West End star Gary Watson returns to help home stage at Sunderland Empire

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A WEST End star is returning to his home stage to help inspire fledgeling performers on the path to success.

Gary Watson got his first taste of the spotlight at the Sunderland Empire and has gone on to forge a hugely successful career in London, appearing in Matilda, Les Misérables and A Chorus Line among other shows.

Now he is gearing up to return to where it all began – The Kathleen Stage Davis Stage School – for a one-off performance with the theatre school’s current pupils.

Gary, 29, from Plains Farm, said: “It’s been 10 years since I last performed with Kathleen. Going back to where it all started is something I’ve always wanted to do and talked about but it’s difficult to find the right time and for the right opportunity to present itself.”

The actor has a brief break before opening night for Lionel Bart musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be alongside EastEnders actor Jessie Wallace and former Spandau Ballet member Gary Kemp, so decided to visit an old stomping ground.

He will take to the stage with youngsters from his old stage school when they perform Dancin’ on a Saturday night this weekend at the Sunderland Empire.

Former Thornhill School pupil Gary spent seven years, from the age of 11, at the stage school in High Street West.

He said: “The Kathleen Davis School taught me so much. It really got me started in learning my craft, learning to dance. But one of the biggest things it did for me was to give me that performance experience of being on the Empire stage in their shows.

“I’m a huge advocate for the school and it’s a pleasure to be able to come back and perform with them.”

He added: “I don’t get to come home as much as I would like. The last time I was on the Empire stage was for Cats and the last time I was on stage in the North East was in Mamma Mia at Newcastle Arena, so I’m really looking forward to being there again.”

Gary will be performing two songs in the show - Come What May from Moulin Rouge and Somewhere from West Side Story – alongside Danielle Campbell.

The pair sang together for years when they were both pupils at the stage school and Danielle is now a teacher there.

Kathleen Davis said: “Gary has done brilliantly in his career but he deserves it. He’s never forgotten his roots. He comes home to visit his mam who still lives in Sunderland and always pops in to say hello. He’s just like the Gary he was when he was 14.

“All the pupils here know who he is and follow his career, he’s a great role model for them.”

l Dancin’ on a Saturday night will be at Sunderland Empire on Saturday. Tickets are £8, £10 and £12 in person at the Empire Box Office, by calling 0844 871 3022 or booking online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.