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Culture, Music, Interviews


Interview with Shaun Williamson


Last summer’s festivals were dominated by one man: Shaun Williamson AKA Barry From Eastenders and the wildly popular phenomenon that is Barrioke (‘Barry’ hosting karaoke – get it?) Described as ‘the ultimate Insta moment’ Shaun is bringing Barrioke to Fi.Fest this summer and we caught up with the lovely man himself to find out more.

Are you looking forward to Fi.Fest?

We haven't done that one before so I can’t wait.

Do tailor the songs for different crowds in different venues? 

We do have a recommended list because you need a bit of energy. We don’t mind doing the odd ballad if it really means a lot to someone but you’re trying to keep energy up. As soon as someone starts going “starry starry night”* you know you’re stuffed.

*Shaun breaks into song at this point, and we can confirm he does indeed have a beautiful voice.

If you feel it sapping, do you have an absolute gold standard to whack on and get everyone back in? 

Yeah, Sweet Caroline obviously. YMCA, something like Never Gonna Give You Up, I Want it That Way, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Amarillo, 500 Miles; anything that people can sing along to or dance to is good. 

It’s a very meta situation: you are Shaun Williamson, you were Barry and you are also ‘Barry-from-Eastenders’. Where does one begin and the other end?

Well it started off, as you said, with Eastenders, and the thing is at the time when we started there was still only four channels. People had far fewer leisure options so if there was a big story – like getting pushed off a cliff – you'd get 20 million people watching. If I was in it now with three or four million viewers it would be easier to break the character when I left. I agreed to the Ricky Gervais stuff [Ricky Gervais’ Extras featured Shaun as a version of himself referred to as Barry-from-Eastenders] which was very sort of gentle micky-taking, really. That kept the ball in the air. If something else had come along, like another soap or a long running sitcom, it might have killed it there and then but it didn’t. As soon as Barrioke started I thought ‘sod it, let’s not worry about being typecast; what’s the point, let’s just enjoy it’. I’ve never been to up my own backside about my own acting so let’s embrace it and see how long it lasts. If you called it Karaoke with Shaun Williamson how many people would come? There will come a time when everybody who wants to see it will have seen it, but if people keep wanting it we will keep doing it. 

Do you wear a costume on stage? To what extend are you playing a character?

That’s a very good question. I think its 50/50. I think you’re right: you have to play being Barry, otherwise it would be too terrifying be yourself in front of 50,000 people. I really would get imposter syndrome. I’ve never thought of that before, but I have to have some sort of shield of invisibility because otherwise I’d run away, I think. 

Who would be your ideal partner to duet with?

Well, last year I ended up singing on stage with Sam Fender. I was on my way to Truck and his people phoned me. I thought he was magnificent at Glastonbury so I said I would love to meet him. I joined him on stage and sang backup lyrics to the chorus on one of his songs, that was a great moment. Then at Box Park Wembley Olly Murs jumped up on stage with me to sing Sweet Caroline. That was amazing.

Sounds incredible. Is there anyone else you’d love to sing with?

Oh my word. You know I’m a dinosaur really so it would have to be someone from the 80s. It would have to be Suggs from The Madness and It Must Be Love. I actually worked with him very closely years ago, on a TV series called Night Fever on channel 5 on Saturday. It was brilliant.

Would you have wanted a career as a pop star?

No, I’m painfully aware of how a pop star should look. Maybe if I’d discovered that I could sing in 1982 I might have just gotten away with it, but I’m content to have done what I’ve done. I’ve been very lucky since I left [Eastenders]. I have had a nice side line after-dinner speaking and doing gigs and singing. I don’t feel unemployed as an actor.

Honestly, if the gig has gone well and there’s 1,000 people singing I just think it’s great. It gives you a tiny taste of being a pop star and this is as good as it gets. I feel very fortunate it’s wonderful. 



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