Belfast Telegraph

'Having Gary Barlow as a boss would be daunting, but he's been lovely to me so far - I can't help but be inspired by him'

Londonderry singer Dylan Reid tells Lee Henry about singing in front of the Take That legend for the Let It Shine auditions... and why he was surprised to meet fellow Maiden City singer Damian Kivlehan there too

Dylan Reid is still on a high, some days after his televised audition for the new BBC Saturday night flagship show Let It Shine was watched by millions of viewers up and down the UK, and it might take a little while before he comes back down the earth.

"Can you imagine Gary Barlow being your boss? It's just nuts," he says excitedly.

And the young performer's enthusiasm is understandable. The prospect of being named one of just five performers to join the cast of an as-yet-untitled touring production designed around the classic back catalogue of Take That songs is real, very real, and his legion of fans are rooting for him.

"Go Dylan!" wrote one follower on his Twitter page on Saturday night. "Northern Ireland talent, love it!" gushed another.

Still just 20 years old but with a wealth of stage experience under his belt already, Dylan bagged himself 22 out of a potential 25 all-important gold stars with a cleverly arranged version of Katy Perry's number one hit Roar to make it through to the next round. (He can't divulge when his episode will air, or what it will entail, but I'm reliably informed it has something to do with dance.)

It wasn't quite a flawless performance, he freely admits, but it was enough to keep him in the game. Perhaps, inevitably, thoughts have turned toward potential victory, but the baby-faced troubadour from Londonderry will only allow himself to think about that for a second.

"Gary Barlow is a bit of a legend," he adds, confessing that he has always looked up to the master hit-maker. "If you look at how far he's come, it's just amazing. He was this normal young lad who wanted to sing songs in a boy band, and he went on to write almost everything Take That did. Now he's producing musicals and all sorts of things, and it was amazing to perform for him on the Let It Shine stage.

"Having Gary as a boss would be daunting, but he's been lovely to me so far. I can't help but be inspired by him. He told me after my audition that I knew what I had to do, having had experience in professional theatre already. It's exciting. You never know what might happen."

Dylan was "overwhelmed" by the reaction of the Let It Shine audience to his impressive performance and was visibly shaken as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Though Barlow only granted him three stars, he is philosophical, realistic, eager to please when the next opportunity arises.

His familial background in the performing arts has set him good stead. Both of his parents come from the theatre world. His father Deigh is an actor turned director, while his mother Vanessa is a celebrated choreographer.

Looking back, Dylan reveals that performance has been in his blood "since day one".

Though neither his brother Paul nor his sisters Rachel, Edel or Leigh showed an interest in singing, Dylan was a natural. And he first treaded the boards as a talented three-year-old.

"It was during panto season in St Columb's Hall in Derry, maybe with the Londonderry Musical Society, which I went on to do a lot of things with over the years, and there may be video of it somewhere. Video that will never come out, if I have my way," he jokes.

"My dad took up direction when I was about 12, and I was always in shows with him," he recalls. "Anything that he was in, I was in. My mum, being a choreographer, also used me in certain things. It was great having parents like that because it meant I had a way into theatre, into work, from a very early stage.

"They were the ones who put performing in my head in the first place. My mum used to drive me to Dublin every other weekend to audition for different things and they've always pushed me forward and supported me in what I want to do.

"In school, at Foyle College, I was known as a bit of messer - I didn't have the attention span to sit there and learn - so I think that my parents always knew I was going to leave young and go into theatre, and that was okay. It's exactly what happened. I signed up for Performing Arts at North West Regional College in 2006, aged 16, and got a role in Once as soon as I left. I have my parents to thank for that in a big way."

Made famous by Frames frontman Glenn Hansard and Czech performer Marketa Irglova's stunning performances, John Carney's touching film was given the full Broadway musical theatre treatment in 2011 and subsequently received 11 Tony Award nominations. Dylan took up the role of Andruj in 2015, joining a home-grown ensemble cast for an extended run in Dublin's Olympia Theatre before touring to South Korea.

"Being on tour was a dream," he adds. "I got to experience a country that I would probably never have visited otherwise, and we stayed there in a five star hotel for a few months. We were used to Dublin, which is loud and rowdy, but over there everything is very quiet. There's a whole different feel and the people are lovely. We had fans stopping us in the streets for photographs all the time. It was such a big thing to be a part of that production."

It wasn't the first time that the young man has had to deal with being the centre of attention. Until very recently, he dated former Big Brother contestant Ashleigh Coyle, also from Derry, and has posed for the cameras on various occasions as a model. "I'm still at the modelling," he says. "But it's taken a backseat for the time being."

Outside of his stage work, Dylan has spent many hours perfecting his guitar playing and singing in pubs and clubs across his native city, performing covers of tracks by his favourite artists including Paulo Nutini, Mumford & Sons and king of the singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran.

"I started gigging in bars when I was 14 or 15, and I had to lie about my age, but I got away with it," he laughs. "I used to gig with my dad as well. I think being younger made it easier, because people were never expecting much. The drunken reactions were brilliant. Always great for the confidence."

At home, Dylan grew up with his parents playing a diverse selection of music. "My mum's favourite band is T-Rex, because she used to fancy Mark Bolan, and I think they're a brilliant band. She listened to a lot of Simply Red too, while my dad likes Billy Idol. He stills gets grief about that. He was a big Bob Dylan fan as well when I was growing up, who I think I was named after. That's pretty cool."

Many a city is given a catchy title by council's thirsting for the tourist pound, but when it comes to Derry, the moniker of music city truly fits the bill. For a border town boasting a population of just over 85,000 people, Northern Ireland's second city truly punches above its weight in the singing stakes.

Dylan shared the Let It Shine stage at the weekend with fellow Maiden City singer Damian Kivlehan, who rocked the crowd with an exuberant rendition of the Bon Jovi classic You Give Love A Bad Name. The Shine A Light hopeful and 26-year-old Kivlehan are good friends, but both kept their initial involvement with the show secret.

"When I turned up at the hotel we were staying in during the auditions I met Damien in the lobby and it was such a surprise. He asked me what I was doing there and I asked him what he was doing there, and it was hilarious. When we realised we were both performing on Let It Shine, it was brilliant.

"It was fantastic to have a friend there in the common room with me before we went onstage. We also got to speak with Mark and Howard from Take That backstage, who gave us advice on how to relax and breathe before we performed. Mark promised me a game of pool, which I'm yet to take him up on."

In fact, Dylan was so cagey about his Let It Shine experience that he didn't even tell his parents about it until he had made the televised auditions last September. He held the news back even further from his brother and sisters, until Christmas Day, four months after facing Barlow and co for the biggest gig of his career thus far.

"All of my siblings live away from home now," he explains, "so I wanted to wait until we were all together under the same roof, and Christmas was the perfect opportunity. They were all really supportive and that felt great."

As for the future, the young singer hopes to keep it together when he next performs on the show - "Being on that stage was unreal, and when I heard the reaction from the crowd, I completely crumbled. That won't happen again" - while he has recorded original tracks with seasoned Derry singer and producer Paul Casey, which he has been "sitting on" for some months.

For now, however, Dylan is entirely focused on Let It Shine.

"It still hasn't really sunk in," he says. "My phone hasn't stopped ringing since, and I really appreciate everyone's support. Hopefully I can make it to the live shows and the public vote. That would be another dream come true."

And another Derry star . . .

Londonderrry singer Damian Kivlehan (26) is a special effects co-ordinator on the Game of Thrones set. He took the Let It Shine stage on the same night as Dylan. Both are well-known singers in their native city.

Belfast Telegraph


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