Peter Andre’s latest role sees him take to the stage in a new production of Grease The Musical, which has just opened at the Grand Theatre in Leeds.
However, rather than it being a departure from the pop career that made him famous, it’s actually a return to his performing roots.
“At school that’s what I studied. I excelled in drama but funnily enough I failed in music because that was theory-based and I just wasn’t very good at that. But I did well at the practical side of drama and theatre was how I first started out, it just wasn’t something that I followed. So for me this is like going back to the beginning,” he says.
This new all-singing and all-dancing production of Grease - the first in 25 years - has been choreographed by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips and sees Peter sharing acting duties with another Strictly star, Ore Oduba.
They play Teen Angel - a role made famous in the much-loved 1978 film by Frankie Avalon. As it turns out, Peter is a big fan of the film. “It’s a really good part, though I never realised just how good – in the film it seemed one of the less interesting roles. But actually this production is much closer to the original script and when I saw the first run through I was blown away, it’s really something special.”
Peter Andre became a pop sensation in this country when Mysterious Girl became a hit single in 1996. As well as having a successful music career he’s become a public figure through appearances on TV shows such as I’m a Celebrity…Get me Out of Here! and Strictly Come Dancing.
His story, though, is not what you might expect. He grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast after his parents, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, moved there from the UK when he was six. It sounds idyllic but it wasn’t without its challenges. “We were pretty much the only ethnics in the area. We couldn’t have stood out more,” he says.
“My parents were very strict and very religious and people say it must have been horrible not having birthdays or celebrating Christmas, but actually there was so much love in our family that we didn’t notice we were missing out on anything. You only miss things you’ve experienced, if you’ve never experienced it then you don’t know. So I don’t regret it and I respect what we grew up believing. Now when I celebrate Christmas I do that through my kids’ eyes and it’s wonderful so I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out.”
Love of music
It was while growing up Down Under that his love of music was forged. “I used to listen to soul records by people like The Jacksons, Stevie Wonder and all the Motown greats, as well as funk and disco. I turned to it because predominantly where I grew up there was a lot of heavy rock music on the radio stations which at the time I couldn’t really relate to. So I used to dream about being on stage and doing what The Four Tops did. Watching people like Jackie Wilson and Smokey Robinson made me want to be a singer.”
The first album he bought was Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and this, too, left a lasting impression on him. “I’d never heard a sound like it before, the vocals and the quality of the production was outstanding. I bought it with my pocket money and I remember putting it on the record player and I was mesmerised.”
He pored over song lyrics and mimicked the moves of stars like Elvis Presley. “I became insular so I listened to this music constantly. If you imagine someone learning a speech, well I learned every lyric and every inflection of so many of these artists. I had a picture on my wall of Stevie Wonder, Elvis and Michael Jackson. I used to look at the Elvis poster, close my eyes and picture I was him and then I’d open my eyes and perform in front of the mirror. Then I’d do the same with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. This music just connected with me.”
These musical influences extended to his own songs. “A lot of the stuff I’ve released is poppy and some of them aren’t the cleverest of lyrics. However, on the flip side, people who only know me through songs like Mysterious Girl think that’s the only stuff we did, but some of the songs we wrote were with soul singers like Brian McKnight and the Fugees, they just weren’t the ones that got released [as singles]. But I had huge success with those pop songs and I’m very grateful for that, but my heart was always in soul music.”
Peter was a big star in Australia in the early 90s, during which time he toured with the likes of Madonna and won a string of music awards, before making his name in the UK.
I’m A Celebrity
His celebrity status reached a new level of scrutiny following his time in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity.
It’s hard for most people to imagine what this would be like and the effects it has on someone. “In this industry you have your peak moments and I first had that in the late 90s, selling out arenas and doing world tours. Then when I went into the jungle [for I’m A Celebrity...] and came out it was a completely different kind of interest. The first time round it was fan-based and the second time it was media-based.”
He admits that he found the pressure hard to handle at times during his career. “It first happened to me after the tours in the 90s. I had a terrible breakdown and spent time in therapy. I hit rock bottom and I didn’t know why, because life was good.
“This is the thing with mental health and depression, people might look at you and think ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ But it’s a chemical imbalance and sometimes you don’t know how to handle certain pressures, or it can be that other things are making you miserable. I think people have become aware that this is a real issue, but I suffered at a time when you suffered in silence,” he says.
He recovered but fell into depression again after the death of his brother from cancer seven years ago. “I fell into the same hole I’d fallen into and had to go back on medication and into therapy.”
Peaks and troughs
Now, though, the 46-year-old feels better equipped to deal with life’s slings and arrows. “I’ve had peaks and troughs all my life, but I now I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life. Some people feel like they’ve discovered themselves in their 30s, I feel like that in my 40s. I’ve got the same hunger, but I’m more patient and I’m more thick skinned.
“As you get older you realise you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and as long as you can accept that, and understand it, then you’ll be more balanced as a result,” he says.
“I’m going to make mistakes along the way and succeed at some things and not at others, but once you accept that it helps you to do better and also to be more happy and content, because you’ve got to be happy and content with what’s going on in your life.
“My focus now isn’t about being a star or getting another number one, it’s about what I can do for my kids and my family.”
Grease The Musical is at Leeds Grand Theatre, until July 20. For tickets call: 0844 848 2700 or go to leedsgrandtheatre.com