In show business, budding young entertainers aspire to become a ‘triple threat’ – an all-rounder capable of excelling in anywhere they need to. John Barrowman has at least twice as many strings to his bow, having authored, acted, sung, danced, judged and presented his way to national treasure status. Following the sell-out success of his summer shows, John is gearing up for a dazzling Christmas tour A Fabulous Christmas that will coincide with a new album of the same name. We catch up with him to chew the festive fat and discover his memories of Oxford.
What is Christmas all about to you?
It’s about family, friends, celebrating the birth of a child, and basically coming together and enjoying people’s company. Everybody talks about presents, but my favourite time is Christmas morning after all the presents have been opened, having brunch, relaxing, playing games, all that stuff. Of course, I have to fit music into Christmas, and that starts on Christmas Eve. We have all the Christmas songs on, line up bottles of Champagne – from the most expensive to the cheapest – and by the time we get to the cheap ones, they all taste exactly the same anyway.
Home is obviously Palm Springs, but you’re still very much attached to your Scottish roots. Where do you spend Christmas?
Prior to last year, Christmas has always been spent at my cousin’s in Dunblane, as when I’ve been working in panto, you only really get Christmas day off, so not much chance to travel too far. So last year was the first time in many years where I’ve actually been at home with family, in the States, for Christmas, and that’s where we’ll be this year too.
Do we assume your house looks fabulous at Christmas?
Absolutely – my house gets decorated to the hilt; pilots could mistake our house for a runway! That said, by the time I’ve actually finished the tour and other work I’ve got on, there’s only going to be about five days to do all the decorating and shopping. We have two trees. One is decorated in a Scottish/American/Welsh/British traditional style, recognising all the places I’ve lived in. The other is more glitzy and sparkly, with a dash of Star Wars – we have a Star Wars tree topper… All the trees outside have huge baubles on and we really go all out.
Who will you spend Christmas with and what’s the plan?
Mum and dad are just down the road so they’ll be with us, and my aunt and uncle and [husband] Scott and my best friends – just the eight of us. Everyone shares the jobs, although one day I’ll get a chef booked so no one will have to cook at all. But we’re a diverse family, so we really try to include lots of different elements. Mum will obviously make shortbread, being Scottish, my aunt is from Belgium and she does the hors d'oeuvres. Then it’s a traditional turkey dinner with everybody pitching in to help. One rule though, whoever cooks does not clean up – so I make sure I get really stuck into the cooking, and make a mess…
Are you a gift giver, or receiver?
I like to give more than receive, for sure. But I do absolutely love to receive gifts which are made personally; crafty gifts. There’s so much more heart to those things.
What’s the best present you’ve ever had?
I remember one year as a kid, all I wanted was a silver flute. I’d come down, opened all my presents from Santa and I didn’t get it. Mum and dad asked me to get something out of the drawer in the other room where they kept the silverware, and there among it all was this very particular flute. I like to make gift giving an event like that – it really adds to the occasion.
The tour is coming to Oxford – any fond memories of the city?
I’m really looking forward to coming back. I have spoken at the Oxford Union and have been thrown out of one of their libraries! It’s such an honour to be invited to speak, I was very proud of that. I did it during my time as Captain Jack [in Torchwood], and spoke about my time in Doctor Who, and it wasn’t publicised at all, beyond the union itself. It was very much on the lowdown, and I loved it.