I’m in a serious role now

As a child he gazed out of the school windows at the famous big skies of Norfolk and imagined his escape. Today he has forged a career in television and theatre, travels the world – and dreams of having his own Norfolk view. ROWAN MANTELL met National Youth Theatre boss, Paul Roseby.

Adverts for a very spreadable margarine and a brewer's widget helped launch Paul Roseby's career. An unfortunate flight of fancy on live radio involving a Hollywood superstar almost finished it before it had begun.

Today Paul has a serious job; he helps youngsters stage Shakespeare and hopes his students will be part of the Olympic opening ceremony; he presents awards at glitzy ceremonies and comments on the arts for Radio 4.

But the years of working on programmes with titles such as Fabulous Flops, or trying to track down the Beast of Bodmin Moor (and finding an irate MP instead) still show.

He is fabulously full of enthusiasm – for theatre, for young people and for his home county of Norfolk.

The man who is hoping to work on part of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony and who was a guest at Buckingham Palace a couple of days before he met me, was brought up in rural Norfolk and first studied drama at Norwich City College – where he thrived, but was soon hankering after the even brighter lights of London

'I was always going to get out and move on but I still love Norfolk. I have a real passion for it,' he said.

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His brother and his sister both live in Hevingham and in a fantasy world Paul would have a house overlooking Holkham bay. In the real world he has a beach hut in Dorset.

But he does have his dream job – as director of the National Youth Theatre.

It was the National Youth Theatre which opened up the world of acting to him. He auditioned as a teenager and joined a summer course in London. He was soon taking parts in tours in Britain and abroad – between part-time jobs to fund his training.

'I've been desperately broke. I've been hungry. But I was quite good at selling the clothes door-to- door,' he said. Getting people to hand over cash for a product they had not realised they wanted was a skill he still uses. 'Then I was selling clothes from a bag, now I go to China to sell the organisation.'

At first he thought he wanted to be an actor. He won roles in adverts but eventually realised that his future lay in presenting and directing.

He worked alongside Danny Baker at the start of Radio 5 and said: 'He is an absolute genius on air.' Paul's early radio career was less genius. He contacted a local London station with an idea, and soon found himself broadcasting live shows – until the day he repeated some unsubstantiated gossip.

It could have been the end of a career, but instead his love of clothes, cooking and design, and an overwhelming, unpretentious, unaffected charm took him to television.

Those door-to-door clothes, and a passion for presentation from childhood on ('I have worn extreme clothes and loved it. It's that thing about being noticed!'), combined with his rapport with an audience to make him a wow at make-over shows.

He loves food too and has presented various cooking programmes – and has already devised his Come Dine With Me menu (crab linguine and rabbit casserole.)

Would he cook it if asked? 'I find it very hard to say no. If I won I'd give it all to the National Youth Theatre.'

He is passionate about the National Youth Theatre, and returned seven years ago as its artistic director.

Members of the 750-strong acting company are chosen from a very competitive national audition process and take part in productions all over Britain, and abroad. The National Youth Theatre also distributes �100,000 worth of bursaries to disadvantaged young people.

Distinguished graduates include David Suchet, Helen Mirren, Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Daniel Craig, David Walliams, Matt Lucas and the current Dr Who, Matt Smith.

Paul has forged particularly strong links with China and his students became the first British theatre company ever to perform in Tiannemen Square.

The National Youth Theatre also represented the UK in China's Birds Nest stadium for the Olympic handover ceremony – watched by 1.4bn people worldwide.

Today the former Norwich City College student gets invitations to Buckingham Palace and speaks for the arts in national forums. His new course in Stadium Arts, the first in the world, has led to performances for Fifa and he is hoping to showcase more young talent at the 2012 Olympics ceremonies.

And his advice for anyone hoping to create a career in theatre?

'I'm not a great advocate of formal education. I'm an advocate of experience and practical education,' he said.

He suggests taking a look at the National Youth Theatre website and considering applying and auditioning. 'I would be horrified if there wasn't a Norfolk contingent in the National Youth Theatre,' said Paul.

And he added: 'Try and make people smile. That gets you a long way.'

The National Youth Theatre is for young people aged between 13 and 21, interested in acting or in the technical side of theatre productions. It runs courses, tours and productions, often during school and college holidays. For more information see www.nyt.org.uk