Martine Kimberley Sherri Ponting (born 14 May 1976), usually known as Martine McCutcheon, is an English singer, television personality and Laurence Olivier Award-winning actress. McCutcheon had minor success as one third of the pop group Milan in the early 1990s, but it was her role as Tiffany Mitchell in the BBC's EastEnders that made her a household name in the UK. McCutcheon left the series at the end of 1998 to embark on a pop career, this time as a solo artist. She had international success, reaching No. 1 in five countries with her debut single Perfect Moment. She released three albums to varying degrees of success, but her pop career stalled due to the poor reception of her third album in 2002. She has since appeared in various television programmes, in films such as Love Actually as 'Natalie', and on stage in My Fair Lady, where her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle won her a Laurence Olivier Award in 2002. She released her autobiography, Who Does She Think She Is? in 2000.
McCutcheon was born as Martine Kimberley Sherri Ponting at the Salvation Army Mothers' Hospital in Hackney, London, when her mother, Jenny Tomlin, was 19. She endured a turbulent early childhood due to the abusive and irrational behaviour of her father, Thomas Hemmings. On one occasion, he dangled her by the ankles from a balcony 30 feet up in the air and threatened to drop her unless her mother did as he wished. This incident formed one of McCutcheon's earliest memories of him. Hemmings left when she was 2 years old, but he would return periodically to threaten her mother, so her early years were spent running and hiding in order to escape him. When McCutcheon was nine, her mother won sole custody and also obtained an injunction which prohibited Hemmings from seeing McCutcheon until she was 18.
At the age of 10, Martine took her stepfather's surname when her mother met and married window cleaner John McCutcheon. McCutcheon has a younger half-brother. She knew she wanted to be a performer from an early age but, as her family could not afford the fees for a drama school, she had to find an alternative method to learn her trade. McCutcheon met a woman at a local dance class who had been to the Italia Conti stage school, and she suggested that the school would be a good environment for her. After a persuasive letter from McCutcheon, a Church of England trust agreed to sponsor her. She trained after school and every Saturday (learning tap, ballet, jazz and drama) in order to catch up with the more privileged children who were competing with her for a place at the prestigious school.
At the age of 12, McCutcheon obtained her first acting role and was paid £350 to appear in an American television commercial for the drink, Kool-Aid, which was followed by modelling assignments and bit parts in TV shows such as in the ITV police drama The Bill. She also appeared in the music video for the song "Caribbean Blue" by Irish singer Enya. By the time she was 15, she had formed an all-girl group, 'Milan', with two fellow pupils and landed a record contract and a gig touring as the 'warm up' group for the British boyband, East 17. Milan were reasonably successful. They entered the dance charts three times but were not successful enough for the band to make a living and they disbanded.
In 1994, while working as a shopgirl at Knickerbox, McCutcheon was offered the role of Tiffany Raymond on the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. McCutcheon took inspiration and advice from her mother on how to play the part.The role of Tiffany grew, as did McCutcheon's popularity, and 22 million viewers tuned in to see her final scenes in Albert Square in 1998 when her character was killed in a special episode screened on New Year's Eve. In reality, McCutcheon had decided to leave the soap in order to pursue her singing career and was annoyed that she would never be able to return to the show.
McCutcheon's first appearance in the charts occurred in 1995 on a minor dance song "Are You Man Enough" with the dance producers "Uno Clio". A promotional video was produced.
In 1999, McCutcheon debuted as a solo pop artist with Virgin Records and scored a number 1 in the UK Singles Chart with the ballad "Perfect Moment" (originally recorded by Edyta Górniak in 1997). The song was a global success reaching number 1, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Israel, Italy, Switzerland and Ireland. That same year she scored two more Top 10 hits, reaching number 6 with the singles "I've Got You" and later "Talking in Your Sleep", which featured the double A Side "Love Me", an album track that was re-recorded for the Children in Need appeal with all proceeds being donated to that cause. All three singles were taken from her debut album You, Me and Us, which peaked at number 2 in the UK Albums Chart and was certified as double platinum.
In 2000, McCutcheon released her second album Wishing, which was less successful, charting at number 25 in the UK Albums Chart. The album spawned two singles – the number 2 hit "I'm Over You" and her follow up song, a cover of the Donna Summer classic "On the Radio". Despite peaking at only No.25, the album still managed to sell around 250,000 copies. McCutcheon released her third album Musicality, a Broadway influenced cover album, in 2002. It reached number 55 in the albums charts, however her pop career stalled when, due to poor sales, her recording contract was cancelled.
In December 2011, on Ireland's "The Saturday Night Show" Martine confirmed she was in the studio working on a new album due for release sometime in 2012.
McCutcheon appeared in ITV's The Knock as well as the British film Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) in 2000. She went on to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the National Theatre in London. Despite missing many performances (citing health problems) and withdrawing nearly five months early from the production's transfer to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, she won the award for best actress in a musical at the 2002 Laurence Olivier Awards.
In 2002, McCutcheon presented the National Music Awards for ITV1 and in 2003 she featured in her first major film role. She appeared as tea-lady Natalie in the Richard Curtis romantic comedy Love Actually, where the British Prime Minister (played by Hugh Grant) falls in love with McCutcheon's character. The film received good reviews and was a box office success. McCutcheon went to America in the wake of the film's success, but a Hollywood career did not materialise. She did however, win Best Trans-atlantic breakthrough at the 2004 MTV Film Awards.
In September 2005, she appeared in two episodes of hit BBC drama series Spooks, playing Tash, a waitress who witnesses a terrorist bombing. Screened on the UK television station ITV1 in December 2005, McCutcheon appeared inThe English Harem, playing a woman in love with a Muslim man (Art Malik), who marries him despite knowing he already has two wives. That same year she presented and performed on ITV's entertainment programme, Moviemusic Mania.
In 2007, McCutcheon was seen in two independent films, Withdrawal opposite Patrick Swayze and Jump!, as well Marple episode At Bertram's Hotel, where she plays a maid named Jane Cooper that assists Miss Marple with her investigations. She was also a judge in the second series of ITV1's Soapstar Superstar. Her appearance on the show drew criticism, with reports alleging that she was becoming a hate figure for the contestants, who were said to have found her comments relentlessly critical and at times patronising. McCutcheon performed in an Art Plus fundraising event at the Whitechapel Art Gallery opposite Natalie Press, Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans and in January 2008 she starred alongside actor Jason Donovan, in the ITV soap Echo Beach as character Susan Penwarden.
McCutcheon released her autobiography, Who Does She Think She Is? in 2000, and in 2003 Martine McCutcheon: Behind the Scenes – A Personal Diary, was published by Harper Collins. McCutcheon, along with many global stars, also featured in a promotional film for London's successful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, in 2004. A fitness DVD, Martine McCutcheon: Dance body workout, was released in December 2005.
In August 2006, the supermarket chain, Tesco, announced that they would be using McCutcheon in a series of adverts to promote a new green scheme for recycling used plastic carrier bags. In 2006, she became "the face" of the fabric softener brand, Lenor.
In 2009, she had her first novel published by Pan MacMillan, called The Mistress.
In June 2012 ITV confirmed that Martine would be one of a panel of judges on a news sports talent show called Let's Get Gold, set to air in July 2012. On the show, hosted by Vernon Kay, sporting teams would perform their sport adapted to be entertaining and be judge by the panel consisting of Martine McCutcheon, cricketer Andrew Flintoff, footballer Rio Ferdinand and singer Una Healy (The Saturdays).