Actor Joe McFadden on his Priscilla roadtrip
He took the Strictly crown and glitterball trophy after winning the public’s appreciation with a series of fleet-footed turns on the dancefloor.
But even his more flamboyant costumes and dance numbers couldn’t have completely prepared Joe McFadden for his current role, playing Tick – and the character’s stage alter ego Mitzi – in the touring production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert which rolls into Liverpool this month.
Apart from anything else, there’s the little matter of the vertiginous heels rocked by the trio of drag queen friends as they embark on their odyssey across the heart of Australia in an old bus.
The famous quote about Ginger Rogers is that she did everything Fred Astaire did – just backwards and in high heels. So how's McFadden getting on?
“I stand on a barrel at one point, dancing, and on a raked stage you’re on an angle so it can play havoc with your back,” he admits.
“I do a warm-up every single night. We have to keep ourselves fit – I’m going off to the gym after I speak to you. You have to live a bit like a hermit, look after the voice, make sure you’re stretching every day.
“Nobody wants to have to go off, and touch wood I haven’t so far.”
Joe McFadden with Jason Donovan. Photo by Darren Bell
The 44-year-old was asked to board the Priscilla bus after bumping into fellow Strictly competitor, and former Tick, Jason Donovan on Loose Women. Donovan, who played the role at the Liverpool Empire in 2013, has taken off the heels to be a co-producer of this current tour which is a new stage adaptation of the story.
“I’d seen the show in London years ago and I was just blown away by it,” McFadden explains. “It ticks every box for me.
“As well as having fantastic songs, there’s a real element of drama there. There’s something for everyone; it’s about love, it’s about the importance of family and friendship.
“I feel like it’s a show we all need at the moment, being tolerant of other people’s opinions and who other people are, and not being so quick to judge as perhaps we are these days. It feels like exactly the right time to be doing it.”
It seems Joe McFadden is an optimist.
“I am very much an optimist!” he laughs. “An unashamed optimist. I do get criticised for it, but I feel if you look hard enough there’s always something to be grateful for.
“Being in a show like this it’s very hard to not be grateful, it’s very hard to not be upbeat and happy, because it’s a message of love and acceptance and understanding.”
Joe McFadden (centre) as Tick/Mitzi. Photo by Darren Bell
Priscilla comes hard on the (high) heels of a tour of the thriller The House on Cold Hill. But before that it was four years since McFadden had stepped on stage – something he felt he needed to do to conquer any residual fears he might have about performing in front of a live audience.
He last appeared at the Empire when he played Caracatcus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang “a few years ago”. It was actually 2006 I venture.
“It wasn’t 13 years ago?!” he marvels. “Oh my God, I was far too young to be Caractacus Potts. Now it’s a little bit more believable.”
The Glaswegian started his career young too – he was 12 when a teacher spotted his potential and suggested him for a role in Scottish detective series Taggart. He went on to spend six years in soap Take the High Road, but reveals he really only considered acting as a fulltime career choice in his 20s.
“My parents were kind of a bit bemused really,” he says. “None of us had ever done it before so it didn’t really seem like a viable option as a career. And for quite a long time didn’t.
“I’d been doing it for quite a long time, but then I thought, oh I’m going to commit to this. And I don’t think I’d have had the guts to go to drama school, had the confidence to think I’m good enough to make a living out of this.
“It was definitely the right path, or the only path I ended up doing, so I’m so fortunate that happened. Because goodness knows what I’d be doing otherwise.”
That path has included Iain Banks The Crow Road and Debbie Horsfield’s Sex, Chips & Rock ‘n’ Roll (starring alongside Liverpool’s Gill Kearney) as well as regular roles in Heartbeat and, for four years, as Raf Di Lucca in Holby City.
On the Priscilla 'charra' - photo by Darren Bell
Now he’s enjoying his time touring with Priscilla – and relishing the chance to see different parts of the country on his own roadtrip.
“At the end of the day, we’re not tourists, we’re not on holiday so you have to save your energy,” he says. “You have to have enough energy in the evening. I’ve given up the booze, trying to keep healthy, it’s a pretty boring existence, but you have to be like that.
“But I do still try and get out. We went up the hills in Malvern, we’ve been to laser quest, I’ve been boldering…it’s a real opportunity to see the country, and getting to go to great places, you want to experience them.”
There’s certainly plenty to do during his stay in Liverpool. And while we can't promise a desert, we've got plenty of sandy beaches.
“I’ve been to the Iron Men. We drove there when I did a thing called Haunting Julia in 2012.
"That’s a great day out – I’m going to get the whole cast to come!”
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the Liverpool Empire from November 11-16. Tickets HERE