Heidi Agan tells Claire Going how she went from being a waitress to the future queen of England and reflects on three years as a royal lookalike.
I’m sitting in a swanky hotel just off the A14 in Northamptonshire and a very familiar face walks in. There is something decidedly uncanny about this woman and I’m not the only one who notices. There are business executives sitting nearby who look up from their laptops and lattes and gaze at Kate Middleton as she breezes in and sits down opposite me. It kind of makes me feel important.
But royalty are not usually accustomed to meeting journalists for coffee and behind us the businesspeople quickly go back to their discussions, having ruled out the possibility that the visitor really is the Duchess of Cambridge. And they would be right. Heidi Agan is a Kate Middleton lookalike. It’s quite a different story, though, when she strolls through Times Square in New York, flanked by bodyguards, or stands on Westminster Bridge with a television cameraman. Sometimes she is completely mobbed.
Three years ago Heidi was waitressing at Frankie and Benny’s, just trying to pay the bills as a single mother. Customers would comment on her similarity to the Duchess but she just brushed it off. “When I watched the wedding, certain angles she turned I thought that could be me,” she said, “but I still didn’t believe it.” A family friend took some pictures of her and she was eventually persuaded.
“I didn’t believe you could earn a living looking like somebody, but everyone was saying I should do it so I finally googled lookalike agencies and sent my picture off. I got my first job four days later.”
No stranger to showbiz, Heidi’s mum was a contortionist on Opportunity Knocks and her dad was in a band. Heidi had done a little acting as a youngster, playing an extra in the TV series’ Crossroads and Boon. Being a lookalike is, after all, an acting job, but this was evidently going to require a lot more than just her appearance.
Take a guess at the number of Kate Middleton lookalikes that are currently strutting their pregnant stuff on the pages of agency portfolios and you might be surprised that there are close on 200 out there. So why is it that when you google Kate Middleton, Heidi’s face pops up in the image results?
She puts it down to luck. After doing a charity event she was interviewed by the Birmingham Mail, and when it went out the following day she was stunned by the response. “My life completely changed overnight” she reflects; and it seems that three years later she still finds it astonishing, “It got to the point where my dad answered the phone and said if they want to speak to me they’re going to have to wait until tomorrow.”
It was a swift learning curve for Heidi, though. “I think the two things I learnt were how to deal with the press and that internet trolls are real.” She has had death threats and people saying she is scrounging off another person’s life. “I think some people don’t understand what we do. This is an actual job and people hire us to act as people because, let’s be honest, the royal family is not going to rock up to everybody’s event.”
What is evident is that she puts a great deal of hard work into what she does. “You can’t go into it without doing your research because there’s always that one person who will ask what your dog’s name is, or where’s Harry today and you have to know that stuff.”
The clothes are important. Heidi looks the part in knee-high boots and a plum coat that are the brands Kate wears, but the job demands more than simply an authentic look. She has had to learn how to pose for photographs, how to improvise ‘royal’ small talk, has a foam fake baby bump and has even changed her accent.
As she is explaining how she has managed all these things I am struck by the similarity between what she does and being a long-term character in a soap opera. She has taken on a persona, she acts as that person day in and day out; she is living two completely different lives.
The difference is that Heidi has no script and no director to help her do it right. “It’s improvisation most of the time and there is a lot expected of me. Sometimes they say can you come and wow these people and there is a lot of pressure on me.” But she loves the fact she is promoting Britishness, and is enjoying the rollercoaster ride.
Last year Heidi flew first class to Melbourne to appear in a Chinese commercial for Jersey milk. She also performed in a mock opera on the Edinburgh Fringe. She namedrops a few other places her job has taken her to: Verona, Cologne, Hong Kong….“I have the most bizarre conversations with people now,” she says. “My parents ask where I am next week and I reply that I’m going to be in Austria with Harry Potter and the Queen.”
She is grateful that her life has taken this turn. “Waitressing, I would never have done these things, so it’s the biggest blessing that I look like somebody that people want, and as a member of the royal family you’re not really going to fall out of fashion.”
And the future? “I will ultimately be Queen, and that’s nice.”