The idea behind Superstar, the ITV1 primetime show, which like ALW’s previous five TV shows on the BBC (from How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? to Over the Rainbow) is to get the public to help decide who will play the leading role, alongside a panel of live show judges led by Lloyd Webber. Amanda Holden is presenting and confirmed judges include Jason Donovan and Dawn French – “She’s everybody’s favourite vicar so I thought we’d better just ask.” ALW says that we might well see Gary Barlow come on board, too.
“What I really, really want to do is to sit down with everyone and say, ‘There are certain reality-show clichés and I think we ought to have a gong system.’ It’ll gong us out if anyone says, ‘You’ve had a fantastic journey’ or ‘Although you’ve lost, I’m sure we’re going to hear from you again,’” he laughs.
It’s unfortunate for the feel-good factor that Tim Rice has made some much-reported disobliging remarks about the TV show, calling it “tasteless” and “tacky” and threatening to veto the winning contestant. Oh dear.
Naturally, this is fascinating stuff since both men own the rights to the show. But this is one subject where the Lord can exercise discretion: “I’ve said that I will not comment on what Tim Rice has said and the only comment I will make is that we have six girls starring in the West End right now [from the TV shows]... all kids who have actually, genuinely, got big careers now on the back of the BBC.”
Have you talked since he made those comments? “Well, we’ve been on stage twice together since then.” So have you made up? “I’m not even going there.” But he has to agree to what you do with the show? “Yes, and he has.” Otherwise you couldn’t carry on? "Exactly."
Rice has stated that he thinks the two are unlikely to work together again, saying, “You’ve got to have a young element... we’re not relevant as a team any more.” To which ALW retorts: “Well, strangely enough, he put in the Ivor Novello Awards programme, ‘Never say never, love Tim’ so...”
As for his other marriage (both men have referred to themselves as a couple apropos of their working relationship), he cannot speak too highly of his actual wife: “I don’t mind being alone when I’m writing or working but I do like to be able to touch base and she (Madeleine) has been an extraordinary rock for me. She’s a very strong character. It’s been 21 years and one of the nicest things is that she regards my first Sarah (Hugill as opposed to the second Sarah, Brightman), the mother of my two oldest children as more than a family friend who spends Christmasses with us.
“Madeleine’s very good at being inclusive and I think anybody who meets her feels that she’s friendly but I’m afraid that she’s also bright and doesn’t have a lot of time for people who she thinks are either trying to pull one over me or are sort of – shall we put it diplomatically? – not really pulling their weight. She’s on the board of my company now and she’s certainly more au fait with the music and theatre business than I am, say, with horses!”
He’s feeling very chipper health-wise, having lost two stone – “Everyone’s slim now. Dawn’s slim now and Katherine Jenkins... I didn’t even recognise her when I saw her running in the park last week.”
We last met in 2010 on the eve of the opening of Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, soon after his prostate gland had been removed having been diagnosed with cancer. When I asked him, then, whether he was fine, he was a tentative: “Yah-ish. I’m going to have to keep my eye on it – be a bit careful. But it hasn’t migrated so far.”
He’d been told to look after himself and not do too much so, of course, he ignored the doctors and carried on. “Then I got a complication and an infection so I was obviously not on top form as a producer,” he says, at this interview, “and I think it’s not a great idea for a composer to also be producer of their own shows.”
At any rate, he has been given the all-clear in relation to his health now – “I mean, they actually told me not to bother coming back.” And Love Never Dies has also had a new lease of life, after opening, closing, reopening and closing again in London in a year. But now it’s going to Broadway and then China and as for the Lord, he says, “It’s time to move on.”
His mind is already focusing on the project after Jesus Christ Supestar. He’s fascinated by Stephen Ward, “probably London’s most popular, urbane, connected man ending up in the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds. And yet, there’s not one person I’ve met who was connected with anything to do with it, who hasn’t said to me that he was the most astonishing person. In my opinion, it’s a tale for today because it’s actually about the need for a scapegoat.”
And what scapegoat is he thinking of in society today, I wonder? “It’s who comes out of the Leveson Inquiry, isn’t it? I mean, there will be a scapegoat for journalists who’ve done exactly the same sort of thing.” Hmm, you wouldn’t be thinking that the scapegoat is somebody with red hair, are you? And, the man who, after all, knows a thing or two about Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt, owning a fair few of them, quips – quick as a flash – “We’re not talking about the Pre-Raphaelites now!”
The first episode of Superstar airs tonight at 7:25pm on ITV1