He tasted major success, but former G4 singer Jonathan Ansell has also seen the downside of fame. He speaks to Sarah Freeman.
Within the space of a few years Jonathan Ansell experienced the pleasure and pain of fame.
He was the one, if you remember, who led the classical boyband G4 to the X-Factor auditions in 2004, which proved a springboard to international stardom.
The foursome, who had met as students at the Guildhall School of Music toured the world, sold millions of records and were exactly the kind of nice boys mothers hope their daughters will settle down with.
“Honestly, we went to that audition with no expectations and so when success came overnight it was pretty surreal,” says Ansell, who recently moved to Leeds with his wife and young family. “I remember going back to the Guildhall for our graduation followed by a camera crew and while our teachers were always incredibly supportive, I think some of the other students thought we had somehow dumbed down.
“I don’t buy into that. Whatever you think of the show it was a great opportunity for us and when those chances come along you have to seize them.”
When G4 went their separate ways a few years later – Ansell insists they still all keep in touch – he turned to musical theatre making his debut as The Man in the Bill Kenwright touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s Whistle Down The Wind. While he might not have enjoyed quite the same high profile as he had in the G4 days life was pretty good.
However, his decision to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s televised search for a lead in a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2012 would demonstrate just how quickly celebrities can be recast from heroes to villains.
“It was a big decision to do that show. I knew I was taking a risk, but the truth is that I really wanted that part in that show. There were a lot of other established leading men who were going for it and in the end I thought that if I didn’t put myself forward, I would regret it.”
Unfortunately, the show didn’t quite pan out as he had hoped. Ansell had already landed a part in A Tale of Two Cities before going on the show. When it emerged he would have to leave that musical early if he was successfully cast in Jesus Christ Superstar, the judges, in particular Jason Donovan, and viewers turned on him. Ansell was portrayed as an egotist out for his own gain and his Twitter account was inundated with abuse.
“I won’t lie, the whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, because it made me out to be someone I’m not. Yes there was a clash, but it had been resolved.
“I know how television works and every show needs a villain and I guess that was me. Of course it wasn’t nice to read all these awful things people are saying about you and while it didn’t turn me into a recluse, it did make me more wary about going to places where I might be recognised.”
Ansell says the fall-out from the show lasted about six months, but ultimately led him to a new chapter in his career.
“I had a lot of time to think about what I really wanted to do,” he says. “I love musical theatre and I do want to go back to it some day, but the hours are not great when you have a young family.” Ansell, who has a three-year-old daughter, Siena, and another child on the way, decided that he would revive his solo career.
“It was the best thing I could have done, I feel much more the master of my own destiny. G4 was a juggernaut over which we had very little control. Now I can work my career around my family and that’s all I really ever wanted.
“I’m a great believer that you should only regret the things you don’t do, not the things you do. I went into Jesus Christ Superstar with my eyes open, but not everything you do in life can be an amazing success.”
Ansell next show, Lord of the Strings will be at The Lowry in Manchester where he is one of three singers performing with Oliver Lewis, the man dubbed the world’s fastest violinist.
“It should be a good night and for me there is nothing better than being stood on stage in front of a live audience,” says Ansell, who marked his return to solo performing with a concert at the City Varieties in Leeds where he sang a programme which ranged from Queen to Pavarotti.
“I love all music. I grew up listening to my mum’s tapes of Pavorotti and the Three Tenors. Opera is wonderful, but I know that some people find it a bit intimidating and decide it’s not for them without ever going to see one.
“One of the things I’m really keen to do with my shows is to break down those musical boundaries.
“I’ll do a rock song, I’ll sing a ballad, but I’ll also throw in some classic pieces of opera. For me being able to deliver a really varied programme is one of the real joys of performing solo. I want people to leave thinking, ‘Well, that’s something I would never have listened to before, but I really like it’.”
Aside from a bout of glandular fever when he was younger, Ansell says he has been lucky with his voice and insists that he’s not one of those singers who is too precious about his vocal chords.
“It’s like the immune system, you need to be exposed it to a few bad things so it can protect itself against them,” he says. “I drink alcohol, I eat chocolate, in fact the only thing I don’t do is eat dairy directly before a performance. I learnt the hard way that it can play havoc with your voice. But apart from that I’m just a normal guy.”
• The Yorkshire Post has teamed up with Manchester’s Lowry Hotel and the The Lord of the Strings to offer readers an exclusive deal to watch the show with an overnight stay.
Watch the concert, then spend the night in a super deluxe bedroom at the Lowry Hotel with breakfast included. The deal starts at £140 for one person, and £175 for two people sharing a room, which is more than a third off the combined price. For more information and how to book online or by telephone, call the hotel: 0161 827 4000. Promotional code is LORDOFTHESTRINGS220614