Jason Donovan: 'Life is not all Disney moments'
A Neighbours star, 80s' pop icon, musicals performer and now theatre producer, Jason Donovan's life on and off-stage has been as colourful as Joseph's technicolour dreamcoat. Alex Spencer spoke to him as he heads to Cambridge with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Jason Donovan reckons he doesn’t have any regrets because everything that has happened has brought him to the present moment, even his much-documented fall from grace as a cocaine addict.
But where others never come back from their years of excess, Jason has constantly reinvented himself - working two different shows this year - and is now about to make his debut as a producer.
“I don’t like to use the word regret - it is past tense and it has happened. I think I have certainly made a few mistakes but you can’t regret them,” says Jason.
“I would probably have liked to have done a few things differently. Professionally, I would like to have explored my acting a little bit more, but I got seduced by being a pop star there for awhile and that led me to theatre.
“Personally, drugs were a bit of a U-turn. It didn’t help my progress, but on the positive side there's certain aspects to my life I now know I don't want to do. I have worked those ones out. In fact I worked those ones out in my mid-thirties. Particularly drugs, I suppose.
“But through those what you might call mistakes I have me my wife and I have three wonderful kids.”
Jason has three children with his wife Angela Malloch, whom he married in 2008 after meeting through his work in theatre. He says he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.
“I do love performing but I have done a hell of a lot of touring and certainly it's quite nice to be able to take a different role now. It's nice to be able to speak to you guys and not have to do the physicality of eight shows a week,” says Jason.
And his partying days are far behind him now that he is a family man.
“How do I keep away from all that? Look, I think it's pretty easy actually.
“I don't really feel tempted by going out at night and going out on a bender any more you know it doesn’t appeal.
“I'm just as happy coming home and having a couple of glasses of wine and spending time with my family having a nice meal. So I didn't need therapy for all that stuff.
“I have always kept very physically fit, which is mental fitness as well. Give me a life that looks perfect and I have to say I won’t believe what you are telling me, because nothing is perfect.”
After years of treading the boards in musicals, such as Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jason is moving into the new role of producer for the iconic musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which he starred for several years.
Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla tells the adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime that features a non-stop parade of dance-floor classics including It’s Raining Men, I Will Survive, I Love The Nightlife and Finally.
This brand new production comes from the team behind the critically acclaimed UK tours of Hairspray and stars Strictly winner Joe MacFadden of Holby City fame.
“My role is about bringing people together and the experience I have had in the show over the years.”
“I quite like a musical with a bit of an edge and Priscilla has an edge, you know, it is quite confrontational at times. And life can be quite confrontational at times too. Life is not all Disney moments or an Andrew Lloyd Webber moment, with respect to both of those titles or people. There's something quite refreshing about Priscila - it's honest.”
For the past few months he has been on a 150-date tour with a show about his mid-life crisis. I ask why he decided to open himself up like this.
“It's not just my mid-life crisis tour, it's my AMAZING mid-life crisis tour,” says Jason.
“That is a pun on Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat - Joseph was the pure boy who was not the chosen son but he rose above the jealousy of his brothers… It's a pun on the past, me playing that Peter Pan type of character and actually here I am in mid-life reflecting on not necessarily being that type of person, but the person I am. It’s a play on words. I wouldn't read too deeply into it!
“I think you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory and for a lot of people in their late 30s and 40s who were teeangers in the late 1980s or listening to the radio to Stock Aitken Waterman and going to see Joseph, it's a moment of reflection.
"And I try to navigate my way through my interpretation of what happened to me, success, fame, my passion, which has been my craft, my acting, my feelings, my anxieties, what motivates me, what doesn't motivate me. Stuff like that.”
Reflecting on the ups and down of his career has made him think about the things he really values in life and whether it is worth being away from his family so often with work.
“There have been a few things over the past two years that have happened to me. I have had a few voice issues that I have had to deal with and I have managed to navigate my way through those and, you know, it's trying to keep a balance between doing eight shows, where you are travelling up and down the country going ‘where am I checking in here’?” says Jason.
Musing on what material wealth means to him these days, he adds: “How many rooms in a house does one actually need, do you know what I mean? How do you measure success? What does it mean?
"For one person it's about trying to get the best deal out of someone for another person it is just getting out of bed when they have cancer. I guess when you turn 50, like I have, you start to question all these things because you are looking at it from the perspective of knowledge.
“I'm still looking for the answers, aren’t we all? I'm still guilty of going out there and working too bloody hard, guilty of trying to get the best holiday I possibly can, but I certainly am allowed to be able to watch myself navigate trying to find that Camelot.”
As he has spent the last few months looking back on his life, does he have any advice he wished he could give to the 20-year-old Jason just starting out at fame?
“I have always worked hard, so I don’t need that advice. I think less is more, sometimes. I have been guilty of saying yes to everything and doing everything - again, drugs. I would have been a bit better off if I hadn't gone down that route but as I said to you before, I don't really regret that because now I know what I don’t want to do. I'm still here - just.”
That’s obviously a relief, but was there a point when he thought he might not make it to 50?
“God, this is deep!" he replies. "I think there’s been moments where I have pushed things to the extreme, yes, but I guess when you do that you don’t really think about the consequences, so looking back maybe it was a little bit perilous and reckless.”
Now his daughter Jemma Donovan has taken a role in Neighbours, does he worry about her or have any advice?
“I always say just be passionate about your life, try and find love and happiness and work hard at things.”
He stresses that Jemma’s career is "not about me".
But he adds: “ Obviously there’s a big connection between the Donovan name and that particular show, because my dad was in it too. But she has got to prove herself now. You know what, she has had a good teacher. I think she watches me and I looked to watch my dad. I’m very proud of her. She has done this on her own. She still had to audition and find and agent, so let's see where it goes.”
Now, thinking about the new direction his career has taken as a producer for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he compares it to parenthood.
“The show coming up is like an expectant dad waiting for this moment to arise. Knowing you can bring your experience to the table is the ultimate sense of achievement in a way.”
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will be on February 10 to 15, 2020 at the Corn Exchange. Tickets are on sale now from cambridgelive.org.uk.