Perhaps it is entirely appropriate that John Barrowman’s introduction to live stage performance was when (he reckons that he’d have been around seven or eight years old) he was taken to a performance of Peter Pan in one of Glasgow’s gloriously traditional theatres, and he was completely bowled over at the spectacle of the eponymous hero flying over his head as he sat in the auditorium.
With great respect to Barrowman, now 52 and the youngest of three children, he’d be ever-so-slightly chancing it if he announced that he’d be playing Peter these days, but it must have crossed his mind at some point or other that, today, he’d make the most wonderful Captain Hook.
Think of it – dash of menace, endearing and very plausible smile, charm in abundance, and not a little unpredictability. Casting perfection.
There are also other factors in the formation of his career. His mum – before the family emigrated to the United States – was a singer, and also used to help run a well-known Glasgow record shop, where they could either take the record to a booth, to listen to it in private, or ask if the proprietor’s son could belt it out for them from the shop counter.
When they made their big move (John’s father was a high-flying business executive) it was, as Barrowman admits today, “a huge culture shock”. For starters, he discovered that there were dozens of TV channels to be enjoyed.
“Not like Glasgow, where we had only three, and they all shut down at about 10pm,” he says.
“Then, one evening in Illinois I flicked the TV on (my own TV, in my own bedroom), and there for a ‘midnight matinee’ and in glorious black and white, was a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers movie. What an eye-opener! If anything was a ‘lightbulb moment’, then that was it! I realised that was what I wanted to do, and I’ve never wanted to do anything else”.
Joliet, “a quintessentially middle-class conservative town”, as Barrowman describes it, was not “a hotbed of artistic endeavour”.
However, he says his high school music and English teachers changed the future course of his life. “Chances are that without the support that I received in high school I’d not be appearing in the West End, on Broadway, or be in the line-up at Royal Command performances.”
His dad wanted to make sure that his youngest son remained grounded and arranged that he had a senior school job that involved shovelling coal for the Illinois power company.
It shows that a work ethic was drummed into him from an early age and now, many years on and an established star on both sides of the Atlantic, he is still self-effacing. “I genuinely cannot believe that I have done the number of shows that I have, and the calibre of those shows. I am living the dream.”
Today, it all sounds so simple and matter of fact, but Barrowman’s climb up the ladder was a long hard slog, interwoven with flashes of being in precisely the right place at exactly the right time.
In his case it was an open call for a new production of tune-packed Anything Goes. Elaine Paige was the star. Barrowman got the role of Billy Crocker. And he has never looked back.
Paige remains a devoted friend. “One of the things about John”, she reflects, “is that he always gives himself 100 per cent. There is no ‘second best’. When he’s on, he’s on ‘full power’, there is no ‘switch down mode.’”
Which is why he is a good choice to head what could become a dazzling new festive tradition. The eight-date tour - John Barrowman – a Fabulous Christmas - begins this month and follows the success of his sell-out summer shows. It celebrates his 30 years on stage and screen and also neatly coincides with the release of his new album.
He’s certainly a busy man at the moment. UK audiences supported him as he made the final three in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me out of Here last year, and he’s recently been announced as the new judge for Dancing on Ice.
Plus there’s the new album. “It’s been great to get back into the studio recording new Christmas tracks,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve put together a full album of Christmas and festive music for what I honestly think is the most special time of the year.”
For Barrowman, the countdown to Christmas has already started. “For me it’s about family, friends, celebrating the birth of a child, and basically coming together and enjoying people’s company. Everybody talks about presents, but my favourite time is Christmas morning after all the presents have been opened, having brunch, relaxing and playing games,” he says.
“I have to fit music into Christmas, and that starts on Christmas Eve. We have all the Christmas songs on, line up bottles of Champagne – from the most expensive to the cheapest, and by the time we get to the less expensive ones, well, they all taste exactly the same anyway,” he says, laughing.
Tradition plays a big part in his plans. “Prior to last year, Christmas has always been spent at my cousin’s in Dunblane. When I’ve been working in panto you only really get Christmas Day off, so there’s not much chance to travel too far. Last year was the first time in many years where I’ve actually been at home with family in the States for Christmas, and that’s where we’ll be this year.”
And it’s a fair bet that the Barrowman home in Palm Springs looks pretty snazzy at this time of year? “Absolutely. My house gets decorated to the hilt; pilots could mistake our house for a runway!”
Before then, he’s heading to Yorkshire and a first visit to Harrogate. “I’ve never been before, but I’ve played a lot of shows in Yorkshire and it will be wonderful as the people there are so welcoming and warm. I can’t wait to bring our festivities to them. And I’m also making up for an omission – I missed out on Sheffield for my 30th anniversary tour earlier this year - so it’s great to be going there for Christmas. That is always a very special audience. The ‘feel’ that you get from them is unique.
“It’s going to be totally Christmassy,” he says of the show. “I’ve written a letter to Santa to see if ‘Mr and Mrs Claus’ are able to come along. Scott [his partner] will be there again, on the merchandise stall, and on stage at some point.
“I hope to integrate mum and dad into it – which will be quite exciting... I hope.”
John Barrowman – A Fabulous Christmas is out on Nov 29 on Decca Records. John Barrowman, A Fabulous Christmas, Harrogate Convention Centre, Dec 6; Sheffield City Hall, Dec 12. Tickets are on sale now from www.cuffeandtaylor.com.