Variety veteran Joe Longthorne is returning to the Sunderland Empire stage for a night of classic comedy. We caught up with the entertainer and housewives’ favourite.
BATTLING back from cancer and bankruptcy, entertainer Joe Longthorne is living up to his reputation as the “hardest working showman in the business.”
Ahead of gigs in Australia and Las Vegas, the 55-year-old is heading to Sunderland next week as part of a national tour.
“It’s a mixture of new songs and old. I’m looking forward to coming to the Empire and having a great time. I’ve got a bit of a head cold at the moment, but I’m not going to let that stop me,” explained the variety legend.
Indeed it’s Joe’s determination to perform which has defined his career – one that began three decades ago with appearances on Junior Showtime, followed by a grounding on the tough northern club circuit.
Joe’s big break came in 1981 when he was a finalist on Search for a Star, which led to appearances at the London Palladium with Bob Hope and The Talk of the Town.
A short time later, Joe received the Variety Club of Britain award as Most Promising Artist of the Year.
A TV career – including The Joe Longthorne Show – soon followed for the singer and impersonator who is famed for his take on Shirley Bassey.
Despite playing some of the world’s greatest venues, including The Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House, Hull-born Joe says he loves coming back up north where it all began.
“Since I was 17 I’ve probably played every club on the Northern circuit,” he explains. “No one can tell me a club I haven’t appeared in. I think the Northern clubs taught me more than school.
“The only thing I was ever good at school was humanities and art. I went to 15 schools in 15 years.”
Joe comes from a travelling family, an aspect of his life which moulded him into a performer.
He recalls: “As soon as I started singing my sister Anne would push me along the terrace in a pram and knock on people’s doors. When they opened them I would stand up and sing.
“I won my first talent competition when I was very young, I think I was four. You always have singers in a travelling community.”
Fiercely proud of his roots, Joe says, like millions of others, he’s been watching C4 documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which has sparked controversy for its portrayal of the travelling community.
He says: “My mother came from Irish tinkers up in Cork and my dad was from travelling people who worked on the fairground and in scrap. So I’m a mixture of a tinker and a traveller.
“If I see travellers on the road I always go and speak to them, that’s what I would be doing if I wasn’t in this job.
“The show is hilarious. It’s just what it’s like. I’m not sure about taking kids out of school at 13, but that’s their ways. When you meet a true Romani traveller you could not meet a better person.”
Joe’s colourful life means his recent autobiography has proven popular.
“I seem to have fans all over the gaff. The autobiography is selling well and has just gone into paperback.
“I think it’s because, like many people, I’ve suffered,” says Joe who in the late 90s went through bankruptcy due to what he says was past mis-management.
“I had some very bad advice,” he says. “It’s very difficult to be an artiste and take care of the finances at the same time.”
One of the most defining moments of Joe’s life is his battle with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. In 2005 the disease took hold and Joe underwent a bone marrow transplant.
He now works hard to promote the work of the Anthony Nolan Trust which finds matches for leukaemia patients in need of a transplant.
He said: “The bone marrow transplant saved my life and I want to thank everyone who donates.
“Everyone’s frightened of needles, but it’s much less invasive now and I’m trying to raise awareness of how important it is to be a donor.”
Despite his much publicised struggles, today Mr Entertainment is back to health and doing what he does best.