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When it comes to positive gay role models a guy who could end up on a lot of peoples lists would be the amazing actor and singer, John Partridge. A mainstay of the west end Partridge rose to prominence as the openly gay Christian in popular soap Eastenders.
Partridge has since been back on the stage, and on our screen and is even ready to put out an album. However, he was able to fit us into his busy schedule and we were able to talk turkey about all his projects coming up.
So John, you have a new album coming out.
It’s called titled Dames, Dudes and Cowboys Too. I did a show at the Hippodrome Casino called Dames ‘n’ Dudes. It was a one-man show that I put together to in some ways commemorate the fact that 30 years on I’m still in this crazy business, I’m still getting hired and people still want to see me. It was a kind of a show I did for me. People came and they really liked it. It was suggested I take this show out on the road and it was also suggested to me it would be good to have a record. So the record really is a by-product of the show.
That being said I found it a completely liberating experience.
I was meant to do the record last year. Unfortunately my mother was ill with Alzheimer’s and dementia and as we came to the end of August the situation was not good and my family were in a very dark place. It really did unite us and we found it positively as a family to move forward.
It’s very easy to get inspired by other things – a play, or a musical or a movie. But self-inspiration is much harder to come by. You have health worries, financial worries etc. And I’d lost that self-inspiration, that ability. But in some way my mother’s illness helped me get that back. It took me back to being a 10-year-old in the sitting room with a teat-towel on my head singing along to ‘Wuthering Heights’. So making this record became a very personal project.
I cover a lot of different people on this album – Dolly Parton, Rufus Wainwright, Nine Inch Nails and others – but I also do new material too. The way we make that cohesive is that the songs that I cover are from story-tellers. They have a very strong narrative. Little novels. My own compositions are no different from that.
I’m known to lots of people for lots of different things. Either you know me as being Christian in Eastenders or doing the lottery numbers on Saturday night to being a West End performer to now being a gymnast on a Saturday night. And in doing this record one of the things I learned early on was you can’t please everybody and there is no way I could please my demographic by putting out a record that somehow encompassed all of that. So what I’ve tried to do is just be really honest and put songs on from other artists that have inspired me and hopefully when you get to hear this record it will unify people’s opinion of me and they will get to learn something very personal and hopefully and hopefully get to know me better.
Is there any particular track on the album that you’re very proud of? You spoke very briefly about your mother’s illness.
I have a track on the album that I wrote called ‘Stop for a Minute’. I have various ballads on the album but this is a very simple song and it is very personal to me. I’m hoping to release it at Christmas for an Alzheimer’s charity . It’s just a song that says you have to stop and really appreciate and value people and events in your life. Life is about moments. I’ve had some very proud moments in my life and I’m very proud of that song because it is so personal to me.
Lots of us will remember you on our screens long before you were on EastEnders. I remember you from the first time you were in Cats on a special piece for the BBC. Do you think your time on stage was good preparation for working on TV later?
Well they are very, very different mediums. In fact you could say they are polar opposites. So in some ways no. One has no real relation to the other. Theatre is a very instant and, in some ways, kind of disposable in the sense that the moment is shared with the audience and then it is gone, unless someone’s got a sneaky camcorder in their lap. Where when your doing television everything is preserved for all time for people to watch repeatedly again and again. I love the fact that Cats was my first show which means I have a strong connection with my father – my father passed away shortly after I was 16 and just after I’d gone into that show – and it was great to recreate that role on film in that way because it me I had that memento to watch over and over again. It’s important to me because it’s something that connects me very strongly to my father. It’s great that show is coming back to the Palladium because it was not only an iconic show but it also changed peoples’ perceptions of what could be achieved in musical theatre. It was groundbreaking.
When you were on EastEnders, there was a relationship character had with another male character named Syed. Looking back, are you proud of that storyline?
I’m extremely proud of that storyline and that the BBC were brave enough to follow through with it. It’s very, very difficult to tell a gay story at 7.30pm on TV. The characters weren’t boys, they weren’t coming out stories – these were two grown men in a same-sex relationship in your living room well before the watershed. It was very brave of the BBC to do attempt that that. I think in some small way we chipped away at some taboos, in that I never had a bad reaction from anybody in the street, from either a White-Van Man to 80-year-old gran – I only had a very, very positive response from that story and I will always be proud of Christian because I think in some ways we did tackle some issues that hadn’t necessarily been spoken about within that medium.
