Paul Nicholas: Laid-back high achiever
Last year we caught up with Paul Nicholas to discuss his long career, from
Just Good Friends right up to his recent roles as Gavin Sullivan in Eastenders and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol which ran from December 4th – January 3rd at Winter Gardens, Blackpool.
It’s quite likely that one of the keys to actor Paul Nicholas’s success is a no-stress policy that extends to most parts of his life.
When we talked, he was in the middle of a lengthy run of the Agatha Christie play “And Then There Were None”, and had been playing in Westcliff on Sea that day. “We’re somewhere else next week but I’m not sure where,” he replies in the familiar and friendly tones that have endeared him to TV and theatre audiences for the past 40 or so years.
The exact tour location wasn’t somewhere he was particularly worried about but the play – in which he is a judge “typically serious and quite posh, actually” – was one project sandwiched among several. For example, he had also just come back from a stint directing the musical “Tommy” in Blackpool with Joe McEldery – “who is brilliant and really can sing”.
These commitments had made another facet of his recent career, as Kathy Beale’s husband, Gavin Sullivan, in TV favourite “EastEnders”, a challenge to achieve as filming had to be arranged around the hectic Nicholas schedule.
So, was he enjoying this new TV role. “Oh yes,” he asserts, happily. “I love doing different things and this is great.” Gavin is a bit nasty, but you will get to know his nice side as well. It will be interesting to see how his character develops.
This laidback but high-achieving approach has stood Paul Nicholas in good stead ever since he first came to public attention as a pop singer called Paul Dean in the late 1970s. He had two Top Ten hits but then decided to combine singing with acting and headed for the stage, taking the role of Rum Tum Tugger in the original London cast of the musical “Cats” in the early 1980s to great success.
He also had a film career around this time with appearances in the Beatles’ film “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and followed that up with “The World is Full of Married Men.” He then went against his perceived nice-guy type as the loutish punk singer in “The Jazz Singer” before starring with Joan Collins in “The Nutcracker” in 1983.
What many TV fans remember Paul most for, however, was the role of Vince in the gentle romantic comedy “Just Good Friends” with Jan Francis, written by John Sullivan. Millions tuned in each week to see how the engaging romance, and its two charismatic central characters, fared.
It ended in 1986 with the couple marrying and afterwards Paul starred in major drama series “Bust” and another “Close to Home” – a sitcom about a vet. In fact, during this period he became a small screen regular and favourite for millions, especially women.
Since then, he has returned to the theatre to play numerous roles, notably as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” and in the lead role in “Barnum”.
He has both toured and had West End runs. His mercurial nature means he doesn’t mind touring too much, although he was hoping that his EastEnders’ character would have some longevity as “it’s only half an hour away from home for filming and so it’s easy.”
He’s canny enough to know that appearing on TV also sells theatre tickets – “well, people like to come to see you when your profile is high, don’t they?” But he has plainly been offered plenty of high-profile theatre roles and is naturally viewed as a box-office safe bet.
Ask him to name his own favourite roles and he immediately plumps for Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and King Arthur in “Camelot.” “I like playing King Arthur,” he confides. “You know, Lancelot runs off with his wife Guinevere. We always get a few sniffles from the audience at the end, which tells you that it’s working.”
He’s 69 now, with six children and 11 grandchildren, but he’s retained a youthful look and still has that glint in his eye. He appears to refuse to take most things in life seriously. He doesn’t exercise – “that’s not true, really. My house has a basement and three floors so I try to run up the stairs. Well, I run up the first few!”
He doesn’t drink alcohol much, likes a “meat and two veg” kind of diet with no spicy food and is unlikely to die from stress. His mother lived until she was 92, which he takes as a positive sign – “it’s in the genes” – but his workload continues to be quite full-on.
Does he feel like slowing down a bit as he gets older? “Not really,” he says, mildly.
“I’m sure that, like most of your readers, we all need to continue doing the things we like, and also doing a variety of things. I think that’s what keeps you healthy.”
He doesn’t feel the need for labour-intensive pets these days, “but I have a tortoise called Toby that I’ve had for 20 years who is wonderful,” he states. “He goes around our walled garden all day and I bring him in at night, if I can find him. He’s perfectly happy – I bought him a little lamp the other day and he loves keeping warm!”
With most information that Paul Nicholas gleefully imparts, you feel you should be taking it with a large pinch of salt. But there is no denying that he has a relaxed philosophy on life that has stood him in very good stead over the years.
He has no real desire to play particular roles, although was looking forward to a four-week stint as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” at Blackpool Winter Gardens from December 4th to January 3rd. “Yes, it’s an exciting production,” he enthuses. “It’s quite an adult show but it’s got ghosts for the children and families do love this show.
“I like Blackpool,” he adds. “It’s a great place for all ages. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t and people have a good time.”
And, actually, that general description could be extended to Paul Nicholas himself. He’s a talented actor and singer, not to mention a director and producer, whose life just seems to go from one success to another – all quite by some mysterious quirk of fate.