BGT's Jon Courtenay talks panto fun at St Helens Theatre Royal
Jon Courtenay’s career could have gone in a very different direction had he followed his youthful ambition.
The Britain’s Got Talent champion, who swept fellow competitors aside two years ago with his singular solo act, originally had dreams of going to drama school and becoming an actor.
But despite an early chance to appear in panto (playing an Ugly Sister in Cinderella), his career took a different path when his own stage show - which famously combines music, comedy and magic - took off.
And it’s only now that he has got the chance to tread the boards as an actor again, thanks to St Helens Theatre Royal where he is playing Dandini in Cinderella this Christmas.
“It was a great experience,” he says of his teenage foray into the traditional theatre entertainment, adding: “This can be a lonely job when you’re doing the one man show so it’s just great to be part of a company again.”
The Mossley-born TV star’s parents were semi-professional entertainers who appeared in music hall, and he got the bug to perform at an early age. He started doing magic at the age of seven after his parents bought him a Paul Daniels set.
He recalls how as an adult he got to work with the late magician, laughing: “My mum used to watch his shows on TV and she was so starstruck. I had to tell her to be on her best behaviour because I was in my 20s by then and a professional and that’s how Paul viewed me.
“And of course, my mum showed up for the show and she was like (excited clapping): “I can’t believe it’s you!” She was so giddy.”
Jon also learned piano from a young age, playing by ear for fun. It was only as his career progressed that he started to include it in his act, writing and performing his own songs.
It was after more than 20 years in the business, and with a bit of persuasion from his children, that he decided to enter Britain’s Got Talent.
“I always said, you’ve only got three minutes and my one man show incorporates stand up, piano, comedy, it used to incorporate the comedy-magic – what the hell do you do in three minutes?” he explains.
Above: The cast of Cinderella. Top: Jon Courtenay as Dandini
“It was a friend of mine who suggested that I write a song about auditioning for the show, and once he gave me the idea, I wrote the song quite quickly and then it was just a chance to perform at the Palladium.
“They were doing auditions at the Lowry, but I said no, if I’m going to do this it has to be the Palladium because that’s the home of light entertainment – I grew up watching all my heroes on that stage. So that’s the only reason I did it. I thought, so long as I don’t get buzzed off, I can say I worked the Palladium!”
Rather than get buzzed off, he actually got Ant and Dec’s golden buzzer.
“And it went madder than ever could have imagined,” he smiles.
In July last year he won best performer at the National Reality TV Awards, and this summer Jon took his solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Now he’s spending the Christmas season in panto at St Helens.
He’ll be commuting from the Courtenay family home ‘just down the road’ in Manchester, while his 17 and 11-year-old are also looking forward to seeing their dad on stage.
As for Jon himself? He’s looking forward to being part of an ensemble bringing panto cheer to St Helens families.
“In my one man show I’ve always used a lot of ad libs and spontaneity, so I’m hoping panto is going to be right up my street. We can have a lot of fun with the script.”
Cinderella is at St Helens Theatre Royal from December 3 to January 8. Tickets HERE