Gary Wilmot is one of the stars in the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels show, which is currently at the Cliffs Pavilion.
The 61-year-old, who once lived in Rayleigh, stars alongside Michael Praed, Noel Sullivan and Carley Stenson.
Looking back, it’s somewhat of a surprise even to him that he has become the household name he is.
“I certainly was not into showbiz when I was younger and didn’t start until I was 22,”
he said. “I had no aspirations for it, although I was always messing around, falling about with lampshades on my head. I always liked making people laugh.”
Gary’s father was actually already a “name” having been the bass voice that sang the line “I Am A Mole And I Live In A Hole”.
“My friends and family were the ones who encouraged me to do it,” said Gary.
Then one night he got up on stage in a club in Tottenham.
“I got asked to do a show in a pub for ten minutes and I thought Id give it a try. It was just comedy, singing, mucking around doing sketches...I think that was it,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was hooked. I suppose it was always in me but I just didn’t think of it as being an actual career. I thought, like a lot of my peers at that time, that I should get a proper job as a plumber or a builder.”
But it’s certainly turned out that the bright lights were calling.
After getting his first big break when he appeared on the TV hit programme New Faces, a sort of Britain’s Got Talent of the time, Gary – a naturally sunny chap – landed numerous television appearances on Copycats, Knees Ups, Cue Gary!, the Keith Harris Show.
and BBC children's quiz show So You Want To Be Top, which he co-presented with Leni Harper.
He then turned to musical theatre. In 1989, Gary’s first West End role was as Bill Snibson in the award-winning musical Me And My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre, London.
He played the role to critical acclaim for two years, with the late Jack Tinker describing him as a “musical talent of the highest order”.
A successful theatre tour of a new comedy, Teething Troubles, followed, as did his role as Joe in the award-winning Carmen Jones (Old Vic), the first sell-out national tour of Me And My Girl, which earned him a best actor nomination, and a starring role in the world premiere of the Barry Manilow musical Copacabana at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre.
In 1994, he hosted Showstoppers, a programme which featured himself performing songs from musical, alongside special guests.
It was originally meant to be a one-off series in which celebrities were given ten days to learn and perform a song, but Gary was asked to record a further series due to popular demand.
He also starred in and directed a tour of Showstoppers which proved so popular that its original 60 dates were increased to 160.
You could say it was during this chapter in his life that Gary grew a very good reputation for treading the boards in musical theatre.
“Well, I suppose it is just escapism,” he said. “I mean, it’s not real life is it? You don’t see people walking down the street just bursting into song do you?
And I think the punters like it for that very same reason.”
In 1997, Gary created the role of Elliot Garfield in the Goodbye Girl by Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch, David Zippell and Don Black, taking the show on the road in 1998. Another successful role followed as Fagin in the Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver, and he also appeared in Willy Russell’s play One For the Road, the concert tour of Music To Watch Girls By and Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions. He has also starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Half a Sixpence, the Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan and Chicago, to name but a few.
But it isn’t all jazz hands and show tunes.
In 2001, Gary joined the New Shakespeare Company to play the role of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.
“I suppose that was a more serious acting role,”
he said, when I asked if he ever longed to play more so-called “serious”
parts or to act more on film or television.
“I would like to do that, but then I have discovered an area of entertainment I am good at and I am happy with that.
You never know what is around the corner, who does know, but I enjoy what I do. It has a bit of everything in it – singing, comedy, seriousness. It’s fantastic.”
His current role is as Andre in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, one of the biggest newWest End musicals, which comes straight to the Cliffs Pavilion from the Savoy Theatre, London.
It’s based on the classic comedy film starring Sir Michael Caine and Steve Martin, and transports the audience to the French Riviera and its decadent underworld, as two seasoned swindlers attempt to hoodwink a millionaire heiress. As the pair compete in the true art of the con, they discover there is only room for one of them.
Gary Wilmot said: “My character is a bit of a con artist who entices women.
“I think the production is much funnier than the films and live audiences in comedy means they are more involved.”
ý The show is on until Saturday with tickets on sale from £19.50 to £45, available from southendtheatres.org.uk *To read Tom King’s review of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, visit echo-news.co.uk