girl first and foremost.
“Wherever I go in the world, Birmingham will always be my home,” she says. “I’m like a stick of rock. Cut me in half and you will see Birmingham running right through me!”