An interview with Duncan James
"I went through the battle of wanting to be accepted for my own sexuality"
I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I always like it when I ring an interviewee and I’m talking to them straight away: no PR company to talk to first, establishing the ‘rules’ of the interview. If I’m honest, I expected there to be some form of middleman in the case of Duncan James, but no – “Hi, it’s Duncan,” came the voice at the other end of the phone.
The Blue member is currently in the grips of playing Tick in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. It’s a part he claims is up there with ‘Dancing on Ice’ on the challenging scale. “Coming from a boyband where you wear big Timberland shoes and the like, it’s very different moving about in six inch heels,” he says.
Even harder when you’ve had a lower back problem since your youth…a fortnight before Duncan opened as Tick in Manchester last August, he slipped a disc in his vulnerable back, landing him in hospital. “I was given a very strong epidural in my spine and it corrected it,” Duncan says, “so I was able to do the show.
“I was terrified,” the performer admits in relation to his first nights in ‘Priscilla’, “it’s a huge role, there’s so much to think about. It’s not just the singing, dancing and acting, it’s the quick changes and precision timing of things. So for the first week I was like a shaking leaf every time I went on stage.”
Some months on and those nerves have gone, so it should be steady, heightened Duncan James legs that parade the stage at Oxford’s New Theatre in June. But heels aside, what is it that lies at the core of the show?
“Obviously it’s camp and over the top,” Duncan says. “But at the heart of ‘Priscilla’ is a story of acceptance. When I first read the script it was something I related to because I went through the battle of wanting to be accepted for my own sexuality when I was in Blue. At the end of the day we all want acceptance, we all want people to accept us for who we are regardless of our gender or sexual preference. That’s why ‘Priscilla’ is such a beautiful show. It tackles all those sensitive subjects in a lovely, lovely way.”
Duncan always wanted to be an actor. He’d done his A-level Theatre Studies but then got the audition to be part of Blue. The band went on to sell 16 million records, have three number one albums and 40 number one singles worldwide. “I didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was,” he tells me. “It just took off so my planned career got side-tracked.”
But about ten years ago, the opportunity came for Duncan to play Billy Flynn in the West End, and he would later star alongside Sheridan Smith in ‘Legally Blonde’.
And now ‘Priscilla’ – a show about being yourself and not letting anyone cage you. It seems quite a contrast to being in a boyband where you might be restricted by management insofar as your behaviour is concerned.
“You’re in a multi-million pound business generating everybody lots of money,” Duncan says of his Blue days. “So you’re very protected in regards to what to say and do. But I think we probably stood out differently to most bands because we had characters like Lee Ryan who you couldn’t get to do or say what you wanted.”
It also wasn’t the case that Blue members weren’t allowed out unless it was for work. “We would have wild parties and all sorts of stuff,” the singer recalls. “We were never the clean cut boys of pop, that was more Westlife, but we were a bit more pop and roll than rock and roll.”
Duncan was 21 when he started out in Blue, not as young as Lee Ryan – 16 when it all began. “When I was 16 I think I’d only just started puberty – I was a real late bloomer,” Duncan says. “To be put into that kind of world with that fame at such a young age…I don’t know what I would do.”
How have things changed 15 years on?
“My head is much more career-focused and I’m more responsible now,” Duncan states. “I’m a father to a beautiful and talented 11 year old, Tianie-Finn, so my whole outlook on life is very different to how it was when I was in Blue. I see myself more as an artist now.”
‘Priscilla’ comes to New Theatre Oxford 13th-18th June. Tickets can be purchased from the box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee).
For bookings of ten or more, or for Equal Access bookings, please call 0844 871 3040.
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