Gareth Gates dreams the dream in Les Mis

Emma LeeAs a boy Gareth Gates Dreamed a Dream of playing the role of Marius in Les Mis�rables. And now that dream has come true. EMMA LEE speaks to him exclusively about the show's 25th anniversary tour in Norwich.Emma Lee

As a boy Gareth Gates Dreamed a Dream of playing the role of Marius in Les Mis�rables. And now that dream has come true. EMMA LEE speaks to him exclusively ahead of the arrival of the show's 25th anniversary tour in Norwich.

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As a cherubic, spiky-haired teenager, Gareth Gates won the nation's heart when he was a contestant on Pop Idol. Now audiences are falling for him all over again for his acclaimed performance in one of the world's most popular musicals.

The 25th anniversary production of the theatre blockbuster Les Mis�rables is one of the most eagerly-anticipated shows at Norwich Theatre Royal for several years. In the city for five weeks, tickets are like gold-dust.

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Les Mis�rables opened at the Barbican Theatre, London, on October 8, 1985. Inspired by the story by Victor Hugo, with music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Sch�nberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer it has travelled the globe, playing more than 38,000 professional performances to more than 56 million people.

And, of course the musical has been back in the spotlight recently thanks to Susan Boyle, who performed I Dreamed a Dream as her audition for Britain's Got Talent. As you'd expect from a Cameron Mackintosh production, the cast for the anniversary touring show is top notch. Broadway and West End star John Owen-Jones plays Jean Valjean and Earl Carpenter plays Javert. And Gareth plays the revolutionary student Marius. Taking a break from rehearsals to chat to Going Out, Gareth opens the conversation by explaining that he is working on his speech. As Pop Idol viewers will remember, he has had a stutter for many years. In fact, he already knows Norwich because he has visited the city for speech therapy sessions.

'I've been to Norwich quite a few times. I'm part of a speech therapy programme called the McGuire programme and they hold courses in Norwich every year - it wasn't even that long ago that I was there on a speech therapy course. I know the place fairly well,' he says.

Gareth describes himself as someone who is always up for a new challenge. And Les Mis�rables has certainly been that.

'Acting is something that's very new to me, so I'm getting so much out of it,' he says. 'I've never acted before. I went to RADA for four weeks in order to learn a bit about acting which was a wonderful experience,' he says.

Talking to the 25-year-old about the show, it's clear he's having the time of his life and he's taking the role extremely seriously. And it turns out playing Marius is a long-held ambition for him. 'I've always been a fan of the show and ever since I was young have always dreamed of playing the role of Marius,' he says.

'I'm honoured to be asked to be a part of it. The rest of the cast are all fantastic people and we are getting on well. The music is fantastic and this version of the show is very different to the version in the West End.'

And he describes working with Cameron Mackintosh as an 'honour'

'I'm a person that from being very young had always dreamed of being in musical theatre and in terms of names within musical theatre they don't come much better. Even meeting him for the first time was a great experience and working with him and for him has been a tremendous experience as well.'

However when he was offered the part he did have reservations about taking it. Last year Gareth became a father, and he didn't like the idea of being away from Missy and his wife Suzanne for long periods at a time. But with some juggling, they've made work and life balance out.

'I was a brand new dad so I was quite sceptical of the idea. I really didn't want to be away from my daughter for all that long, so I made it happen where they could travel with me. I would find it harder to go longer than a week without my daughter. Also Norwich isn't that far from London, so if I can travel back at the weekend then I will,' he says.

And how is he finding fatherhood? 'Really, really fantastic. It's the best feeling. It's a lot harder than anyone will ever tell you, however, it's the most rewarding experience as well,' he says with audible pride.

Bradford-born Gareth's talent was spotted at an early age. He joined the city' cathedral choir when he was nine - and two years later was performing in front of the Queen. He also played classical guitar and piano and was set to join the Royal Northern College of Music, before his career took a very different direction.

He famously got his big break thanks to Simon Cowell on Pop Idol, a new show that was looking for a solo singer. Gareth was pipped at the post in the final by Will Young, but still went on to have the sort of commercial success that any pop-star would be proud of.

His first single, a cover version of Unchained Melody, went straight to the top of the charts as did the follow-up Anyone of Us (Stupid Mistake). He also charted with a duet with his erstwhile Pop Idol rival Will, a cover of the Long and Winding Road and the 2003 Comic Relief single Spirit in the Sky with the Kumar family.

His record sales totalled more than three million. But as his single sales started to wan, he branched out into reality TV, taking part in the shows Celebrity Driving School, Dancing on Ice (he's cheering on his old friend Mikey Graham from Boyzone in this year's series) and the documentary Whatever Happened To Gareth Gates?

What was it like being thrown into the spotlight - and the pages of the tabloids - at such a young age? Gareth says that his relative naivety probably helped him cope with the fame and attention.

'I had absolutely no idea how huge it was going to be. It was very new to me. I was very young and I think that shows like that are a great platform for aspiring talent. I absolutely loved the whole Pop Idol experience and it was all very exciting for me. I think being young helped because I saw everything as fun and exciting. I never saw it as a job and I never really read anything that was written about me either. Having that mindset, just enjoying what was doing at the time, I think, was the best way to approach it.'

Gareth's move into musical theatre came last year when he took over the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End from Lee Mead. And it's where he sees his future.

Gareth might not be topping the charts any more, but it sounds like he's more than happy to have left his pop-star days behind him.

'I absolutely love being on stage for eight shows a week. I get the chance to do what I do best. And the response of the audience has been really fantastic,' he says.

Gareth's not just dreaming a dream - he's living it.

t Les Mis�rables is at Norwich Theatre Royal from February 16 to March 20. The run is sold out, but check with the box office for returns on 01603 630000.