It was an important milestone even though a lot of soap operas had seen gay characters this was in BBC prime time.
We had amazing viewing figures, I remember a New years episode, after the Christmas Day episode EastEnders got 10.3 million viewers – having been beaten by Doctor Who – and then the New Year’s episode which featured the big Christian Syed story got 13.7 million. And that’s massive in this post-terrestrial age. Nobody ever printed that. But it was the truth – it was the amount of feeling about that story, which is something that I am very proud of – that the wider viewing public got behind that story and it wasn’t about two men, it wasn’t about a same-sex relationship, it was about two people in love in impossible circumstances, and can’t we all relate to that.
But you’re not done with TV now Christian has gone. You are back on the BBC in a new show, Tumble.
I know, can you believe it? I’m frantic about it. Dancing always came very easily to me, I was a natural performer and a natural dancer. But gymnastics? It’s not coming that easy to me. Somebody asked me ‘Why are you doing this at 43?’ and I guess the important thing to me is that as we get older the natural reaction is to take the foot off the pedal slightly. You’ve hopefully got your little house and security. You think you can put your feet up and watch The Wright Stuff.
But this year has been about new beginnings for me and new inspirations and I think it’s important – I feel so grateful I can still find opportunities in order to challenge myself, in order to see exactly what I can do under pressure when I have to. And there’s no more pressure than going out live to seven million viewers on BBC One live at 6.30pm on a Saturday night. It has really been an amazing physical challenge and an enormous mental challenge. I have complete respect for gymnasts. They are elite athletes – there’s no bones about it. I trained for eight week solidly and it’s been a milestone – and it’s not over yet. I just hope I get through safely and in one piece, I don’t drop my partner and I don’t knock my front two teeth out. That will be enough for me.
Tumble is being billed as the new Strictly but I am telling you we are not cha-cha-cha-ing or foxtrotting. We are throwing ourselves at great velocity and at high speed up into the air and hopefully getting down on the other side on our feet. It’s not without risk. It is not for the faint-hearted. People think ‘Are they going to kill themselves or not?’
You’ve been onstage, on screen, you’ve got you new album, is there anything that you haven’t done that you really want to?
There’s so much I haven’t done. I might not necessarily know what that is yet, but I think though your on life experience different opportunities present themselves to you from the way that you are living your life. It’s my life that has brought me to this point. Do I have any unfulfilled professional and personal desires? Of course I do. Do I still have dreams? Of course I do. I just haven’t necessarily dreamt them yet.
Next time it could be John Partridge diving with deep sea sharks!
You never know. That’s the crazy thing about life. You just don’t know what’s round the corner especially in the business I’m in. Suddenly the phone rings and your life can go off at a completely different tangent. That’s what makes it so wonderful. All you have to do is try to hang on for the ride, make sure you’ve got your seatbelt on and see where it takes you. That’s what I’m doing.
You got married a couple of years ago to your husband. Have you found difficulty adjusting the balance between your work and your family now?
We haven’t had to really adjust. My husband has just taken his UK citizenship test. He’s Canadian and he’s been here since 2005 but his father is Greek and so he had both a Greek passport and a Canadian passport. Anyway I’m pleased to say he’s passed – he’s more British than I am now. I don’t think if I took that test I’d pass it. It’s crazy. . It fits in very well with our professional lives. John is extremely supportive of me . I’ve said many times I’d never have any of this if it wasn’t for him. He provides me with a safe place and a shoulder in order to be the person I want to be and achieve the things I want to achieve. Sometimes I don’t see the things that I can achieve, but he always had that dogged belief in me that sometimes I don’t have in myself and that’s what I think a long-term relationship has to be, and I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to find that.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans and all the people out there that love you?
I want to just, honestly, say thank you. It’s a constant surprise and inspiration to me that they continue to be there for me through thick and thin. I hate the word fan and I never use it. Anyone who comes to see me at a show, who maybe comes more than once – they are my friends. They know me, I talk to them openly and honestly and intimately. I think that’s the only way you can have a true connection. I feel the word fan feels so fake, and it doesn’t feel real, and I really see a real connection with my supporters and the people that come to my shows and my projects. They are also a source of inspiration to me. As long as they are happy to come I’m happy to be there for them and I thank them.
John Partridge’s debut album Dudes Dames + Cowboys Too is out on 15 September 2014 on Big Hand Records. Partridge will also be performing a live show at Borderline, London on 17 September 2014.