Tuesday 18 February 2020

Interview with Russell Grant

Ahead of his performance at Cheltenham Music Festival, SoGlos spoke to West End star and Strictly favourite Russell Grant about his love of musical theatre and his celebrated career on stage and screen.

West End veteran, astrologer, and Strictly star Russell Grant is heading to Cheltenham Music Festival to celebrate the work of legendary American composer Richard Rogers.

Ahead of his appearance as part of The Sound of His Music: A Celebration of Richard Rogers, SoGlos had the pleasure of chatting to Russell about his esteemed career on stage and screen, being fired out of a cannon on Strictly and the West End shows he’d love to star in.

Cheltenham Music Festival runs from Saturday 1 to Sunday 16 July 2017, with The Sound of His Music: A Celebration of Richard Rogers taking place at Cheltenham Town Hall on Friday 7 July 2017.

What can readers expect from the event at Cheltenham Music Festival?

Well the tribute to Richard Rogers is also a tribute to American musical theatre. He’s the greatest genius when it comes to composing some of the most incredible shows.

With lyricist Lorenz Hart you have big, big shows like Pal Joey and Babes in Arms and with Rogers & Hammerstein of course the list is endless, starting with Oklahoma! in the 1940s and shows such as Carousel and The King and I which I also appeared in once, and South Pacific.

These are all incredibly brilliant pieces of work, which is what makes American musical theatre so different to anything else in the world, including our own musical theatre. This is a tribute to a man who has given so much to popular music.

What’s your role on the night?

I think they’ve called me Master of Ceremonies which is a terribly grand way of presenting it! I did a similar show last year but for dance which was The Golden Age of Dance at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

To be doing this is wonderful because my whole background is musical theatre and show business. Some people know me for my astrology work; that was only ever a hobby that took over my life, but my real passion is theatre.

Do you have a favourite song that will be performed?

I think it would be ‘Something Wonderful’ from The King and I. It’s a very beautiful song in so many ways. It’s about Lady Tiang who in fact played my mother, I played Prince Chulalongkorn when I did the production, and it’s a very, very strong song in the fact that she sings it in total support of her husband.

She knows that her husband has probably fallen in love with Anna Leonowens, and she sings this to show her loyalty and her love for her husband. But of course you have the clash of culture, the Thai and the British, and therefore this is the king’s wife saying, he may not constantly show affection and all the things you want him to say, but now and then he’ll say something wonderful and it make her realise she still has feelings for her.

Will this be the first time you appear at Cheltenham Music Festival?

Yes to the festival but no to the town. Cheltenham is a place I’ve come to many times over the years, and when I worked at BBC Breakfast television I came to the town to film there.

I’ve probably been to Gloucester more than Cheltenham, and wrote a guide book to the city of Gloucester a few years ago, which because very successful. My best-seller away from astrology was a book called The Real Counties of Britain and it was turned into a television series called Postcards from Britain, and I made seven series and 698 programmes.

I was then asked by the publisher, British Publishing, who were then based in Gloucester and unfortunately they’ve closed down now, to write a guide book on Gloucester. It was actually taken into the cathedral and I believe they were very choosy about what guide books were allowed to be on sale there, and I’m delighted to say that mine was one of a rare breed!

Apart from theatre and show business, geography and local history are my loves.

Are you looking forward to visiting Cheltenham again?

Yes, there’s something wonderfully British about it, something wonderfully cultured about it. It has a sublime heritage and it’s so beautiful to walk around towns like Cheltenham because you just feel the history.

That Regency age where everything was so terribly right and proper even though George IV was a particularly louche monarch at the end, especially when he was Prince Regent, so it’s interesting to see what influence his époque had on towns like Cheltenham. It’s been left with the most glorious architecture. Just looking online at the town hall, I can’t wait to play there as it looks like the epitome of what Cheltenham should be.

Do you have a favourite genre that you’ve covered on the West End?

Well I’ve been in the West End for a long time, my first West End show was in the early 1970s when I was the London Palladium with Tommy Steel and Hans Anderson, then I went into the Cambridge Theatre with Tom Brown’s School Days with Keith Chegwin and would you believe it Simon Le Bon, long before any of us were well known by the public.

I then toured in a wonderful show called King's Rhapsody by Ivor Novello. So I suppose really, when it comes to British composer, Ivor Novelle and his genre of the 1930s and 1940s would be very much my style, and I suppose you could say the same with American music and musicals too, especially since doing Strictly and becoming more involved in dance.

Up until Strictly I hadn't been very involved in dance, it's something that was very new to me. Ok, in musical theatre you do what I call box steps and you do what the chorus would do. But even when I played leading roles, there's nothing quite like Strictly and dancing with Flavia Cacace and Joanne Clifton, both of whom have been my partners, when you’re doing something like a samba or a cha cha it’s poles apart from musical theatre as you know it.

What is a fun experience?

Oh it was wonderful and coming straight out and going to the London Palladium to do The Wizard of Oz was incredible. I’ve been very lucky in my time.

What’s been your career highlight?

I suppose it would be Strictly. Most people tend to point to the moment when I came out of the cannon at Wembley but every week on Strictly was the best week.

And in theatre, The Wizard of Oz was of course standout. But my very best reviews have been when I've played the Teen Angel in Grease. And I loved it, especially because the writers put in an extra 32 bars of a Latin mega mix, which Teen Angel had never done before so that was also wonderful.

But of course, theatres and musicals, like any show at the time, is just the best and you can’t compare it with anything. Every show is like a different chapter in your life, and that chapter teaches you something. Each television series brings out something special, even when I did Celebrity MasterChef. I’m not the best cook, I’m better at eating, but I got further than I ever thought and made wonderful friends such as Sophie Thompson and Jodie Kidd.

Is it nice doing shows that push your boundaries?

Yes, I love doing that but you’d never get me doing other reality shows like I'm A Celebrity or Big Brother. I always believe that you've got to learn something from reality and with Strictly it was dancing and with MasterChef it was cooking. The only thing I regret is that I did Strictly when I was 60 and I wish I’d done it when I was 30 – the joints would’ve been much easier to manipulate!

Was the training as punishing as it looks on television?

Yeah, you’re 24/7 as much as you can be. You’re with your partner all the time, which wasn’t a bad thing for me because Flavia and Joanne are both the most adorable people and they’ve both become like daughters to me.

I’ve always said that the best you can get out of Strictly always comes through your relationship with your partner, and if you have a good relationship it’ll be the best time of your life and if you don’t, it could become the most challenging time!

Are there any roles that you’d still love to play in the West End?

I’d love to play Zaza in La Cage aux Folles. I played Edna for a week in Hairspray which I loved and would like to do longer; I think it’s just the most brilliant role.

I’ve just been asked if I would consider playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest and that's another role I'd love to do. There's also another part that would suit me down to the ground, that's Roger De Bris in The Producers. I think if I could cram those into my career then that would be awesome.

What advice would you give to aspiring stars?

I would say probably the best thing to do would be to go to a good performing arts school first and you also have to realise that it’s very different to my day and age. Because of the rise in social media it’s more difficult now because more people want to do it, therefore you need to be much more of an all rounder.

When I first started you were a singer, an actor or a dancer – they were three separate talents, but in this day and age you must do all three and you’ve got to be an all-rounder. There is no point in trying to get role unless you can. So bring out the best of yourself in those three areas and you’ll have more chance to make it big.

For the full line-up of events and to book, visit cheltenhamfestivals.com/music directly.

© SoGlos
Tuesday 04 July 2017

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