This Friday evening, as British Jews sit down for their Shabbat meal, one of their number will be embarking on a make-or-break bid for fame on the country’s blockbuster TV talent show.
Francine Lewis, a 37-year-old mother of two, is down to the semifinals of Britain’s Got Talent, a primetime sensation famous for propelling apparently unlikely acts to huge success – most famously eccentric Scottish superstar Susan Boyle.
Hoping for a similar result, Lewis, who grew up in the Jewish community of Southgate ("Some of my religious family won't watch me on Friday because of Shabbos," she says) is trying her hand as a celebrity impressionist.
“I can do these voices of people I enjoy watching, and people find them funny – it’s my party piece,” she says.
There’s a fair few Jewish celebrities in her routine too, although not many recognizable to anyone not familiar with prime-time UK TV.
"Being Jewish means a lot to me," adds Lewis, who has fond memories of past holidays in Tel Aviv and Eilat. "I love it, and I love telling people I'm Jewish."
The impressions she performed in her original BGT appearance in April of reality stars, glamour models and TV presenters got her a standing ovation, even from the notoriously hard-to please Simon Cowell. As her Twitter feed declares, “I can be anyone you want me to be!"
She is breathlessly desperate for what she frankly admits is her last chance for fame. “This is make or break time,” she says. “I’m not getting any younger, and this is an ageist business.”
In fact Lewis is something of a showbiz veteran, albeit one whose jobs have dwindled over the last decade to the odd pantomime. A former TV presenter, model and party girl who says she’s taken time out from showbiz to be with her children – Brooke, 10, and Jake, 6 – her slightly racy past has delighted the British tabloids.
They were quick to dig up delicious morsels such as a 1990s bondage photo shoot and interviews boasting of her insatiable sexual appetite – not to mention the night she supposedly spent with Leonardo DiCaprio in a top London hotel back in 1999.
“I'm surprised as it’s such old news, but I guess the fact he’s a Hollywood superstar interests people,” she says brightly. “I don’t think any publicity does you harm these days, unless you do something really bad. People talking about you is what matters – it's all about the profile.”
Lewis hopes this will be her ticket back to the celebrity limelight, with perhaps her own TV sketch show if she makes it beyond Friday's heats. The BGT winner not only gets a cool quarter of a million pounds, but also a chance to perform at the Royal Variety Show in front of Queen Elizabeth II.
“It’s been an exciting few months,” she says. “If it works, fantastic. If not, at least I can say I went for it.”
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now