JANUARY The year started as 2013 ended... with Lee on stage (right) in Plymouth wielding bow and sword rather magnificently as Robin Hood. Panto being panto, he also found time for a little light elephant-riding, ditty-singing, spider-slaying and damsel-rescuing... not to mention resisting his fellow cast members' best efforts to make him corpse while he was in fact, though happily only for a short time, a corpse!
The five-week run received fabulous reviews and finally came to an end on 25 January, having played host not only to hordes of local theatre goers but to Lee's fans from all over the country and even beyond its borders. Some even went more than once... can you believe that! At least one is known still to burst spontaneously into 'the spider song' whenever any random object reminds her of "this sword in my hand"... you know who you are ;-)
FEBRUARY There was no rest for Lee in February as he was back on the Casualty set the day after panto ended - adjusting from panto voice to Lofty must have been something of a challenge! - but it was a quiet month for his fans, disturbed only by a flurry of press activity once the screening date of his first Casualty episode was confirmed on 12 February.
MARCH That episode aired on 1 March, accompanied by more press, and with three further episodes in March, the delights of a regular TV role were fast becoming apparent to Lee's fans!
But back to the first... Lee made quite an entrance, earning his character the nickname Lofty in the process! While that particular plot device may have been more than a tad far-fetched, the writers clearly knew what they were doing when they contrived to have Lee topless within minutes of appearing on screen! Happily they have also crafted a character with rather more about him than a great set of pecs and one of the joys of 2014 has been seeing that character gradually emerge.
Towards the end of the month came news of Lee's 2014 panto role - less swash-buckling, more romancing as he takes on Prince Charming in Cinderella. And finally, a guest appearance (right) at the Hippodrome Casino gig of his good friend, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, introduced us to a brilliant, and very funny, double act that was to feature many more times later in the year!
APRIL brought us three more episodes of Casualty, the first two with only fleeting glimpses of Lofty, but the last the 'puppy episode' we had been eagerly anticipating since Lee had tweeted pics of said puppy during filming several months earlier.
But there was also much music and more than a little chat... starting at the Regent Hall, where Lee joined the International Staff Songsters of the Salvation Army at their Choral Spectacular - memorable to me for a fabulous rendition of a song we hadn't heard for some time, 'Love Changes Everything', and a wonderfully heart-warming 'Any Dream Will Do' for which Lee brought his daughter, Betsy, down to join the children's choir sharing the stage with him.
A week later Lee was in Berkshire entertaining the residents of Littlecote House - his first Warners' Star Break featured both a Q&A (left) and a slightly cut-down version of his full concert set.
As the start of his concert tour drew enticingly nearer, there were also some great radio interviews - 'In Conversation' with Steve Allen on LBC, with the ever-lovely Beverley Humphreys on BBC Wales and culminating in a fabulous live session for BBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday.
MAY Lee's 2014 UK tour kicked off on what is now 'home-from-home turf' for Lee at the Sherman Cymru in Cardiff (right) - the first of twelve dates, it set the bar mighty high for those that followed. All the usual elements that make a Meady gig so special were there in abundance - the song choices were quite literally 'music to my ears' and I particularly loved the arrangements, stripped back and simple, allowing Lee's glorious and expressive voice full rein.
With tour promo ratcheting up, there were a few radio interviews and some local press coverage, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet month, with Lee's panto filming break having finally filtered its way through to the broadcast schedule, removing Lofty from our screens for the duration.
There was one TV appearance though, a return visit to the National Lottery, though sadly it was on button-pushing duty only this time, no performance.
JUNE At either end of the month were Lee's next two tour dates - Barnstaple on the 1st and Yeovil on the 29th - the irrepressible and super-talented Stephen Rahman-Hughes joining Lee for both. Meanwhile, tour promo continued with a number of press articles and two local radio interviews, the first in particular, for BBC Radio Bristol, is well worth a listen.
