Exquisite Interview with Lee Mead
Why did you decide to do a personal show?
When I won Joseph, I got offered a book deal. But I was hoping to have a long career and then write that book so I had more to talk about rather than “woke up, played Joseph”. It’s been 10 years since. I thought it would be nice to do a little intimate conversation show, me being interviewed, talking about the last few years of my career, but also going back prior to that, which has never really been done before. It’s quite exciting but I’m quite nervous.
What can the audience expect?
I’ve got an interesting story to tell – from being a normal working-class man from Southend to the career I’ve had today. There’s a Q&A as well. I have my pianist who has played with Michael Ball and Michael Buble, and will be doing a few songs too. Bevelery Humphries will be doing the interview – she has her own show on BBC Wales and is great at what she does. She’ll probably ask me some curve ball questions as well.
You’ll be talking about your childhood – tell us more
I grew up in Southend. Dad’s a postman and mum’s a cleaner – very working-class family. I’ve always had a really strong work ethic from my dad.
How did you get into acting?
I didn’t start performing until quite late, when I was 16/17, I did a couple of local amateur shows. I got a position at Guildhall, one of the top London schools... but I couldn’t afford to go and I ended up training locally. So I started from the bottom really, which I’m quite proud of. I slowly built my career starting off in the cabaret in cruise ships, and then broke into musicals and then went on to win that Joseph competition.
Did you ever think of throwing in the towel?
I gave myself until I was 30, I said if I haven’t established myself by then, I was going to change career. I really wanted to be a school teacher, I was passionate about kids and about teaching, and I didn’t want to be in work two/three months of the year on about £12,000-£13,000.
Why did you audition for Joseph?
I clearly remember Graham Norton popping up on the TV, I was doing Phantom Of The Opera The Musical, in London, I was between shows on a Saturday, I had my tuna pasta and I was sat watching television, and he said “could you be the next Joseph” and I thought “yes I could” it was like a lightbulb moment. It was like winning the lottery. It was the right time for me.
What have been your “pinch-myself” moments during your career?
I got asked by Prince William and Prince Harry to sing for their mum – Concert For Diana. And I’m finding myself sharing a stage with Rod Stewart, in front of 70-80,000 people, Jason Donovan, Donny Osmond. Getting a record deal, having a gold album, which sold over 100,000 copies, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of really.
Have you ever turned down a show you later regretted?
I got approached to play Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde, the lead guy, in the first cast with Sheridan Smith. It flopped on Broadway after a month. I spoke to my agent about it and I thought is it too much of a risk – it went on to be a massive hit, biggest show. The guy playing Emmett got nominated for a best actor Olivier award! Then, Sonia Freeman, the producer, approached my agent on the cast change about six months and said “would Lee like to...” and I was like “yes!”. So I played the role in the end, but I should have done the original cast.
Have you ever been star struck?
I’ve met lots of people, but it’s Joe Pasquale! I was a big fan of Joe growing up, and I did work experience at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend when I was 15. I did the spotlight for Joe for his one man show that night, I remember thinking he’s brilliant.
I was sweeping the stage at the Cliffs one afternoon, and he came in early for his show, we got chatting and the one thing that stuck with me was he said “always be yourself, don’t try to imitate anybody else”. Twenty years later I got asked to do the Children In Need single at the Abbey Road Studios, Joe walked in and said “Meady, look at you now!”.
What are you favourite things to do in Essex?
When I’m at home I like to be down by the beach, Old Leigh, there are nice pubs down there, not doing too much, I’m quite a simple guy, I just like to be with my family, my girlfriend Issy and my daughter, going to a nice pub and having a drink in Old Leigh. I love films and I read a lot. Probably doesn’t sound too glamorous.
How does co-parenting work out with Denise?
Betsy always comes first. It’s like a pyramid, and she’s at the top. I don’t ever compromise that. I’ve turned down West End shows before and big jobs, just to be at home after finishing a big contract. For a lot of actors, it’s instinct to take the next job. I make sure that balance is always there. I see her a lot. I do the school pick up. Because Betsy’s mum and I both adore her so much and want the best for her.
What does she want to be?
She’s eight so she’s still young and wants to be a teacher. She enjoys music, but I can’t really tell. One thing I do know is that I won’t be pushing her into it!
Lee Mead – My Story will be coming to Colchester’s Mercury Theatre on Friday 5 April, mercurytheatre.co.uk, and at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch on Sunday 12 May, queens-theatre.co.uk.