Joe Longthorne, the Hull-born singer, has just been awarded the MBE. Chris Berry goes behind the scenes to talk to one of the country’s hardest working entertainers.
He has sold out the Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House and had his own network primetime TV show which pulled in more viewers than either The X Factor or The Voice. He has sold millions of recordings and today he is working harder than ever touring theatres up and down the UK.
“I really don’t think my agent knows anything about geography,” says Joe. “One night we’re in Aberdeen, the next night we’re in Cornwall. But I’m not really complaining. I’m very fortunate to still be here, doing what I love and getting paid for it. I’ve been all around the world and now I’m finding life and performing more enjoyable than ever.”
He has played more than 100 venues a year every year since coming back from a bone marrow transplant in 2005 and shows no sign of letting up. His appetite for performing seems bigger than ever and this year he is also touring Australia for the first time in a decade and Spain. He has recently signed a deal which he hopes will bring about a long-cherished ambition to appear on the Strip in Las Vegas.
There’s sparkle in his eyes, a flashing smile and he has kept the blonde flowing locks that were his trademark during his peak in the late 80s and early 90s.
The public face of Joe Longthorne is a mix of boyish charm, star quality and a happy-go-lucky approach to life. The private Joe is a version of that combined with a faith which he has sorely needed. This is a man who has stared into the abyss more than once and then brought himself back from the brink.
He waged a constant battle with cancer (chronic lymphatic lymphoma) for more than 20 years, suffered a nervous breakdown and saw his personal fortune disappear. His brushes with death came via a bone marrow transplant that left him unconscious for three weeks and a horrific road accident which wrote off his car and left him with broken ribs and a broken nose last year.
Through it all he has continued performing for his legions of fans while at the same time raising much needed funds for a number of charities, the work for which he has been awarded the MBE. He first appeared on television in Junior Showtime when he was 14 and is modest about his honour today.
“So far as I’m concerned I have received this in recognition of my charity work. If this helps people become more aware of the hard work being carried out in Nepal, the marvellous work of the Variety Club in looking after children and the Anthony Nolan Trust then that will do for me.
“When I was in my 20s and 30s I was a rough diamond. I’d like to think I’m more polished now. I was a bit of a divvy at times but these days I’m more at ease with myself. Ask any performer and most will tell you that we usually don’t know when to stop.
“I’ve learned over the years that rest is important and making sure I eat when I need to. On tour it can be one o’clock before you’ve reached your hotel and by that time you’ve no chance of getting any hot food apart from ordering-in from a takeaway. And even that’s not possible in some towns. So I’ve started taking a slow cooker with me. It means I can have something once I’ve finished at the venue, along with a couple of beers. Then it’s bed. I won’t wake up much earlier than 2pm following the previous night’s performance.
“My usual regime when I do get up is to drink a couple of bottles of water straight away. I find that clears out the pipes and sets me on my way. Then I have something to eat, again from the slow cooker, usually a stew and watch some television. That’s how I picked up my David Dickinson’s Real Deal routine for the act.
“I exercise regularly, nothing over strenuous, maybe a half mile walk or swimming a few lengths of a pool if there is one where we are staying. If there is time in the afternoon I will gladly undertake any interviews.
“By 4.30pm I’m starting to prepare for that evening’s show. I wouldn’t say I get nervous. With me it’s more about adrenaline. I still get that adrenaline rush every time before I go on stage. It’s something that you never lose. I always knew this was where I wanted to be from being around four years old.”
He never underwent any coaching and today he performs with just one other person on stage, his musical director Andy Mudd.
He will come off stage somewhere between 10-10.30pm and meet old friends in his dressing room as he unwinds after another hour and a half of intense performance.
After about half an hour to three-quarters of an hour he will appear at the stage door to be greeted once again by an army of (mainly) women who worship him. They all want to touch him, talk to him and if they could many of them would love to take him home. He is their Joe. They just need to see him, to be in his presence. If ever there was a man who holds some kind of magical spell over his fans it is him.
He always makes time for them, realising that they have often been waiting quite a while. He laughs, shares a few kind words and makes them feel as though their wait has been worthwhile. They would stay anyway.
But it is in the time following the stage door appearance and getting to the hotel that is sometimes the most difficult period in Joe’s day. The adoring fans are gone. He’s in a car coming back down from the high of yet another standing ovation, yet more flowers – another Joe Longthorne fan trademark and invariably has miles to travel to the hotel, usually nearer to the next night’s theatre than the one he has just performed.
Cooped up in a car for long periods, particularly when you have just poured out all of the emotion that you can wring it’s no surprise that you can occasionally snap with a mixture of exhaustion and deflation. Joe is no different.
“There are times when I wish I was just back home in Blackpool. That’s where my home is. When I was down on my luck the people of this town rescued me. I have them to thank – and in particular two people, Jamie my partner and manager and Pat Mancini, who sadly passed away last year after losing her battle with cancer.
“She was a wonderful lady and great fun to be with. She came on tour with us after her husband had passed away and she ran the Queen’s Hotel on the seafront. She was known as the Queen of Blackpool. Without her’s and Jamie’s generosity and love I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Joe has played more than 100 venues a year every year since coming back from his bone marrow transplant in 2005 and he shows no sign of letting up.
His appetite for performing is bigger than ever and he is looking forward to the tours of Australia and Spain and the recently signed deal which he hopes will bring about that long-cherished ambition to appear on the Strip in Las Vegas.
“We met this lady over in the States at the beginning of the year who has looked after Jack Jones and Gloria Gaynor and she’s booking me into 2,500-seater auditoriums throughout the US.”