While in the middle there was Lofty! Returned (left) from his banishment to the Minor Injuries Unit (aka the Theatre Royal, Plymouth), he was also reunited with his Joseph Narrator, Preeya Kalidas, playing one of his patients. Featured on the periphery of a couple of storylines in this first June episode, Lee's involvement in the next two grew ever more fleeting, though now he has mastered some of the basic multi-tasking skills needed (walking alongside a fast-moving trolley while holding a conversation and avoiding obstacles springs to mind!), he is beginning to look very at home in the ED.
JULY for Lee kicked off in my own backyard with a flying visit to Warwick School for their Commemoration Festival. The following week he joined Gaby Roslin on her BBC London show, a visit first mooted following his appearance on the National Lottery earlier in the year. Anticipating an interview, it was a delight to find that not only was Lee in the studio for the whole 3 hour programme but that he was singing live... starting with a stunning version of Hallelujah that blew the metaphorical socks off those present in the studio.
Lee featured in both of the last two episodes of Casualty before it went off air for the Commonwealth Games - still waiting for some meatier storylines for him, but glad to see him now very much part of the fabric of the ED.
But there was yet more... a very relaxed, slightly tipsy even, guest appearance at Stephen Rahman-Hughes's gig at the Pheasantry, which was a complete joy, and his own concert in Hayes (above right), the proximity of which to London had attracted a truly international crowd, acknowledged by Lee both on Twitter and from the stage.
AUGUST Busy month, August - lots of radio, lots of Casualty, a little press, several concerts and even drenchings - so let's start at the beginning!
Radio... first, a somewhat surreal interview on BBC Radio Wales during which Lee and Wynne Evans 'workshopped' Casualty the Musical... second, a lively chat with Mark Carter for BBC Radio Surrey & Sussex and third, early promo for Lee's 'home gig' in October with two Southend radio interviews, including a lovely, wide-ranging chat with Tony Fisher on BBC Essex.
Concerts - two of Lee's, a near sell-out in Horsham and later in the week a return to Guildford's G Live, where the concert was preceded by a live Q&A (left) with Eagle Radio presenter Lewis Mason and the guest line-up included one-off appearances from Preeya Kalidas and Norton James, and finally a surprise and somewhat last-minute appearance at Daniel Boys' cabaret at the Delfont Room, where they sang an all male duet of 'As Long As You're Mine' that I never thought I'd see!
Oh and drenchings... I was going to correct that to the singular, but am reminded that Lee did indeed endure two buckets of iced water for his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - I was never sure whether the double bucketing was a self-imposed penalty for his slightly delayed response to the challenge or the result of the multiple nominations he'd received, but I admire his fortitude either way!
SEPTEMBER brought the first of two 'best newcomer' award nominations, this for the TV Times Awards (right) - it was his second 'newcomer' nod from the TV Times, the first following Any Dream Will Do, and recognised the change of arena for him from musical theatre to TV drama.
There was also some great radio - particularly this interview with Bridget Metcalfe for BBC Essex; lots of press covering all aspects of Lee's current work schedule - the forthcoming Southend gig, his Casualty role and his third panto stint; and three Casualty episodes, featuring two strong storylines for Lee on the 20th and 27th - it's taken a while, but I very much like where the writers and producers are taking Lofty now and very much hope the journey continues.
And finally, there was a fabulous concert at Newtown in the very heart of Wales - the reactions of two friends in my party go some way to conveying just how good it was... one, who has seen Lee live many, many times who thought Newtown was "by far the best I have heard him sing since the very beginning of this journey" and another, who was seeing Lee live for the first time since Joseph, and who could only be described as completely 'Mead-mushed' afterwards!
OCTOBER The momentum of the last couple of busy months continues, with Lee's second TV award nomination, this time for the prestigious National Television Awards for which the final shortlist will be announced shortly, and staying on the acting theme, four episodes of Casualty with strong, if not always central, storylines for Lofty.
