December 13 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Do you remember where you were at around 5.30pm on November 8 1988? I do: I was in front of a television screen like millions of other soap fans in Britain, watching the highly-anticipated wedding of Scott and Charlene on Neighbours.
Had you told me that 25 years later I’d be speaking to Scott about his tidying compulsion, his suitcase packing tips, the hideous waxwork monstrosity that bears his name and that he’d be calling me “darling”, I’d have assumed I was in a dream sequence alongside Neighbours’ dog Bouncer. This is one of those times when having a time machine would be really helpful.
Jason Donovan is a relative rarity when it comes to celebrity: a star who is charming, cheerful, self-deprecating and endlessly accommodating. Perhaps he remembers the years spent in the wilderness during his fall from grace in the 1990s when his fame almost slipped through his fingers, perhaps he’s just a really nice bloke. Personally, I’d plump for the latter.
“Lovely to speak to you, darling,” he says as we begin our conversation, “thank you for calling.”
Currently starring in a touring production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert in a role he first played in the West End in 2009, Jason and cast will be bringing the show to Norwich on November 25 until December 7.
Based closely on the much-loved 1994 film, the film is about three Australian drag queens who travel the outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a dilapidated lavender-hued tour bus called Priscilla.
Jason plays Tick, the most sexually ambiguous of the trio, who persuades friends Felicia and Bernadette to perform a gig at his ex-wife’s nightclub with the ultimate goal of seeing his eight-year-old son. Colourful, camp and comic, the musical is a journey of self-discovery with the feel-good factor.
That said, Jason isn’t feeling particularly good at this precise moment.
“I’ve just had two weeks off so you’d think I’d feel fantastic, but I’ve done something to my back. It keeps having these kind of mini seizures,” he says, “and on stage I have to wear these really, really high heels. Not good!
“People obviously like to see me dressed up like a woman – I played Dr Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror and had to wear stockings, suspenders, high heels, the lot. I might not understand the finer details of being a woman, but I do understand what you go through when you go out in your heels.”
Frank-N-Furter might have put added strain on Jason’s back, but he credits the show with saving him from drug addiction: through it, he met assistant stage manager Angela Malloch who is now his wife.
When Angela found out she was pregnant, she warned Jason that he had to choose between his child or drugs. After a brief split, the pair got back together, married in 2008 and have three children, Jemma, 13, Zac, 12 and Molly, two.
“I crashed the car for a while back there,” he says, “but you learn from your mistakes. Life is too short for regrets,” he says.
I have been waiting to unleash the waxy elephant in the room since I remembered the delightful models of Jason and Kylie that used to grace the halls of The Great Yarmouth House of Wax. Is Jason aware of their existence?
“Believe me, those waxworks have been the subject of many a conversation,” he says, “what can you say, really? They’re not the most flattering representation I might have hoped for. A shop dummy from Next looks more like me than that waxwork does. Practically anything looks more like me than it does.”
I tell Jason that the models have either recently been, or are due to be, up for sale. Is he tempted to put in a bid to own his waxwork?
“If I bought it, I couldn’t think what I’d do with it other than melt it down as quickly as possible,” he says. I suggest he could, instead, use the waxwork as an oversized, novelty candle. Or a huge crayon.
“Now that is inspired. Now you’ve said that, I really, really want my waxwork.”
Jason is clearly very passionate about Priscilla, “a grown-up role” which he says plays on his strength, acting (“I’m no vocal gymnast, not the strongest singer out there, but I’ve got much better over the years”).
He fell in love with musicals as a child when he watched his father Terence (Doug Willis in Neighbours) who brought him up single-handedly after his mother left when he was five, performing on the stage.
An old hand at West End musicals, Jason first trod the boards in the title role of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1991 and has also starred in Rocky Horror, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sweeney Todd, Footloose, Chicago, The Sound of Music and War of the Worlds.
“You’re performing the same show night after night, but the audience is always different. Despite the fact I’ve performed Priscilla more than 500 times and could perform it in my sleep, things in live theatre can still go very wrong. It keeps things fresh,” says Jason.
“The show is about a bunch of misfits, and I think a lot of people can connect to that. It’s a celebration of life, of everyone learning to get along with each other regardless of who we are. Great songs, a brilliant script, a fantastic cast, it’s got something for everyone. And me in drag. What more could you ask for?”
Jason is contracted to Priscilla until April 2014 and has no plans presently to add to his back catalogue of reality TV shows following stints on Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. He’s also been a judge on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Superstar and is keenly watching best friend Gary Barlow’s progress on The X Factor.
“I think Gary’s got a strong category and the contestants he’s mentoring are lucky to have him. Could I have stood up and sung on a live show every week when I was 16, 17, 18? No. I don’t think I could,” he says.
“Shows like The X Factor are a platform for talent and that can only be a good thing. It’s about demand and supply – if you’re good, you’ll keep working. If you’re not, game over.”
What Jason would really like after his current stage stint is a meaty role in a drama like Spooks – or even Downton Abbey.
“Upstairs, downstairs, I wouldn’t care where I got a part, I’d just like to do some quality drama,” he says.
“Homeland might be aiming a bit high, but I’d love to do it. Although I have to admit, my American accent isn’t nearly as good as my Australian one…”
Finding dramatic opportunities would be easier for Jason in his home country, but he’s reluctant to leave his Notting Hill-based family for long periods of time and insists on taking time off during stage productions to spend time with them.
“I do a few weeks on, a few weeks off. It’s hard being away but I think in this business you can’t move forward by standing still. Unless you’re on a soap, you have to move around,” he says.
“I love being at home with the family although I think my two-year-old might be at the root of my back problem – she’s insisting on sleeping in our bed and I spend all night trying not crush her!”
At home, on tour and when packing his suitcase, Jason admits that he’s compulsively tidy.
“I like order. If something needs to be done, let’s do it now, let’s not wait until tomorrow. I’m not quite at the David Beckham stage of lining up cans in the kitchen cupboard, but my fridge has to be clean, let’s put it that way,” he says.
“I’m a great suitcase packer which is handy, because I live out of a case. If I gave you one tip, it’d be to be orderly and organised, to know what you need and where you’ve put it. The key to all success is order and organisation.”
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 25 to December 7. For more details and to book tickets, visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call 01603 630000.