It seems an unlikely career move, but can Chris Moyles make the switch from radio to the stage? Nick Ahad catches up with the Leeds-born star on tour.
Chris Moyles has a reputation that precedes him. Obviously. So when he responds, more than a little sarcastically, to the pleasantry, “you look really well”, with “there’s no need to sound so surprised, what do you mean I look really well? Thanks very much,”the signs are not good.
Fortunately, the reputation that precedes Moyles – several interviewers have found him a little on the spiky side – is, after an hour in his company really quite undeserved.
He’s funny, as the millions of fans of his radio show already know, irreverent and, what might come as news, shy and really quite humble.
His image is partly his own creation. At the end of the interview as he goes outside for a cigarette he remembers an interview a few years ago he did with the Yorkshire Post’s sister newspaper the Yorkshire Evening Post in which he admits he was “probably being a bit ‘rock star’.”
Moyles is in a Manchester hotel and that night will perform to thousands as King Herod in the arena tour of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
“Before we started I was really nervous about being nervous for the first few shows,” he says. “I’ve always said that I just want to get to show 12, then I think I’ll be able to relax a bit.”
It’s now show seven.
“The first night I was petrified – and I’m not very good at dealing with nerves.”
Chris Moyles, the self-styled Saviour of Radio One, the man whose forthright opinions, broadcast to record-breaking millions, often got him in trouble, the man who complained about his wage live on air, is “not very good at dealing with nerves?”
“I don’t mind a little bit of excited nerves. If you’re nervous and you have to talk you can hide it, you can hide your hands if they’re shaking, but if you’re singing you can’t really hide it,” he says.
As he talks, Moyles crosses his arms and buries his hands into his armpits. He suddenly looks intensely vulnerable.
The reason, perhaps, he is nervous today lies in why he is here. As a radio DJ, whatever your opinion of him, there was no doubting his success. You don’t get listener figures like his without being pretty close to the top of your game. Today he’s being interviewed as Chris Moyles, the stage performer.
Eyebrows were raised six months ago when it was announced that Lloyd Webber would be touring his rock musical to arenas with a cast that included comedian-musician Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot, Spice Girl Mel C as Mary Magdalene, Moyles as Herod and Ben Forster, who the British public chose via a reality TV show, in the title role.
Minchin and Forster, who are also at the interview, at least have stage time behind them. The theatre intelligentsia could forgive Lloyd Webber for casting them, but Moyles?
“I sat with Andrew after he asked me to do it. He called me and I said that if I was going to do it then I wouldn’t want Herod to be as camp as he is in the movie version. He said, ‘Come and have a cup of tea,’ and I said to him, ‘Look, I’m very excited and bemused that you would even think of me for this role. I really don’t know why you’ve chosen me’,” says Moyles.
“His reply was ‘Well everybody thought I cast Frank Spencer in Phantom’. If you think about it, he’s got a reputation for doing this sort of thing. He cast Jason Donovan from Neighbours as Joseph, then Philip Schofield from kids’ TV in the same role.
“Taking people and thinking about them in a totally different way for things is something he’s really good at.
“I just decided that I was going to do the best possible job that I can.”
At this point Minchin, who recently wrote the songs for the West End hit Matilda, interjects. While Ben Forster is the newest of the cast to the show business, he and Minchin clearly feel an almost brotherly sense of protection towards Moyles.
Minchin says: “Clearly Chris hasn’t had a lot of stage time, but that first night he got up on stage in front of 12,000 people and…it’s interesting because there are people who love an audience and people who crumble.
“ Although it’s a different type of audience, he’s been speaking to millions of people every morning for years. That first night he lit up and was like 20 per cent better than he’d ever done it in rehearsal. It was like (he says directly to Moyles) even though you were nervous, that first night you were like, ‘Oh, hello audience’.”
Moyles seems buoyed by his fellow cast member’s compliment.
“It did click in that first night. It was hard work, first of learning the words, the learning how to sing, then learning the choreography.
“I kept thinking about getting on stage during the performance thinking about ‘walk two steps, turn to camera, say this line, walk further down’, but it has seemed to click.
“I’m getting more relaxed about it, until I hear the first part of the music and then I start to get nervous about going on again.”
When he was taking part in the TV search for a lead to play Jesus, Forster says the other auditionees heard rumours about who would be joining the lucky one chosen to play the part on stage.
“The TV show was a terrifying, nerve-wracking experience and because it was on every night, you never got a chance to relax,” he says.
“Then when we started hearing that people like Tim would be playing Judas and Mel C was going to be in the show, it made it feel more real.
“The TV show was terrifying, but being on stage every night is my prize. Tonight when I go on stage, that’s my prize.”
For Forster it may be his prize, but there were plenty who were less impressed with the idea of a DJ taking a part in a stage musical.
The knives were out even before the show started and since the curtain went up, one national newspaper has given the production a one star review – although there have also been many, many others in which the show is highly praised.
“Concerned about the reviews? They don’t affect me at all. I’ve got nothing to lose because everyone thought it was a bizarre choice for me to do this and be asked. Lots of people had an opinion,” he says.
“A lot of people thought it was sacrilege disgraceful and out of order that the gobby bloke off the radio which they’d never listened to should walk into this part. I had nothing to lose if I went in and was c**p.
“Everyone who doesn’t like me would have said ‘Well, he’s c**p,’ if they thought I was good, albeit it reluctantly, they would have said, ‘He wasn’t bad I suppose,’ so I don’t really care what the critics say I’ve got nothing to lose.
“Now that I’m engulfed in the whole show, I care what people’s perception of it is, and people love it, so that’s great.”
The way’s he’s talking, it’s all happiness, positivity and light. Given that he recently finished a radio show which was such a huge part of his life, is it not a little odd to be doing something so different, so soon? And what are his plans for the future – will we be seeing a lot more of Chris Moyles on the stage?
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I really wasn’t looking forward to the radio show finishing, it was my ambition since I was a child to present that show and now it’s over,” he says.
“We were a little family on the breakfast show but, at the risk of sounding completely over the top and sentimental, being in this is like having a whole new family to play with.
“I’ve got an album coming out soon, then a little tour of the radio show live and then next year I have absolutely nothing in the diary – which is really exciting in a crazy, ridiculous way.
“I have an opportunity now where I can go off and try some new things.
“I think by the end of this (tour) I will have gotten away with it, so next year I will have a whole year to decide what I want to do.
“I’ve suddenly become a glass half full person.”
Jesus Christ Superstar is at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena, October 20 and 21. 0114 256 5656, www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk
Musical takes leap of faith
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice.
Based loosely on the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’s life, it was first staged on Broadway in 1971.
The premiere received mixed reviews with the New York Times describing it as a “heartless overhyped production.” Some Christian groups went further branding the show “blasphemous.”
It fared better in the West End, with the 1972 production starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus becoming the UK’s longest running musical at the time.
A film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1973, and was the eighth highest-grossing film of that year.