Northern Soul talks to Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Elmo at The Furchester Hotel
Midway through my chat with Cookie Monster, I ask him if his diet extends to anything non-cookie related and, if so, what?
“Of course,” he replies. “One cannot live on cookies alone. Me eat everything. Me like fruit and vegetable and meat and fish and bicycle. Me once eat a canoe. Me not picky.”
As interviewees go, Cookie Monster is amiable, excitable and happy to talk all things cookie. This comes as a relief. After all, it’s not everyday you meet a bona fide megastar, especially one who has entertained (and educated) kids of multiple generations. Along with his pals on Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is as well known as James Bond or One Direction. Some might say more famous.
When I spoke to Cookie Monster, he was doing what all good and industrious monsters do: working hard to earn some extra cash (in Cookie’s case to buy more, er, cookies). Encouraged by his friend Elmo’s experience at The Furchester Hotel, he has picked up a job as a sous chef and waiter in this half-star Salford venue, owned by a the Furchester-Fuzz monster family. I have it on good authority that they welcome you with furry arms at The Furchester – and Cookie Monster has settled right in.
“Me love it,” enthuses Cookie Monster in his familiar gruff tones. “Me work in the kitchen. Me attempt to be a waiter. But you know food not always make it from kitchen to the table. It get lost somewhere.”
While he loves The Furchester, I wonder if he misses his friends on Sesame Street. “Yeah but we Skype so we keep in touch,” he says.
Cookie Monster is as glorious in real life as he is on TV. It’s all I can do to stop myself from rushing over and hugging him (a big Muppet cuddle comes later). As he waves his blue furry hands around to illustrate his points, I quiz him on the quality of the British equivalent of cookies: biscuits. So Cookie Monster, are you scoffing lots of biscuits?
“Yes. But me no changing me name to Biscuit Monster. No way.” He adds: “Me not too picky as a cookie-eater, I like all kinds of cookies. Me like them all. British cookies have a nice crunch to them, they make a big mess when me eat them. Those are important criteria for eating cookies.”
Thankfully, Cookie Monster is pretty sure he’s not allergic to any types of cookies (“Me hope not. That would be pretty tragic, huh?”) and he’s willing to give gluten-free cookies a whirl (“You know what, sure, why not? Me would give it a try. Me never had any gluten-free cookies.”). His favourite, however, is chocolate chip (“classic”) and, if the Furchester runs low on cookies, he just bakes some more. But what is so good about cookies?
“How much time you got? They are the perfect food. They are perfectly round. They got a great crunch to them and they sweet and chocolately, nom, nom, nom.”
Despite his reluctance to change his name, Cookie Monster does have a British cousin. “Me had a visit from me cousin, Biscuit Monster. He came to the hotel and we had a family reunion. And we ate cookies, biscuits – me no care what you call them. You could call them Shirley and me not care.”
Meanwhile, what has it been like working with his long-time friend, Elmo? “Well, it’s challenging at times, y’know. But we try to do the best we can.”
Elmo, who is learning the hotel ropes from his cousin Phoebe, agrees that The Furchester is enormous fun.
“It’s always an adventure at The Furchester,” he tells me. “I’ve met lots of fun and interesting people. And we solve lots of problems. Phoebe is very good at that, she’s got lots of ideas. Elmo is an apprentice. Elmo helps Phoebe fold the corners of the beds which is very difficult. Delivering toast and things like that.” And what else do monsters like to eat? “Whatever they can get hold of. They would eat this table if they were here.”
Phoebe – widely considered to be the most helpful monster in the hotel – chips in. “Elmo is my best cousin. My only cousin. He’s a great apprentice. He’s got a a great future ahead of him in the hotel industry. I love having Elmo in the hotel. He’s not as messy as Cookie Monster. We get on really well.”
While Cookie Monster has been munching on British biscuits, Elmo has yet to get his red fuzzy head around cups of tea. “Elmo is still learning about it,” he admits in his adorably squeaky brogue. “Elmo is learning about tea towels, going to tea rooms, things like that. It’s really cool. But Elmo drinks coffee.”
While Elmo and Cookie Monster are only at The Furchester for a little while, their homesickness has been allayed by visits from Sesame Street favourites.
“The Count stayed for a little while and that’s been lots of fun,” Elmo says. “We tried to help him have a no counting vacation which seems counter-intuitive but it kind of, sort of, kind of worked. But he’s been really good with inventory.”
Thanks to the good graces of The Furchester Hotel owners, Funella Furchester and Furgus Fuzz, the BBC‘s Cbeebies will be showing more than 50 episodes of life at the monster hotel, including an extended Christmas episode. While I’m gutted to learn that humans aren’t permitted to stay, I did get a private VIFOMT (Very Important Friend Of Monsters Tour) while Big Bird was a guest.
As Big Bird is just six-years-old, it’s easy to see why his golden plumage is in such sparkling condition. I’ve had some good hugs in in my time (Cookie Monster is up there with my mum on this front) but Big Bird tops them all. Being cuddled by Big Bird is akin to being enveloped in a feathery circle of gorgeousness and love. Sigh.
Given Big Bird’s size (he says that the best thing about being tall is getting “to help people take things off off tall shelves like books or toys”), finding a bed to accommodate him at The Furchester hasn’t been easy, as Big Bird readily admits. “I was trying to stay in the ‘Nest’ room but the nest was too small. But my friend Phoebe, she came up with a good plan. So I’m staying outside in the garden in a huge nest made of feather pillows. It’s very comfortable there.”
When he’s not seeking out a comfy nest, Big Bird is an active sort of avian. “I like to play all kinds of sports. I like frisbee, I like playing tag with my friends. I’ve tried to play basketball before and I’ve played with some of the Harlem Globetrotters and they’re really good. They taught me how to spin the ball right at the tip of my wing.”
Erm, is that difficult?
“Yes, really hard.”
I gather you like rollerskating as well? Do you have to have boots specially made? “Yes, I do. I’m a 42 quadruple G so it’s hard to find a pair of shoes or rollerskates or skis or slippers or anything that would fit my foot so I usually just go around barefoot.”
Since his stay at The Furchester, Big Bird has made sure to tell his friends on Sesame Street all about it. “My Granny bird looked it up on ChirpAdvisor and I understand it got half a star which is really good for a monster hotel.”
And what are his first impressions of England?
“Well, I don’t do impressions but England seems really nice so far. And all the guests at The Furchester are really nice, even Harvey P. Dull .The other day I fell asleep in his chair but he didn’t mind.”
He adds: “I’d like to do some sightseeing but I don’t know how much time I’m going to have. I just like to play with Elmo and with Cookie Monster and with Phoebe. We play hide-and-go-seek, and I think we’re going to play tag later outside. It’s a little tricky for me to find a good hiding place. It has to be pretty tall and pretty wide but I manage.”
And it’s not just the Furchester which welcomes interesting guests, as Big Bird tells me. “We have fun people that come to visit Sesame Street. We had Ed Sheeran come to visit and One Direction but they seemed to be going in all different directions when they were on Sesame Street. And Sir Ian McKellan, he was really nice.”
And with that mention of an illustrious North West actor, my day with the staff and guests of The Furchester Hotel draws to a close. As I come to the conclusion that I’ve reached the apex of my journalism career, The Count’s “von pineapple, ah, ah, ah” echoes in my ears.
Photos: BBC/Jon Shard
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