It might be 10 years since Joe McElderry, then a fresh faced 18-year-old took X Factor and the Nation by storm with his chart-topping rendition of The Climb, but the enthusiasm, passion and energy that endeared him to millions of viewers in 2009 remains undiminished.
He positively bounces into the interview room for our “usual natter” having already had the cast and company of Club Tropicana, the brand new 80’s musical in which he stars, in hysterics with his portrayal of Garry, a Club Rep with an eye for the outrageous and a killer line in barbed one-liners.
He’s camp, he’s witty, very flamboyant and quite sassy
I’ve never played a comedy role before but it’s been really fun. At first I was really nervous but I’m excited by it now.”
He thinks for a moment, then confesses
There’s no rules with Garry, he’s probably me after four or five vodkas.
Club Tropicana The Musical takes audiences on a trip back to the electric 80s for a summer of love and smash-hit classics.
To a time when hair was big, shoulders were padded, and mobiles weighed a tonne.
Set to a soundtrack of some of the most iconic, chart-topping hits of the 80s, the story unfolds in the vibrant Club Tropicana Hotel, the 1980’s answer to Love Island.
When a budding bride and groom get cold feet, they decide to jet off to sunnier climes and feel the heat anyway - but little do they realise they’ve checked into the same hotel... a hotel about to get a visit from the hotel inspectors.
So while the sizzling summer season at Club Tropicana sees drinks flowing and tans glowing, will the young lovers decide to go through with the wedding? And will the hotel inspectors finally get their way and close the resort, or can the staff save the day?
McElderry is joined by a stellar cast including ex-Eastender Neil McDermott, top impressionist Kate Robbins and former Sugababe Amelle Berrabah, making her musical theatre debut.
Born in 1991, McElderry just missed out on the 80s himself, nonetheless he admits they left a massive impression on him.
Club Tropicana has a great story line. It’s a great fun, family-friendly show that you can come along to and sing-a-long to. It’s feel-good and I’ve realised that 80’s music is still massively relevant... and that I know most of the songs
I don’t remember them being played over the radio but subconsciously I must have heard them many, many times because when we first had a read through of the show, I found I knew the not just the tunes but the lyrics to nearly all of them
That’s the impact 80’s music has had on me even though I wasn’t even born
Club Tropicana is just the latest in a long line of projects to have kept the singer busy in the decade since winning X Factor.
Looking back, he smiles,
It’s mad because when I first started in the industry I was looking for some sort of longevity.
People always used to ask us what I wanted to do and I always used to say I want to still be doing this in 10 years time... the fact that I am is crazy.
It’s feels like yesterday, yet I feel like a completely different person now - it’s been a huge learning curve but I’ve had a good time and grown up a lot.
Explaining, he continues,
If you ask most 18 year olds, they will say they haven’t really worked out who they are yet or where they fit in.
I was really self-aware for the first three years of my career until I realised I just had to be a good person and trust that.
There were times people would pick apart the most ridiculous things and I didn’t know how to react, so I gave myself a bit of a pep talk and said, ‘You know Joe, you’re a nice person, just enjoy your job and have fun. Show business is supposed to be lights cameras, fun. So I learned to take it for what it was and not take things too seriously.
As a person, McElderry reflects that “becoming an adult” in the industry has made him a more confident performer.
I didn’t trust my own ability as much as I do now, I was a bit unsure of myself.
There was that pressure of being thrust in to the public eye with lots of different people with different opinions behind the scenes telling me to do this or do that. I had to learn how to navigate a way through that, but I was lucky, I had a really strong tight-knit family behind us, and still do.” Having now done “loads of different things I never thought I’d do.
one thing McElderry has been surprised to discover is that he copes very well under pressure, something he puts down to his time on X Factor.
I cope under pressure better than when I am not under pressure,” he laughs. “I think that comes from the boiling pot that is X Factor, it’s so intense you had no choice but to get your head down and get on with it.
So now something really big won’t phase us out, but something you might think would not freak us out does, little things like everyday worries I find a much bigger deal than preparing for a two hour musical. It’s really weird.
McElderry’s musical theatre career took off in 2015 when he was cast in the title role of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
He played the part on and off for two and a half years, winning rave reviews for his performance.
Joseph was a challenge because I was stepping into an iconic role that lots of very famous people have become very loved for playing, Philip Schofield, Jason Donovan, Donny Osmond and the rest.
I’d seen them and grew up with them playing Joseph so I realised the weight of the role I was taking on.
I didn’t want to be the worst person to play it.
McElderry was, and still is, aware of the stigma that comes with being discovered on a TV talent show and was determined to prove that he was the right person for the job.
Coming from a show like X Factor I wanted people to come to the show and say, ‘He deserves to be in that role and isn’t there because he was in X Factor. I didn’t want to be one of those people just put in the job to sell tickets. So I felt the pressure to be good and worked really hard.
I don’t think that stigma ever goes but in a way you can use it to your advantage because if people do come with that expectation and you’ve grafted really hard to produce something really good, they go away happy and with a new appreciation of what you can do.
As we talk, it’s easy to spot the discreet musical note he has tattooed just below the thumb on his left hand. It wasn’t there last time we ‘nattered’.
I’ve had that four years now, it was a spur of the moment thing and I would never get another one,
I was in London promoting an album and walked past a tattoo shop and just thought, ‘Oh my god, I should get a tattoo... and I did. I got it there because when I hold a microphone nobody can see it.
I forget it’s there now and I wouldn’t get another one, they’re not for me really, I didn’t enjoy the pain,
Born an raised in South Shields, equidistant between Sunderland and Newcastle, Club Tropicana will bring McElderry home when it plays the Sunderland Empire.
It’s literally 10 minutes down the road from me and I can’t wait because audiences in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields are always brilliant.
Despite his busy schedule, McElderry has eschewed the usual path taken by performers and chosen to remain based in the North.
I’ve always fought living in London because I love it in Newcastle. People in the industry come up to you and say, ‘What you still live in Newcastle?’ But I’m very lucky because the work I do fits around my schedule and people incorporate my commuting into theirs.
For me, Newcastle is where me sanity is. I do all the crazy work and everything that comes with it, then I go back to normality where I’m not immersed in the industry.
All me childhood friends are there and me family. It’s important to understand that although we work in a wonderful industry it’s not the be all and end all of life. I don’t want to be lost so much that I loose perspective on real life - going back to Newcastle, that’s me real life and this is the fun job I step in and out of.
To celebrate 10 years in the business McElderry is also writing a new album of original songs
I’ll definitely be doing something on stage to acknowledge 10 years but first I’ve got Club Tropicana, which takes me up to September,” he says, gazing at the almost life-size picture of him that adorns the poster for the production.
What would the ‘Newcastle Joe’ say to seeing that image?
He’d say, ‘You don’t look like that when you wake up,”
It’s always a very humbling thing to see yourself on a huge poster outside a venue. I’ll never get used to that. It makes me appreciate that not everybody gets to do what they love and I feel lucky to have experienced that as much as I have. I feel blessed.
Book online or call the Box Office on 01463 234 234 | MON 5 - SAT 10 AUG.