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Will Young: Basically I’m just showing off and I get paid to do it


To be honest,” confides Will Young, “the whole time I’m always thinking – gosh, how have I got away with this? Because basically I’m just showing off and I get paid to do it.”

 Nice work if you can get it.

 “It’s b****y brilliant!” he says, half-joking and half, one suspects, in earnest.

 And you can see how life isn’t bad for the 34-year-old singer, songwriter and actor.

 While other talent show  winners’ stars rise and fade, a decade on from his Pop Idol success he’s a fully paid-up member of the British music scene – the result of both talent and a quiet, polite, but steely, determination.

 The public got an early peek at that when Will, politely of course, challenged Simon Cowell on live television over the music Svengali’s assessment of one of his performances as “distinctly average”.

 Since those Pop Idol days Will has carefully curated his own musical career – one which includes four number one singles, three number one albums and two BRIT awards.

 But it’s in his growing parallel career as an actor that he’s set to return to Liverpool next week, playing the Emcee in the acclaimed West End revival of Cabaret, this time on a UK tour.

 And it turns out Will is actually the driving force behind taking the show on the road.

 “We got nominated for three Oliviers; one for the show, one for me and one for Sian Phillips,” he explains. “So then most of us performed at the Oliviers, and I just thought, this is just so much fun – why would I not do it again?

 “I spoke to Bill Kenwright and Rufus (Norris) the director and just said, ‘let’s do it again’.”

 Surprisingly perhaps, for someone who was studying musical theatre (at Arts Educational School) when he found fame with Pop Idol, the singer has admitted previously that he’s never really liked musicals.

 “No, I don’t,” he confirms. “I don’t like bad musicals.

Will Young stars as Emcee in Cabaret
Will Young stars as Emcee in Cabaret

“Well, there are certain….the reason I like Cabaret is because it’s got a brilliant story, it’s got brilliant music, and there’s a lot of layers.

 “That’s what I want from a show. I want to have to think, I want to have to listen to the words, follow the story, be interested in it, be thinking about it afterwards.

 “And that’s what Cabaret does, and that’s more to my taste.

 “So it’s unfair for me to say bad. It’s more my taste to have something that’s a bit more meaty.”

 The Kander and Ebb musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s tales about decadent early 1930s Berlin, and the looming shadow of Nazism is, he admits, “on the darker end of the spectrum, and I’ve always been drawn to that and have always been drawn to cabaret full stop.”

 He then goes on to offer an erudite synopsis of the history of cabaret, from its beginnings in 19th century France to its more recent application by people like Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain.

 While Cabaret itself centres around the character of Sally Bowles (here being reprised by Siobhan Dillon who appeared at the Floral Pavilion with Wayne Sleep four years ago), it’s really the Kit Kat Club compère the Emcee who embodies the art form.

 He’s a character who appears sinister but also somewhat forlorn.

 “He is, oh gosh, completely,” agrees Will. “I think he is forlorn. He’s someone that has become, on so many different levels….what was he escaping in the first place? Why did he want to go into cabaret? What is it that he’s trying to get out, what’s the message? Why does he feel the need to perform? Why does he need the adoration?

 “And also, he’s someone who really believes in the craft. He’s running the show, he would have got all those shows together, he’s the one making all the decisions within the club to do political songs.

 “He takes on the Nazis basically, the establishment. And he knows where it’s going I think and there’s a kind of tragedy to it. There’s such pathos to the whole piece. He’s lost.”

 Cabaret spends a week at the Liverpool Empire from Monday, a place Will knows well.

 “I’ve played in Liverpool so much, from the docks to the Empire to the arena,” he says.

 An early date was shortly after Pop Idol, appearing with Burt Bacharach in the Summer Pops big top.  “He wrote a song for me,” adds Will. “Isn’t that bonkers?”

 To singing, songwriting and acting, Will can now also add producing to his CV, after investing money in Ralph Fiennes’ movie version of Coriolanus.

 He was keen, he explains, to invest in the British arts scene rather than “buy a new Ferrari”.

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 “I’m being flippant,” he smiles. “I guess my point is not to put it into material things.”

 At one point, the actor/director and ‘dark lord’ could be found in Will’s kitchen, spouting the Bard. That must have been a slightly surreal experience.

 “He’s an incredible man,” says Will, who admits he’d like to tackle some Shakespeare himself although only after doing “a lot of training”.

 “I made a documentary to go with the film, and he was so inspiring to talk to. In fact whenever I spoke to him he was inspiring, and it was a great film.”

 For the moment though, Will’s focus is firmly on the Emcee and Cabaret.

 While there’s never been any doubt in his own mind he was in the business for the long run, one suspects the Pop Idol contender of 2002 might not have imagined quite the trajectory his career has taken.

 “It’s amazing!” he says of the last 10 years. “The more I think about it the more fortunate I feel. It’s just like dreams come true you know?”

Cabaret is at the Liverpool Empire from Monday to Saturday next week.

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