Gareth Gates talks to William Gadsby Peet about Pop Idol, musical theatre and coconuts ahead of his performance in Footloose at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking July 18–23
Having interviewed Will Young a couple of months ago it was an odd twist of fate to get the opportunity to also have a chat with Gareth Gates. I’m clearly becoming something of a Pop Idol alumni expert, Michelle McManus you’re next! Whatever happened to her?
Speaking with Gareth on the phone it was interesting to hear how much his speech has improved since he captured the nations heart as a shy stammering 17 year old dueling Will Young for the Pop Idol crown. Having undergone extensive speech therapy Gareth now talks in a very measured and clipped voice – with of course a slight Bradfordian twang – that only stutters slightly from time to time. With the stammer vanquished Mr. Gates certainly had a lot of interesting things to say...
- Talk to me about your early life, what inspired you to become a musician?
At the age of eight I went along to an audition at my first school for Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, I was quite a shy child and I surprised myself by going to this audition but I guess I was just going along with the crowd, doing it because my friends were. I stood up and sang and found I actually had quite a good singing voice and it started my love affair with music. I learnt several instruments including the piano and guitar, joined the choir as well as other bands and music groups, music just became my life and I’ve never really looked back since.
- So it was a bit of an epiphany for you at 8 years old…
Yes and it was heightened hugely because of the fact that I wasn’t really able to speak as a child, my stammer was so bad that finding out I could sing gave me a huge outlet to express myself, music and singing became really important to me from that very young age.
- What were your earliest musical influences, the people you wanted to emulate?
The main pop star of the time that I followed was Michael Jackson, I bought his album ‘Bad’, it was the first record I’d ever purchased with my own pocket money and I just loved him as an artist. My dad loved music too so I was also influenced by people like Elvis. From a very young age I had a dream to do what they did and I was very lucky to be given an opportunity with Pop Idol to become a recording artist myself.
- Was it hard to adjust to the almost overnight fame?
Well I was very young when it all happened, I was only 17 years old at the time plus it was the first show of its kind, no one had ever seen anything like Pop Idol before. I just took it all with a pinch of salt and enjoyed the experience, it has certainly opened lots of doors for me and given me some great opportunities. I look back on it with massively fond memories, there is nothing I regret about it, all of my memories from back then are good ones.
- Over the past few years you’ve done quite a lot of musical theatre, how does it compare to making pop music?
Well I love theatre, due to that Joseph experience at the age of 8 I’d always wanted the opportunity to do West End theatre and I’ve been lucky enough to do some big West End shows like Legally Blonde, Les Miserable and now obviously Footloose and I just love the live aspect of it. Every night I have a live audience, 1000 people in front of me to perform to. Being a recording artist is great and I’ll definitely make another album in the future, but sometimes it can be quite lonely just in a recording studio by yourself performing to the rest of the band. Theatre is live, it’s now, it’s happening there and then.
- What can we look forward to from Footloose?
It’s a very fun show, it’s very up, it’s obviously based upon the 1984 musical and the stage version is very much true to the film. It’s got all the hits; ‘Lets Hear it for the Boy’, ‘Holding out for a Hero’ and the title song ‘Footloose’. I have the comedy role which is something I haven’t done before. I play Willard the cowboy who can’t dance but by the end of the show has learnt how and has been given the confidence to do so. It’s a great show that’ll get everyone up on their feet by the end and it’s a real thrill to be a part of it.
- Are you a fan of the original?
I was brought up with the film and absolutely love it
- Was there a small part of you that wanted to be Ren McCormack?
Originally the show producers had been in contact about playing the lead role, but I saw the dance ability that was required of the role and thought no chance [laughs] I opted for the character that couldn’t dance which is pretty much life imitating art.
- So there’s no part where you do a back flip onstage?
I couldn’t if I tried!
- Have you enjoyed your first comedy role?
It’s great, you get to steal the show and I love it. I played Marius in Les Mis, the romantic lead and I’ve played the prince in panto a few times and I do love those roles but to do the comedy character is a different kind of challenge and it’s one I’ve massively enjoyed.
- Oddly enough about a month ago I had an interview with Will Young before his performance at Kew the Music. Do you still keep in touch with your old Pop Idol rival?
Yes, we went through a lot together, like I said before it was the first of its kind so nobody knew what to expect. We were there from the start right through to the end together with the same management and all that so we’ve become very good friends. I try to make sure I catch up with him whenever I can.
