Lee Mead has come a long way since winning Any Dream Will Do back in 2007 - he celebrated that with his fabulous 10 Year Anniversary tour last year - but his story started long before that and in his 2019 tour My Story : A Dream That Became A Reality, which kicked off last weekend with two shows in Halifax and Blackburn, he takes us back to the very beginning.
There has always been an element of chat in Lee's shows - actively engaging with his audience is, I think, as essential a part of HIS enjoyment of a show as it is for those watching - but this time he has taken that a huge stride further. In conversation with BBC broadcaster, singer and good friend, Beverley Humphreys, Lee talks frankly and openly about his life growing up and since, sharing the experiences and choices that have shaped the man he is today.
And today, that man is in a very good place, both personally and professionally, so it's fundamentally a good news story, with humour never far away in the re-telling. Not that Lee shies away from more difficult memories ... I found it refreshing to hear a 'star' relating stories that will be all too familiar to many listening - being bullied at school, struggling to get a foot on the ladder of his chosen career, a marriage break-up - talking not with resentment but with acceptance that life comes with a level of strife, and showing an inner steel that may come as a surprise to some. I put 'star' in inverted commas ... he is very much that in my eyes, but he is also as unstarry as you can get. There's a reason so many of the people he comes into contact with professionally refer to him as "the nicest man in showbiz".
Some of those people feature in the show, people who've been there at pivotal moments in Lee's life, whose encouragement and influence enabled him to see where he wanted to go and helped him get there. The big screen on which they appear is used to good effect, with VTs to introduce both halves of the show as well as these contributions from those who knew Lee as a teenager, as a young man taking his first steps in the business, and more recently as he's expanded his horizons into television as Lofty in BBC dramas Casualty and Holby City.
Lee and Beverley Humphreys first met during the promotional radio tour for his second album Nothing Else Matters, released in early 2009 just after he finished his 18 month run in Joseph and, as they tell us during the show, they clicked immediately. Lee freely admits he couldn't have done this show with anyone other than Beverley and it's clear there's a mutual trust that enables them to take the risks that are necessary to make it really come alive. Because she doesn't give him an easy ride ... she's a probing interviewer who has always got the best from him in her interviews for BBC Wales and does so again live on stage.
But the show is far from being all talk ... I can't imagine Lee ever being on a stage with a microphone and not singing! The songs he's chosen to illustrate his story (and I use the word 'illustrate' deliberately - if ever a man painted a picture with words, it's Lee) take us back to earlier times - his first school and amateur productions, his 'last-ditch' (happily successful!) audition before packing it all in, his first West End role - then on to later times with medleys from Joseph and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and nods to the highs and lows in his personal life, a delicious blend of humour and emotion, of hope and triumph.
With just a grand piano as accompaniment (his musical director, Adam Dennis, at the keys for the majority of the tour, though Michael Riley stepped in on Sunday in Blackburn and will again in Horsham), Lee somehow grows in stature as he strolls across the stage to the mic, stills, breathes, then starts to sing. For all his eloquence and openness when talking to Beverley, for me it is when he sings that he is most expressive. He can move me to tears as easily as he can make me snort with laughter - and he does both, more than once, in this show!
The first night in Halifax brought a few technical gremlins with reluctant VTs, fixed the following night in Blackburn, but any momentary discomfort the audience may have felt on Lee's behalf was more than compensated for by the extra content they alone enjoyed before some necessary cuts were made to bring the overall run-time back in line with the venues' expectations - Lee may talk of meeting Ken Dodd but, as yet, hasn't adopted his 'open all hours' style! He has, however, heeded the advice he was given by the legendary comic when their paths crossed during one of his earliest jobs at the Bridlington Spa Theatre ... "it's never about you, it's about the audience". As an audience member, I thank Sir Ken for the advice and Lee for living it every time he steps on stage.
I've deliberately avoided giving you detail of the stories or mentioning specific songs - this show is one I believe you should see unfold before you, but for those who really can't wait (or sadly can't get to a show), here's the opening weekend setlist ... it may well change! Indeed I look forward to seeing how the show as a whole evolves over the next nine months.
The My Story tour continues with two or three (occasionally more) shows a month through to November - next up are Felixstowe and Horsham on 23 and 24 March respectively - and tickets are on sale now. Dates, venue info and booking links are here.
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) is at CONCERT & LIVE EVENTS