Jason Donovan: I can't change the past, but I'd like to work less now and spend more time with my wife and kids
There is a moment in the video for Jason Donovan's classic duet with Kylie Minogue, Especially For You, where Jason turns to self-knowingly glance at the camera during an arm-in-arm, face-to-face sing-along with Kylie. It's brief, but telling, highlighting the kind of self-deprecating enjoyment that regularly appears to find its way into everything the Australian actor and entertainer does.
"There's always plenty of fun and dedication in my work", says Jason. "I like to throw in and maintain a sense of humour, because I'm not saving lives; I'm entertaining. And in that regard, I'm very fortunate. However, I still have everyone else's problems! So I try to give 100% in everything I do. I believe that it's important, when you're involved in projects, to either try your utmost or not do them at all."
And it looks like the career of this Eighties icon, chart buster and, lest we forget, fondly remembered good Neighbour from Down Under will not be going under any time soon. Once upon a time his face was plastered over Look-In and Smash Hits magazines (remember them?) as he soared to the top of the charts with the help of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, otherwise known as SAW. Today Jason's face is seen on posters and flyers in theatres all over the UK, among them Belfast's Grand Opera House, as the stage production of The King's Speech prepares to arrive in the city for a five-day run later this month.
It's a project we can be sure Jason will give - as he puts it - his "utmost" to. The role of Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist who helped King George VI overcome his stammer as Britain stood on the brink of the Second World War, is the kind of role Jason has wanted for a long time. That the real Logue was actually 10 years older than 46-year-old Jason at the time of George VI's ascension to the throne is no issue to Jason: he sounds like he was born to play this part.
"When the producers asked me if I was interested, I had no hesitation in telling them I was up for it," Jason says. "Really, I don't feel that I chose this role - I feel like this role chose me. The King's Speech is a great Australian story as well as a great English story. And not many Aussies of my currency do a lot of serious theatre, so I consider myself very fortunate to be part of the whole experience."
A somewhat ironic experience it is, too, as far as Jason is concerned. Just over 20 years ago his fellow Neighbours co-star and on-screen best friend, Guy Pearce, had made his cinematic breakthrough in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert - a production which Jason would go on to feature in on stage. Now, Jason finds himself starring in The King's Speech nearly five years after Guy Pearce portrayed King Edward VIII in the 2010 Oscar-winning film.
"It's funny, really ... I do seem to be following Guy in a lot of things," laughs Jason. "He's truly an incredible actor; a really good bloke who has made the most of the opportunities available to him."
Along with Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce has proved that there really is life after Erinsborough, most notably with his starring roles in LA Confidential and Christopher Nolan's Memento. But does being Scott Robinson and a SAW singer still hang over Jason a little heavily? After all, around 20 million viewers tuned in to see Scott and Charlene, aka Jason and Kylie, tie the knot way back in November 1988. "Yes, the attention can be frustrating at times. But there's no point pretending that Neighbours didn't happen, and I can honestly think of worse things to be associated with," he says. "Really, I'm very proud of my involvement with the show; it was life-changing and it's given me the chance to put my children through school."
Despite his success and good memories from his Ramsay Street days, Jason declined to be part of the show's 30th anniversary celebrations, although he did feature in the documentary special Neighbours: The Stars Reunite.
More amusingly, a month after the Neighbours cast had filmed their own special 30th birthday tribute to EastEnders - entitled "EastErinsborough" - the cast of EastEnders got together to return the favour, with Jason as the star. The highlight, or lowlight, depending on your point of view, featured Annette Badland's Aunt Babe force-feeding Jason a trifle after telling him "I made it especially for you." (Pun intended.)
"I didn't think twice about being part of that", says Jason. "It was really enjoyable, the sort of thing that paid homage to Neighbours without necessarily making fun of it or rubbing it in people's faces."
The son of fellow actor and future Neighbours alumnus Terence Donovan, Jason has always been the kind who sought value in being as versatile as he could possibly be. "I always aspired to be an actor, first and foremost," Jason says. "I've had success in singing and I've starred in many musicals, but they really came along as a by-product of my original ambitions. Like so many actors from Neighbours, especially Kylie, the singing followed the acting for me."
And with the singing followed the fame, his stock in the music world rising rapidly to the point where sights of screaming fans on his initial visits to Belfast and Londonderry in the early 1990s were inevitable.
Tie that in with father Terence's Anglo-Irish ancestry and it's easy to think that Jason must have some sort of affinity with the locals. But he's not as familiar with Northern Ireland as you may think.
"I haven't been to Northern Ireland for a while, nor have I spent a lot of time there when I have visited," he says.
"But I'm really excited about returning. The current run of The King's Speech is going very well, and we're bringing the play to a great city which feels like it's on the move.
