Stephanie Mackentyre meets English musical theatre and television actor Lee Mead
Lee Mead, currently the recipient of rave reviews for his portrayal of Caractacus Potts in the critically acclaimed West Yorkshire Playhouse national tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, returns to the stage this autumn with his solo tour, Some Enchanted Evening. His show, which features music from Lee’s most recent top twenty bestselling album of the same name, sees the multi-talented performer fulfil a personal ambition to perform a show of classic songs from the Hollywood musicals. Lee shot to fame after winning the TV show ‘Any Dream Will Do’ in 2007. The talent show-themed television series produced by the BBC searched for a new, unknown lead to play Joseph in a West End revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The show was hosted by Graham Norton, who announced Lee Mead as the winner of the final public telephone vote on 9 June 2007.
“I was in Phantom in the chorus with a year’s contract and I was understudying the part of Raoul. Previous to that, I’d also been in Miss Saigon and The Who’s, Tommy. I remember it was the Saturday matinee and I was sitting in my dressing room, eating the tuna pasta I’d made that morning. I was watching Graham Norton on TV, saying ‘Could you be the next Joseph?’ I learnt there were going to be open auditions nationwide. There are certain defining moments in your life and that was one of them. I just felt so compelled to do the audition. I watched him and I thought ‘yes, I could do that.’ It was like a beacon guiding me and I felt it was for me. Ten thousand men auditioned across the country and Lee queued for four hours to get through just the first round in Covent Garden. “I sang the chorus of a song acapella, and I got through. By chance, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were elsewhere in the building. The producer told me I was through to the next round but asked if I would mind singing for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. She said, ‘I think you have something quite special.’ I could have just come back the next day like all the rest but I thought, ‘No it’s the chance to be seen by the creators of the show.’ I hoped I could get on their radar. I walked down a long corridor, and at the end there was a room with TV cameras, but no music. I sung Anthem from the musical Chess which Tim Rice actually wrote. It was a very scary moment but they let me sing the whole song. They usually stop you about one minute in. Tim Rice said ‘It’s a shame we’re not casting Chess at the moment.’ I think that impromptu performance made them keep an eye out for me and the rest is history.
Since that time, Lee has continued to work tirelessly in both musicals, including Wicked and Legally Blonde before gaining a coveted role in the long-running BBC1 drama Casualty playing the character of Lofty. I asked him what drives his hunger to succeed “I don’t think it’s a very attractive quality to be too driven. I very much care about what I do, and seizing the moment is what I believe in. Primarily, it’s about working hard.” Lee comes from a working class background, his father was a postman and his mum was a cleaner. He had dreams of Rada and Guildhall in London so applied for grants and scholarships. “I got a local grant for a college in Southend but I left early, before I graduated.” He also spent any spare money on acting lessons at the weekends in London. “I also had a really good singing teacher there.” His first job was with P&O cruise ferries as an entertainer. “I got £220 per week. The conditions weren’t great. I actually got food poisoning from the Crew Mess! My cabin was a box, just five feet by five feet and I had to wash my own costumes.” On his only day off he would travel back and forth to audition for musicals. “I travelled from Portsmouth to Manchester for the chorus of Mamma Mia but I was turned away. I think when you’ve had to work your way up the hard way you learn to never give up. I had friends who were training as accountants and were already earning £30,000 a year in the City. Here I was at twenty thinking, am I better off just getting a regular job? I believe it’s about finding something within yourself which makes you keep going. From a very early age I had a very strong belief in my ability, what I had to offer – and not in an egotistical way. Fortunately, I never did give up.”Buy Now