- You’re qualified as a speech coach for the McGuire Programme, how much has the programme helped your speech?
It’s a great programme for people with a stammer; it teaches you a brand new way of speaking, a brand new way of breathing and a new way to tackle the mindset of a stammer which is based around fear. I still struggle constantly with my speech, but I’ve instructed several courses myself to help people with an out of control stammer gain confidence in their speech.
- Do you think as a society we should be helping those with communication problems more?
In terms of communication in general I think we can definitely be doing a lot more in society to help people. I am very much involved in the speech and language world, and I read something the other day that was looking at the link between criminal offenders and their problems with communication. A lot of their frustration and anger comes from an inability to communicate, whether that’s a language barrier or just general social skills.
I’m a massive advocate of trying to help as much as I can with communication in general, obviously it was specifically stammering with me but I’ve done some work as well towards helping people from all different types of backgrounds talk to one another successfully.
- You have a number of art academies in the north of England...
Yes I have my fingers in a number of different pies [laughs]
- How important are the performing art academies like yours? What do you see the role of performing art in society?
I like to give back to the community, there are lots of children that have a desire to perform and don’t really know where to start so we give them that opportunity. It’s about this idea of communication again, we instill confidence in these kids and that reflects in their schoolwork and general behavior, even how they interact with other children. So yes it’s based around singing, dancing and acting, however it’s very much a confidence boosting exercise where every week for 3 hours they can be somebody else and gain skills that will help them in later life.
- With austerity and a post-Brexit economic climate do you worry that we might see arts fall by the wayside?
Well, who knows is the short answer. I don’t know what’s going to happen with this country now but I think the performing arts are an important part of our society. Shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent really help to get kids interested in the performing arts, there are lots more kids nowadays who want to perform, children that watch these shows and aspire to be like the people on them. I just hope that the funding is still there, I know that I’ll certainly do all that I can with my academies to try and keep them going and keep making the arts available to the younger generation.
- Who are some of your favorite current artists? Is there anyone from recent X Factor or BTG shows whose music you enjoy?
I’m often working Saturday with theatre nowadays so I actually rarely get a chance to watch X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. I’m so busy with my various businesses and projects that I can’t really find the time to watch them which is a shame. I listen to the charts often though and love a lot of the music on offer. I really enjoy Rihanna and have listened to her latest album a lot, it's not just the great songs but also the production value that I find appealing as it is something I’m really interested in. I went to see the stars of the TV show Nashville recently when they came on tour in the UK, I went there with my girlfriend and we really enjoyed the show, it was just excellent music.
- Our health editor featured one of your products ‘Cuppanut’ in her most recent health & beauty column, how did Cuppanut come about?
I recognised a space in the market for a hot coconut beverage. Coconut is huge at the moment coconut oil, coconut water etc. I saw that there was no coconut tea on the market so I sat at home spooning desiccated coconut in to tea bags and experimenting with the flavour. I developed the idea and it’s gone from there really, I just landed my first major sale with Holland and Barrett who placed an order for all of its 630 stores which is a massive deal so I’m thrilled, it’s hitting their shelves this week.
I am now in negotiations with other companies and health stores across the UK so hopefully it’ll just get bigger and bigger. We were in conversations with quite a few EU countries but that seems to have been put on hold after the referendum result, we’re not flavour of the month with Europe right now! My plan is to roll it out across the world and see what happens, it certainly seems to be going well and the public is really taking to it as a new concept. If people want to have a look it’s www.cuppanut.com or you can get it from Holland and Barrett.
- How’s family life treating you? Have you slept at all over the past 7 years?
[Laughs] It’s great, my daughter is at the perfect age where she’s very inquisitive and talks a heck of a lot. Being a dad is incredible, it changes your whole perspective in life, you live for something else, for someone else, every decision now is with her in mind and it’s just incredible.
- Final question, if you could invite three people living or dead to a dinner party who would it be?
First person would be Michael Jackson; he is my favorite pop star so I’d definitely go for him. For a music star who’s alive I’d probably go for Stevie Wonder, he’s just incredible and changed the entire face of music in general. Third guest would be Brian Cox the astronomer, I’m massively in to his series at the minute on Netflix. All three of them: Wonders of the Solar System, Universe and Wonders of Life are amazing. He’s educated the nation about where they come from and what’s out there which is something I think we are all a little bit ignorant of as a planet.
Footloose will be showing at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from July 18-23 to book tickets visit atgtickets.com
You can follow Will on Twitter @wgpjournalism