"The Troubles have moved on, and the positivity arising from the peace talks has made the area feel like a much safer place to come to."
It would seem that nearly three decades can make a lot of difference to Northern Ireland, to Neighbours and especially for Jason. Having survived a serious spell of drug addiction in the mid to late Nineties, Jason is now happily married to former stage manager Angela Malloch and is the proud father of Jemma (14), Zach (13) and Molly (4). It's something that's played a part in making him older and wiser.
"Today I feel like a good dad, a good husband", he says. "I certainly can't change the past, although if I had a choice of changing anything today, I'd like to work a little less and spend more time with my family. And if that dark, drug-fuelled period taught me anything, it's what and who I don't want to be. Even then, who knows if I'm really through my darkest period or not? It is a crazy world, and I feel like we're all bluffing from time to time. I do try to move on though, and it shows in the varied work I do."
Varied is certainly the word for Jason's overall career. With the days of Kylie and SAW long behind him ("their lives and mine have gone in different directions, but they are the building blocks of what I am today"), Jason has prospered on stage both theatrically and musically, voiced the popular Buzz! video game series, and featured on both Strictly Come Dancing and I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, narrowly losing the King Of The Jungle crown to Matt Willis. And while he didn't consider the latter a particularly life-changing experience, he says he didn't regret taking part.
"With due respect to I'm A Celebrity, it's not the kind of thing you can walk away from with spiritual enlightenment! But it was still a great experience. There are other things you can learn from being in the jungle."
Still, Jason has no doubt what, or who, are his most significant achievements: his children. Will the next generation of Donovans become entertainers like Jason and his father?
"It's up to them to decide what they want to do," Jason says. "I can only tell them so much; when they find what they're passionate about, I want them to follow it with all their heart."
- The King's Speech runs at the Grand Opera House from Tuesday, April 21-Saturday, April 25, 2015. For tickets, go to www.goh.co.uk or tel: 028 9024 1919.
From Neighbours to Strictly, why Jason appeals to me
By Jennifer Maloney
As they say Down Under, Jason Donovan has always seemed a "fair dinkum" sort of bloke.
I've been a fan of the Aussie pin-up with an abundance of down to earth charm and surfer dude good looks since his glory days of Neighbours. Yes, I loved him - mullet hairstyle and all. And that soft, laid-back drawl helped too.
He was the pin-up of the 1980s, especially to my school-mates at an all-girls' school - he was blonde, bronzed and hunky - the opposite to the pale Northern Irish schoolboys all around us.
Although slightly younger than Donovan, I've watched his transition from his Scott Robinson days on Neighbours to his pop star days. I'm sure I still have a copy of his debut single Nothing Can Divide Us on cassette somewhere.
His duet with Kylie Minogue, Especially for You, made all of us swoon. And then, of course, there was all the talk that they were a real-life couple.
The Erinsborough wedding of Scott and Charlene was my age group's royal wedding - what a day it was. It was the talk of our school when we heard that Donovan was to quit Neighbours for music. I eagerly followed his foray into the pop world in the pages of Smash Hits and his picture appeared on my bedroom walls. He then made the transition to stage, wowing audiences in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat.
Other stage roles followed including Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, in drag for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and he earned praise for Sweeney Todd and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Donovan also waltzed back onto our screens in the ninth series of Strictly Come Dancing, partnering Kristina Rihanoff and finishing in third place.
He's always re-inventing himself. And I'll be eagerly watching his turn in The King's Speech.
But perhaps the greatest testament to his enduring appeal is the fact that a Bristol kebab shop calls itself Jason Donervan. Strewth mate!
What happened Ramsay Street's other popstars?
- Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue may be the most famous singers to emerge from Erinsborough, but they are far from the only ones. However, some have been more successful than others.
- Stefan Dennis - in 1989, Ramsay Street's bad boy Paul Robinson donned a leather jacket and warbled "Don't It Make You Feel Good?" Except it didn't make him feel good for long. After reaching number 16 in the UK and Ireland with his debut single, his singing career immediately nosedived
- Natalie Bassingthwaighte - known to Neighbours fans as manipulative yet vulnerable femme fatale Izzy Hoyland, the artist, actress and TV personality has enjoyed success both as the lead singer of Rogue Traders and as a soloist. She's also been a judge and mentor on The X Factor both in Australia and New Zealand
- Craig McLachlan - following nearly three years as Charlene's lovable rogue of a brother, Henry, McLachlan entered pop music in the early 1990s. His remake of Bo Diddley's "Mona" charted at number two in the UK, but that was as good as it got for him; his second and third singles failed to chart altogether
- Delta Goodrem - her role as shy schoolgirl turned singing star Nina Tucker revitalised a flagging career and propelled her into the musical stratosphere. Over six million worldwide album sales, numerous awards and her role as a coach on The Voice Australia are testament to her success