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John Barrowman chats about Birmingham Hippodrome panto role

Entertainment | Published:

We cut straight to the chase.

"We all know that Birmingham has the best panto in the country," says John Barrowman.

And he should know. He's featured in it twice before. And this year, he's back to feature alongside Steve McFadden (Eastenders' Phil Mitchell), The Krankies, Matt Slack and and I'd Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger. They are lining up in Dick Whittington – and, you guessed it, it's going to be the cat's whiskers.

The show opens on Monday and runs until January 29 and will pack in the biggest crowds for any panto in the West Midlands. Barrowman took his time to decide when he was asked to feature.

"I thought about it for a little while," he recalls. "Last year I took a year off. But Birmingham has wanted me back several times because I've done it twice before.

"The reason I decided to was the fact it was the right show that I wanted to do. I had to talk to my husband and my family because doing the show means I won't be home for Christmas. And it also had to fit in with my TV contract in the States."

Barrowman features in Arrow, the superhero fiction show broadcast on Sky 1, which averages around three million viewers. "The show fits in because I don't miss any episodes."

But there's something about The Second City. Barrowman loves returning to Birmingham. It's become a home-from-home. The audiences are friendly and the Hippodrome is a delightful theatre in which to work.

"I love coming back here. I love coming to do the panto but also do my own concert in Birmingham, too. There's always two nights in Brum. I find the audiences really warm and really receptive and very friendly. They are there for the same reasons as the performers – to have a great time. The energy from Birmingham crowds is always great."

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Having fun is what Barrowman does best. And it's also something he's supremely accomplished at. His work was recognised in the 2014 Birthday Honours list when he received an MBE for light entertainment and charity. Though, quite equally, his award might have been made for his services to the LGBTQ community, on whose behalf he campaigns tirelessly.

"The MBE is one of my proudest and greatest moments in my life and career. To know that you are liked and loved by others, well, there's nothing quite like it.

"Being able to share that with my mom and dad and husband was incredible. Who would have thought that one day I'd be able to take my husband to Buckingham Palace? I travel with my MBE everywhere I go. But it's funny in the States because whenever people talk about it, they think I'm part of the Royal Court."

In recent years, Barrowman has become almost as well known for his support of LGBTQ issues as he has for his performances. He's been a prominent voice in the campaign for equality. And he finds it remarkable the way things have changed during his 49 years.

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"The way things have changed in my lifetime is incredible. Finally, people are coming around to the idea that love is love and it doesn't matter who you love.

"I was raised by parents who say what you do in your bedroom is your own business. But even so, the fact we can be open is amazing. The thing that worries me most is that in the future certain people in certain Governments night want to take those human rights away.

"But we have to be supportive of other countries that still need to change. I didn't grow up in an era where sexuality was dark, necessarily, but it was hidden. I guess for the generation before it was dark. So during my time, we've been able to bring it out of the hidden places.

"Being non-apologetic about it is good, I have the attitude that if you don't like me because of it you can f*** right off. I have a lot of men and women and transgender who come up to me and say it's because of you that I can come out."

Not that Barrowman advocates everyone being as upfront and out-of-the-closet as him. For some, it's preferable to adopt a quieter approach.

"Not everybody is the same. You shouldn't drag people out of the closet. They need to do it in their own time and on their own terms. When people do it that's a great thing. It's not for us to judge or tell them to come out, but if you are in a public position and are or could be a role model then I think you should be out of the closet and standing up proud. You might encourage people to come out and be more proud of who they are. We have a lot of teens who are still taking their own lives because they are bullied."

Though Barrowman will celebrate his 50th birthday next year, he's still learning and continuing to improve.

"When I come into a project, I know that there's always something new, no matter how long you are in this business and no matter how old you get. You can still learn something from somebody.

"Having that attitude makes it easier to get along with people."

It also helps Barrowman to keep his feet on the floor.

"You have to bring an element of fun into life," he adds. And that's what he's been doing throughout his career for millions the world over.

By Andy Richardson

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