How Sheffield's unique vegetable entertainer made it on to Britain's Got Talent
A woman from Sheffield who uses vegetables to entertain and educate people across the country, believes that “if people eat more veg, they would have better lives”.
Natalie Hunt, better known as Madame Zucchini, is passionate about all things vegetable related and is a regular at festivals, fayres, country shows and various other events, encouraging all to enjoy vegetable stories.
As well as promoting the benefits of eating vegetables as her alter ego, Madame Zucchini, she is also keen on addressing issues surrounding food sustainability and climate change.
Natalie said: “I love veg. The more veg people eat, the better it is for them. We need to work harder at it, but I think if people eat more veg, they would have better lives.
“I don’t preach about nutrition, I take a playful angle on it. Through my shows, it’s like here’s a veg with a face on it. Someone might say, ‘Do you know what, I might try some broccoli’.
Madame Zucchini was an idea that crystallised in 2007 after a visit to the local cabaret, Cabaret Boom Boom, in Walkley.
After being inspired by the acts and costumes, Natalie soon found herself on stage.
At that time, she was employed as a community worker, but upon being made redundant, she decided to ‘give it a go’ and turned freelance with her vegetable entertainment business in 2010.
Natalie grew up in her family’s fruit importing business, W Hunt and sons, in which her Dad took on the reins.
She describes her job as “my way of carrying on the veg business”, and some of her relatives and friends have now joined her - in the form of Mrs Turnip, Mlle Chouffleur and Lord Parsnip.
Natalie, 56, travels around the country offering vegetable theatre shows, vegetable puppet shows, vegetable creature making workshops, and more.
She tries to incorporate different themes within her work, and she believes audience interaction is important.
Natalie said: “I try to make them very accessible and very playful. It’s a good way of getting people to handle veg - to see veg as a positive thing.”
“You can’t force people to eat veg, but the more that veg is accessible to people, the more it becomes a normal part of life. It’s not just ‘eat broccoli’,” she added.
Natalie told how her most popular theatre shows include Star Wars with Leek Skywalker and Darth Tater, and Pirates of the Carrot-bean, with Cap’n Jack Marrow.
She has recently added a new character to the list, Greta Iceberg.
More people may be more familiar with Courgette Lady, however, as she made an appearance on Britain’s Got Talent in 2016.
Natalie described how it was both an “amazing” and “painful” experience, but it was “a real eye opener” for her.
Although she never made it through to the next round, having her Madame Zucchini banner on stage throughout the performance earned her some new fans.
Natalie said: “There was an immense amount of admiration from local people.”
She told how people in the community “like to give me a lot of funny shaped veg”.
Like most people, Natalie has had to adapt her work around pandemic restrictions, moving shows and workshops online.
She was surprised at how well they worked and began a vegetable craft club on Saturday mornings.
Natalie said: “It attracted adults from all over. I guess it was creating that sociability, that connection - it’s what people needed.”
She made vegetable characters, for example, a Sean Bean, to display in her window, enabling passing people to have something to look forward to on their lockdown walks.
Natalie was also involved with a Music in Walkley Gardens event, which saw Madame Zucchini performing live from her back garden.
She said: “People needed cheering up. It’s important for me to be linked with the community.
“Walkley has nice shops, nice people. It’s my way of interacting with people.”
With restrictions now lifted, Natalie is able to offer more in-person events.
She is currently offering shows and vegetable craft sessions at Heeley City Farm throughout August as part of the Healthy Holidays programme.
She is also offering a ‘make your own veg eco hero’ workshop and a chance to ‘meet the Veg Avengers’ at Live Works on the Moor, on August 10.
The event - hosted by Can Do South Yorkshire - will include various other organisations with the aim of showing how food choices can impact climate change.
Natalie said: “It’s looking at how food can help with climate change. How we can have good local food that’s affordable, but not so cheap that it has a negative effect on food production.”
With summer being one of the busier seasons, Madame Zucchini is currently travelling all around the country entertaining people.
She has worked with a range of people including children and adults alike, those with learning difficulties, community groups, and those with mental health issues.
This year has seen Natalie work with more schools, the workshops of which can be tailored to curriculum needs.
Children have been able to create characters, learn about nutrition, write about their creations and more.
She was recently involved with the South Yorkshire Schools' Climate Conference, which took place in July, and looked at what people are doing work in climate change, education and related fields.
Natalie hopes to do more community work in future and told how she enjoys seeing people who thought they were not creative, being creative.
She explained: “There are endless ways you can recreate veg.”
Although she finds it difficult to name a favourite vegetable herself, she encourages all to “remember to love your veg”.