Joe McElderry looking forward to bringing Club Tropicana to Sunderland Empire stage
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 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,” laughs the 27-year-old from South Shields.
“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 decade, the story unfolds in the vibrant Club Tropicana Hotel, the 1980s answer to Love Island.
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 80s 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 not just the tunes, but the lyrics to nearly all of them.
“That’s the impact 80s 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 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.
“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.”
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.
And he says he can’t wait to bring his latest musical role to Sunderland.
“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 my sanity is. I do all the crazy work and everything that comes with it, then I go back to normality.”
•Club Tropicana is at Sunderland Empirefrom May 20 to 25. Tickets from Tel: 0844 871 3022#