Lee Mead is celebrating 10 years since he won the starring role in Joseph on ‘Any Dream Will Do’, by embarking on a yearlong tour. His past roles range in musicals from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Wicked, and roles in television here in South Wales, in Casualty and Holby City. He is soon releasing his new album ‘Lee Mead – 10 Years’, which is out now. James Rampton talks to Lee about his new album and his tour.
Q: How do you feel about your forthcoming album and tour?
A: I didn’t think I’d make it this far! I’m excited about the tour and the new album release.
Q: ‘Blackbird’ is on your new album, “Lee Mead – 10 Years.” What other songs can we look forward to on the record, which is out now?
A: I’m performing Dancing Through Life from Wicked, Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Close Every Door from Joseph, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, and As Long As You’re Mine, a duet with Rachel Tucker from Wicked. I loved working on the album.
Q: Are you looking forward to reconnecting with your very loyal fans on tour?
A: Absolutely. Every singer needs that support. If you’re lucky enough to have it, then it’s fantastic. People come to see me from LA, Norway, Holland. There are about 400 of them who are hard-core fans. They come lots of times to every show I am in. For example, they would come to see me in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang four times a week.
Q: What was your first professional job like?
A: It was hard work. We went up and down the Bay of Biscay, which is the third rockiest sea in the world. I did five different shows a week. Once a month, there would be a booze cruise across the Channel. We’d have to sing in a cage because the passengers were so lively.
Q: So what was your subsequent move?
A: My friend Ian had an audition for Joseph at the New London Theatre. He had no money and asked if I’d mind driving him down to London. I had a clapped-out old Red Renault, which was very temperamental, but we made it! I don’t know what came over me, but after 10 minutes sitting ther, I thought, “Is it worth me auditioning?” I hadn’t prepared anything, but I loved Joseph. I knew all the songs inside out. I saw it for the first time in Southend when I was nine. So on the spur of the moment, I got on my hands and knees and crawled underneath the lady taking names at the stage door and headed for the auditorium.
Q: So what happened once you had blagged your way onto the stage?
A: I was petrified. From the stalls, the director said, “Right, I know you have gate-crashed. You had better give us a good audition, then.” I tried to compose myself – I was shaking. But fortunately, I sang, “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, a song I know back to front, and I smashed it. I ended up playing both the Pharaoh and Brother Levi. It was 12 performances a week in what is known as the hardest show in the business. At the end of the tour, I felt exhausted. But we had done amazing venues, It was so exciting.
Q: How did you make the next step up?
A: I was appearing in the chorus of Phantom of the Opera in the West End. One day, I was eating tuna pasta in my dressing room between shows on a Saturday when Graham Norton popped up on TV and asked, “Could you be the next Joseph?” It was a lightbulb moment for me. I can’t describe it. It felt like destiny.
Q: How did you feel when you were announced as the winner of Any Dream Will Do?
A: Weird things go through your head when Graham says, “The winner is…” I was thinking, “If I don’t win this, I don’t care because I’ve had the most wonderful experience.” When he said my name, it was so surreal. And as I was overcome by sense of a happiness, I thought, “Blimey, now I’ve actually got to do the role!” But that moment changed my life.
Q: Now you’re starring in Holby City. How did you land that role?
A: I was a guest in an episode of Casualty, playing a schoolteacher. Afterwards I got a letter from the executive producer. He wrote, “We were so impressed with you, we’ll keep our eye on you.” And two years later, the producers asked, “Could you come and audition? We have a character called Lofty who we think might be up your street.” Within two weeks, I was in Cardiff filming my first scene with Derek Thompson. He’s a lovely guy and has become a close friend.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re in South Wales?
“Visiting the Gower Peninsula– I used to go there a lot when I was in between filming Casualty at BBC Cymru. I really enjoyed taking long walks along the cliffs. ”
Q: You have a wonderful career, but what would you say is the most important thing in your life?
A: My seven-year-old daughter Betsy. I see my life as a pyramid, and Betsy is at the top of that. I’m fortunate in that I have a very busy career. It’s great to have work, but if ever I feel I’m not getting the balance right, I check myself and get back to the idea of the pyramid. Betsy always comes first.
Q: Where do you think that very strong work ethic comes from?
A: My dad. He’s my hero. He would work a 90-hour week as a postman. My parents had nothing, but they would do anything for us. He spent £400 for my costumes when I was at college which he really couldn’t afford but he wanted me to have every opportunity. That’s where my work ethic comes from.
Q: Do you still get the same pleasure as always out of your work?
A: Absolutely. For me it’s never been about money or fame or applause. I just love making people happy. I get as much pleasure out of playing to 80 people in a small room as to 80,000 at Wembley Stadium when I was invited to sing for the concert for Diana. It’s the same buzz for me. It’s a great privilege. I’m a very, very lucky guy.
Lee Mead is performing at The Riverfront in Newport on Saturday 19th May. Tickets are available on the Newport Live website.