PLAYING the lead role in Cats has proved a slightly worrying experience for Chrissie Hammond.

For after performing as Grizabella to great acclaim in London's West End and now on a nationwide tour, Chrissie suspects the part is starting to get to her.

"Grizabella is a very intense, old cat who was once gorgeous but has now fallen on hard times.

"She's stubborn, proud, egotistical and slightly past her use-by date -- and I can relate to all of those things," sighed Chrissie, on the eve of the show's arrival in Blackpool.

"I can identify with far more of her than I feel comfortable with.

"I've even started wearing the same nail polish as her. I think I'm slowly metamorphosing into her!"

Fortunately, the part has just enough perks to keep Chrissie scratching at the theatre door. One of those, of course, is singing the show's signature song, Memory.

"The part is like an addiction in some ways," said Chrissie, fondly. "And of course Memory is such a big thing. I was once singing it and a piece of set fell down, making an enormous crash.

"Afterwards, everyone congratulated me for keeping going, but in truth I didn't hear a thing. That's how absorbing the song is."

It's unsurprising that collapsing stage sets prove a mere triviality for Australian-born Chrissie for, having performed in bands since the age of 16, she has plenty of on-stage experience.

During her pop career she had three top five hits in her native land, before jetting off to tour the world with keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman.

She settled in Hammersmith in 1987 where her singing talents propelled her into West End shows like Chicago and Smokey Joe's Cafe. However, it's Cats that has proved her favourite, perhaps because, as she puts it, she's an "animal freak".

"I used to bring home anything and everything that was in need of a home," she confesses. "At one stage we had 14 pets, including a penguin.

"The first animal we had was a cat called Big Tib, on whom I base the Grizabella character.

"She was the most beautiful Persian cat, but she was very arrogant and aloof. As she got older, she lost her looks and became more unpredictable. We had lots of dogs who lived in fear of this animal! I always think of her as Grizabella."

Catch Chrissie in Cats at the Blackpool Opera House between July 29 and August 16. For tickets, call (01253) 292029.