It’s almost eight years to the day since Lee Mead won BBC1 talent show Any Dream Will Do and played the lead role in a London revival of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Since then, the actor and performer has taken on other West End parts in such shows as Wicked and Legally Blonde, before returning to Saturday-night BBC1 as nurse Lofty Chiltern in Casualty.
But what has it been like dealing with the fame that comes from succeeding on a primetime talent show? As well as career highs, there have been well-reported lows, such as his divorce from actress and DJ Denise Van Outen. So just how stressful is life in the public eye?
Ahead of a new concert tour, Some Enchanted Evening, in which Mead celebrates the golden age of Hollywood, he talks to RadioTimes.com about all this and more…
So, you have a full-time job on Casualty and you’re preparing for a tour – how are you fitting it all in?
It is a bit of a squeeze. We film from seven in the morning until seven at night on Casualty. Then I go back to my flat on Cardiff Bay and learn the scripts for the next day. And then I’m often up until one or two in the morning learning songs. I like to make sure that all my work is done during the week so that, by the weekend, I can be a full-time dad to my daughter Betsy.
Is it difficult being away from Betsy during the week?
It is hard, but quite a few of the guys on the show have got families and are away during the week. I do miss her a lot, though. As soon as we wrap on Fridays at seven in Cardiff, I make sure I’m back on the motorway and home in London by ten pm. During the week, I tend to call her every other day because I don’t want her to miss me too much. Often it’s a parent who misses the child more when they’re away, rather than the other way around. Betsy’s five now, so she has her life and her routine at school.
So is she more impressed by your acting or your singing?
I’m not sure that she’s impressed by either! I did the whole Joseph thing before Betsy was born, but last year I sang Any Dream Will Do at a Salvation Army concert in London. I took Betsy along with me and I brought her up on stage with about 30 other kids to sing it together. And since then, she’s been singing the song all the time, which is really sweet. So, she enjoys the singing and I’ve shown her a few clips of me as Lofty in Casualty. And when I drop her off on Sunday afternoon before I head back to Cardiff, she’ll ask me if I’m going to make people better. So I have to remind her that I’m not a real nurse.
Eight years on, how do you feel about your success in Any Dream Will Do?
You go through a mix of emotions if you’re brought to the public’s attention in that way. It was a phenomenal time and I feel very privileged and blessed that it happened to me. And it’s given me the career I have now. But Any Dream Will Do didn’t guarantee me the work. I still had to deliver the goods. It took me almost five years to get the role in Casualty and I’d actually been down to the finals for a number of other TV shows but hadn’t got the part. So I’ll be eternally grateful to our executive producer Oliver Kent for giving me the break. In this country, I think it’s harder to cross over from musical theatre into TV than it is in, say, America.
Lee Mead with Joseph composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2007
Which TV shows did you miss out on then?
Quite a few big things. Waterloo Road. The BBC’s Robin Hood. In fact, I got down to the final two or three for Robin Hood. It was to take over from Jonas Armstrong when he left. Foz Allan was the co-creator on that show and he was backing me the whole way but the producers, quite naturally, didn’t want to take that risk because I’d had no regular TV roles, which felt like a shame. Funnily enough, if I had got the part, it wouldn’t have gone far because the series came to an end very soon after that. So it probably worked out for the best.
And how do you feel about the level of fame that came with Any Dream Will Do?
Well, when you get that level of success, there’s always a comedown. I remember that after I finished Joseph, I felt low for a good few months. You’ve experienced this real rollercoaster of emotions and then you start to wonder: what’s next? I’d been working professionally for five years before Any Dream Will Do, but it was almost like my career was starting again. And now it was playing out in the public eye. With every choice I made came more pressure.
The thing with talent shows such as The X Factor and the like is that, nine times out of ten, the winners and runners-up go off the radar after a couple of years. And that was my biggest fear – that I’d have that moment as Joseph and be forgotten about and not work. But I’ve always worked really hard, to the extent that I’m often doing two or three things at once. But it seems to have paid off.
And did you feel like you’d become public property?
Not so much for the work, but in my personal life, yes. Very sadly, my marriage [to Denise Van Outen] broke up two years ago and it was very hard to have that on the cover of The Sun and in the national press. My close friends and family know that I’m an open guy, but also a private person. So to go through divorce was always going to be difficult, but to do so publicly felt like a very hard period in my life. But I’m in a very happy place right now. My daughter’s happy and healthy and I’m excited about the future. It’s the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
So, tell me about the tour – why the Golden Age of Hollywood?
There’s just something very special and magical about that era. I used to sit there aged about eight, seeing that MGM lion roar and then being entranced by the likes of South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Anything Goes. There’s an innocence and naivety to those films. And I don’t think that modern films like Moulin Rouge and Mamma Mia quite capture the same essence. So I just thought to myself, ‘why haven’t I done this before?’ I can’t remember the last solo artist who’s done songs from that era.
And you’ve got Casualty co-star Amanda Henderson singing with you?
Yes, when I have singers with me on shows, they have to be good. And Amanda’s got a lovely voice and really great range. But a connection and friendship are really important too. And we’re really close friends – we film 12 hours a day, every day, the whole year round and we have a lot of fun. She’s a right laugh at work! So she’s agreed to come on this tour – she’s having her dress made, hair done, she’s really excited!
Mead with Casualty co-stars Amanda Henderson (left) and Chloe Howman (right)
Did you ask your other co-star Derek Thompson [Charlie] if he wanted to get involved – after all, he does have a history as a recording artist?
I’ve tried! But he says, “no lad, I’m going to keep playing my guitar, but only in my dressing room”. It’s a nice vibe on the set and his door is always open for a chat. And you can often hear him playing guitar – but he thinks his days of being on stage are behind him.
And, finally, what can you tell us about Casualty as it goes into its 30th anniversary year?
Well, what I can say is that Paul Unwin, who co-created the series, has returned to write, produce and direct an upcoming two-parter. And that’s going to be pretty amazing. He’s actually managed to incorporate the whole company – I think all the cast is featured.
Often it’s just the actors who get the credit, but the whole crew are incredible. They’re first in and last out on set and work longer hours than us. It’s a real team effort. Everyone was incredible on that shoot. There were night shoots, out in the cold for 12 hours…I’m a tiny cog, but I felt really proud to be involved with a team like that. I feel so lucky, I really do.
You can read more about Lee’s upcoming tour at www.leemead.co.uk
The next episode of Casualty airs Saturday at 8.55pm on BBC1