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on Thu, 22 Nov 2018
If you’re 50 or older, your earliest memory of Jimmy Osmond will probably be when he appeared on television screens in the early 1970s, a chubby-faced nine-year-old belting out the chart-topping number for which he remains most famous, the classic Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.
Thirty-six years later and with a varied career behind him - including reality TV show appearances on series including I’m A Celebrity - he’s reaching for the stick-on moustache to star as Captain Hook in Birmingham Hippodrome’s pantomime production of Peter Pan. What’s On caught up with him to find out more...
You have a reputation for being a really nice guy, Jimmy, so what’s the appeal of playing a villainous character like Captain Hook in pantomime?
Oh, I love it. This is my eighth panto. It took me a while to convince them that I really wanted to be a baddie. This is my third time being a baddie, and my favourite baddie is this, Captain Hook. I put in the teeth, put on the moustache, and you don’t even recognise me when I’m done.
What’s your favourite Hook moment?
I haven’t seen the actual script yet, but I know about some amazing effects that we’re going to do. My favourite moments are singing my hit records, but we twist them a bit. Instead of Crazy Horses, it’s Crazy Pirates etc. I think part of pantomime is learning to make fun of yourself a bit, to have a laugh and to push yourself - it’s a very physical show, this one.
How does prepping for panto differ from any of your other stage roles?
I’ve done a lot of musical theatre, so I’m used to learning scripts. I grew up doing these slapstick comedy bits on the Andy Williams television series. There was a lot of music and tap dancing and all that stuff, and that’s what panto is, so that’s why I think I'm one of the only Americans who gets it.
What’s the general American consensus on this very British tradition?
I tried panto in America, just as a test, and wow, we had to tell them that they had to boo when the baddie comes out and stuff. That’s what the amazing thing about playing Birmingham is - it’s the biggest panto in the world really, and you guys, and me too, were raised on panto, so we get it. It’s in our DNA, and you can’t force that. There’s been a few of my American friends who get it, like David Hasselhoff and The Fonz, Henry Winkler - he was Captain Hook a couple of times - but not many have really understood it. I just love it. I'm here about six months a year, so I feel like I'm British.
Can you recall your first pantomime?
I’d just got out of the jungle - I hadn’t known anything about the jungle, so that was quite an experience! - and the next thing I knew I was getting thrown into my first pantomime. It was in Northampton, it was Cinderella, and I played Buttons - it was a great production. I thought, wow, I really like this. I love being booed - you wouldn’t think that, but being booed is like the greatest compliment of them all. When you look out into an audience and you see a cross-section of people and they’re all having fun, it’s great. These pantomimes are written so intelligently that they speak to every demographic, and the effects are amazing too. It’s great fun just to be a part of it. People forget their troubles for a couple of hours. It’s not a job, it’s just great fun. Two shows a day, 70-something shows here in Birmingham - it’s a lot, and you can’t fake it; you have to love it, and I really do.
You’ve appeared on numerous reality TV shows, including, as you mentioned, I’m A Celebrity... Which show best revealed the real you, and did you learn anything about yourself in the process?
People ask me why I take those chances, and you know what - I've learned something every time I've done them. They’ve all been different. Pop Star To Opera Star, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! and Masterchef - they were the top three for me. During every one of those, I made friendships that have lasted. The rule I have is that you never go on one of those shows with anything to sell. I think if you do, you compromise who you are. It’s been great for me because when I do a concert tour, like I'm doing now before the panto, I get touch points from people of all ages. Somebody may have watched me on Masterchef, someone else may have watched me grow up on the old variety shows, but when you hit the stage, if you have any touch points with people, you make instant friends. It’s a really special thing that you can only do after being around a long time - like an old penny like me who keeps showing up, right?
What’s your all-time favourite panto, and if you could play any other character, which would you choose?
My favourite panto character is what I'm doing, by far. My favourite panto is the biggest panto of all, which is also what we’re doing, right here at Birmingham Hippodrome! I’ve been here before. I’ve done Chicago and Grease and I've done my own concerts here. This is such a pro theatre - they really care about the community, and when you see the set and the effects, they really blow your mind. I just have to keep pinching myself with my hook that I’m going to be eaten by a crocodile the size of Mount Rushmore! That’s pretty cool. Qdos do such an amazing job producing these shows along with Birmingham Hippodrome. It really is an honour to be a part of the biggest pantomime in the UK. How did that happen?!
What are your plans for the future?
Some more of my ’70s jukebox shows - they’re great fun. I'm a ’70s guy and I can’t seem to shake it - nor do I want to, because I love all that music. People come along and they’re dressed all fancy. I own a theatre in America - it’s a 2,100-seat theatre, the Andy Williams Theatre - and I produce around 400 shows a year. I'm in around 100 to 150 of them. It’s a lot, but I love what I do! I never thought showbiz would last for me. I started when I was three and here I still am, doing new, fresh, fun things. I think I’m hooked…
Peter Pan shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Wed 19 December to Sun 27 January.
Interview by Lauren Foster