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Unlikely star of children's telly.

Byline: By Mitya Underwood

Despite laughing hysterically through an audition, Kim Tserkezie still managed to land a part in a show that's become one of the most successful children's TV programmes of all time.

And now, much to her delight, Penny Pocket, the character she plays in Balamory, has been voted one of the top 10 disabled characters of the small screen.

"It's not everyday you make the top 10 of something. I'm chuffed," she comments with unconcealed delight.

But Kim, 31, who lives in Heaton, Newcastle, hadn't always wanted to be an actress, and she's the first to admit it was a real stroke of luck to land the part.

"I saw an advert and decided just to go for it. I had three auditions but didn't think I had a chance of getting it, mainly because I had to sing and I really, really can't sing, I'm terrible. At my first singing audition I got hysterical, I just laughed my way through it."

But despite that, the single mum still managed to secure the role.

"They weren't looking for a Geordie," she says, "but now they have made a really big deal of my accent. In fact they'd like it to be stronger than it usually is.

"I think all the accents on the show give a nice feel to it. It's good for kids to hear different ones."

The Bafta award-winning programme, which was first aired in autumn 2002, follows the daily adventures of the residents of the fictional Scottish island of Balamory. And it proved an instant hit with kids in the UK who quickly became hooked.

But there's one key element about shopkeeper Penny Pocket which Kim says always surprises people when they meet the person behind the character ( her wheelchair.

"People always assume the wheelchair is a prop," Kim explains. "Some people get a shock when they realise I am really disabled. But I wouldn't be in a wheelchair just for the show, that would be silly.

"I look at films and shows where non-disabled people play disabled roles and I just think, `I could do that, and it would be a lot cheaper as well.'

"I watched X-Men a while ago and thought, `Ooh, I could be Professor X'.

"Balamory has been good with regards to my disability because it's allowed me to demonstrate disabled actors can be characters in drama and not just there merely to illustrate a disability issue.

"Opportunities for disabled actors are still scarce, but it's a difficult business for any actor, disabled or not."

Despite her success, which looks certain to continue as Balamory has been bought by an American broadcaster, Kim describes herself as a "down-to-earth Geordie who's just like everybody else".

Kim grew up in Gateshead with her mum, dad, and little brother. After finishing her A-levels at 19, she travelled across the water to Newcastle and began working with a women's education and training project.

Organising courses and helping with training became a full-time job, and it really made her appreciate what she had.

Despite being in a wheelchair since she was a toddler because of leg muscle deterioration, Kim has never let this hold her back. She became a single mum in her early-20s and balanced her parental role with university, before launching her successful TV and radio career.

Despite her success as an actor and presenter, Kim has managed to avoid the trappings of fame. And despite being recognised almost everywhere she goes, this doesn't stop her leading a totally normal life.

"I love to spend time with my son, going shopping with my friends, going to the theatre

"I'm still really realistic and down-to-earth about things. I know I need to make my own opportunities."

And that's exactly what she's always done. After deciding to go to university, Kim enrolled on a part-time psychology and sociology course at Sunderland University.

But when she landed a job as a presenter on the BBC's Disability Today programme, alongside blind presenter Peter White, she gave up her studies.

When Kim was 21, she gave birth to her son Jay, now 10, who also harbours dreams of becoming a star.

"He is one of my best friends. He's absolutely lovely. I missed him a lot when I was filming Balamory but I didn't want to disrupt his life too much so my mum and dad used to come up with him to see me at weekends.

"He's had a few appearances in the show but I would never, ever have asked him. It's something he wanted to do," she insists.

"He's a very well-rounded kid. He loves to do lots of stuff. I think he likes what I do but I remember one time he came home from a swimming lesson at school.

"He said he'd been surrounded by a group of girls asking for his autograph. I think he said no and got really embarrassed. It made me laugh a bit."

Despite the time Kim spent in the village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (where the fictional Balamory is filmed), it's clear her heart lies firmly on Tyneside.

She's a huge Newcastle United fan and loves coming home after filming to her bungalow in Newcastle, where she lives with Jay. "I miss Newcastle all the time when I go away. I did get quite attached to Glasgow, where I was staying for a lot of the filming.

"They were really welcoming up there, but every time I come home I can't imagine living anywhere else.

"When I get the train back here, I start seeing things like the Tyne Bridge, and now there's also the Millennium Bridge, and it gives me a real buzz.

"I can't see myself living anywhere else."

So what can Kim expect from the future?

"I've got quite a few projects going on at the moment," she says excitedly. "I've been in talks with the BBC about some dramas I've written. They're quite different from Balamory.

"I'm not sure how much I can say ( but put it this way, the character I would be playing would end up killing people, very unlike Penny Pocket.

"I'm also going on the Balamory tour around the UK but I'm really upset it's not coming to Newcastle because I wanted to show all my friends from the show my home town.

"But until then, I'm just enjoying being back home with my friends and family."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 18, 2005
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