On the music side, much of the extensive press coverage was tour-related, as were the two radio interviews - one, a very relaxed chat with Phil Kennedy for BBC Berkshire, and the second, a fast-flowing chatty interview with Jay Curtis for Radio Ceredigion. Finally, two concerts which I'll cover in reverse order - a guest appearance at Bobby Davro's charity Gala Spectacular show, in which he sang the best version of 'Bring Him Home' I have ever heard, from Lee or anyone else, and last but the very opposite of least, Lee's home-town gig in Southend (left - credit Anne Stern) on the 5th, which by Lee's own admission, was the 'big night' of the tour for him, notwithstanding the amazing Christmas finale still to come.
NOVEMBER There is no slowing down for Lee (or his fans!) as the year nears its end - Lofty featured in all four Casualty episodes aired in the month with strong storylines in two of them and more peripheral involvement in the other two. The first, in particular, was a real joy to watch as Lee gave a beautifully pitched performance. The results of the TV Times Awards were also announced... Lee was runner-up to six-year-old Amelia Flanagan from Emmerdale, with the fabulous James Norton, who played psychopath Tommy Lee Royce to great acclaim in one of the drama highlights of the year, Happy Valley, in third.
Good press coverage continued, with panto now starting to make its presence on the horizon felt, while the tour drove further local radio exposure with interviews on BBC 3CR and Dream FM ahead of concerts in their respective areas. Concerts, plural... THREE of them in a month, what treasure! First west, a little further west, then west a bit more, to Aberystwyth, before heading back to High Wycombe and finally as far east as the tour has been to Clacton (right), where the audience were in as fantastic form as Lee himself and the result was a totally magical evening.
DECEMBER And so we come to December, but still an embarassment of riches to enjoy...
- The final two Casualty episodes of the year, and who can resist Lee, sorry... Lofty, in a reindeer onesie! But though the show was off air for three weeks over Christmas, the Beeb did release two great videos - a combined trailer/review/blooper reel, the latter part of which had me laughing out loud, and their Christmas Croon, featuring cast, crew, creatives and a plastic reindeer!
- Lots of largely panto-related press both before and after its opening weekend and press night at Cardiff's New Theatre. It comes as no surprise that Lee makes a perfect Prince Charming and he is working with a great cast. It's a real joy to hear time and time again from locals who go to the panto there every year that this is the best they've seen in years.
- The grand finale of Lee's sensational 2014 tour - his utterly brilliant Christmas show at the Garrick on the 7th... a happier, more laughter-filled show I cannot remember. What a wonderful note to end the tour on.
If you've listened to the show, you'll know I was one of a number of fans approached at the Garrick to say a few words about why they support him. Put on the spot, I hope my words were at least lucid, but they were (as requested) brief and there is more I wish I'd had time and presence of mind to say... fortunately I get to say it here! I stand by my comments that Lee is a very special performer who gives his all every time he takes to the stage, but would add that it has been a joy and a privilege to watch his career grow over these past seven years. A career not gifted to him by a TV competition, but rather one founded in the talent that carried him through that competition, the hard work he has put in both before and since to nurture and develop that talent and the self-belief to take risks in pursuit of his dreams. And while not itself a reason for supporting Lee, the many good friends made along the way are an unexpected and delightful bonus of doing so... much-valued friendships which now extend far beyond the boundaries of 'Lee-world' and for which I shall always be grateful to him.
Writing this piece reminds me that as we went into 2014 we had little idea of how much we would see of Lee during the year, but we were treated to a positive plethora of Meady goodness. At the outset of 2015 we are in a similar position, and the early months of it may indeed be quiet, but with a promised fourth album provisionally scheduled for release in the summer and an accompanying tour likely to kick off around the same time, I am confident the Timeline will soon start filling up again! In the meantime, I wish you all a year blessed with good health and happiness, love and laughter, and look forward to finding out where and when we'll be meeting next!
First published: 1 January 2015