FIVE years ago singer songwriter Katie Brayben was appearing on stage at Lewisham Peoples’ Day. Now she is taking the West End by storm starring in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Not bad she says for a girl from Sydenham.
We chat as she takes a break between shows in which her performance as Carole King has been lauded by the critics and even the great lady herself.
And just a week after our chat it was announced that Katie's performance has netted her an Olivier Award nomination for best actress in a musical.
“It’s very exciting,” she says warmly. “It’s going so well and people really like it.
“It’s just a joy to play such a wonderful and amazing woman and one who I have idolised since I was very young.
“It is incredibly exciting as it’s such a great role – especially for a woman. They don’t come along that often so to play someone who’s an artist and a genius and tell her story – it’s fantastic.”
And although she was excited about the challenge of playing “a living legend” Katie admits to being somewhat nervous when she got the call – not least because she was told that Carole felt Katie had “the essence” of her.
“She was sent the tapes from the audition,” she says. “It was really extraordinary but was great to hear her support and endorsement.
“I met her for the first time when she came to opening night. I told everyone I didn’t want to know when she was in the audience - I’m not sure how they all managed to keep it a secret though!
“When she came on it was a bit overwhelming but she was sweet and kind and every bit as lovely as I had imagined.”
The show itself is a jukebox musical about Carole King, one of the most successful solo acts in music history.
It charts her journey from school girl to superstar, her relationship with her husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin as well as her friendship and playful rivalry with fellow song-writing duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
“It looks at her life from when she was about 16 through to when she was 29," says Katie. "It’s a very specific period in her life.
“She and Gerry had a wonderful partnership but she was a real mix of things – she was ambitious, very talented and confident in those talents and felt strongly that she understood music.
“However, in her personal life she’s less confident. She has dreams and expectations to be married and a mother – the traditional things she wanted.
“It’s interesting to see her journey and what happened to her.”
Katie, who is herself a singer songwriter, says everyone can relate to the story given its themes.
“It’s about love, relationships, creativity and heartbreak – all those human emotions everyone relates to," she says. "I think everyone who comes to see it, whether they know about Carole or not, will take something from it."
And even those who don’t know much about the woman will probably recognise many of the songs she wrote.
“When I got offered the role in August last year, I started doing some research and realised there was a lot I didn’t know about her,” says Katie.
“I knew Tapestry which is the one album most people will recognise, and that she won so many Grammy awards, and deservedly so, but she also wrote an incredible number of hits before that album.
“I never realised she and Gerry had written so much. They have an incredible back catalogue, absolute classics that people come to the show and fall in love with.
“The lyrics are quite dark but the melodies are uplifting which is the real genius and you see all that in the musical.
“During the show, as I sing each one I think of how good they all are - it's joyful."
With so many "beautiful" songs Katie admits it’s difficult to have a favourite.
“It changes every time because every night is different,” she says. “I enjoy all of them, something I’ve never felt before.
"At the moment Natural Woman is up there but You’ve Got A Friend really sums her up – someone who is generous, loving and very giving.
“I do have to pinch myself all the time though as I can’t believe I’m here,” she adds laughing.
But although she might not quite believe her success, Katie knew from a very young age she wanted to be an actress, and had her first starring role as Annie in the Riverdale Centre in Lewisham.
“I was really young and we only did three shows but I didn’t want it to end,” she laughs. “In fact I remember being so upset when it finished.
“The love of theatre had gripped me by then – I knew it was a special place where people create magical stuff and I was desperate to do it.”
So after going to Sydenham School, Katie went to Rose Bruford, then based in Greenwich, and since then has combined her love of acting with being a singer songwriter.
“My parents are both musicians and I grew up listening to a lot of music – in fact Tapestry was on repeat for much of my young life," she says.
“I wrote my first song at 12 but it took me till I was 18 to think about it seriously. But since then singing and composing songs have been part of what I do.”
And that includes Lewisham Peoples’ Day which she has fond memories of.
“I remember it well,” she says laughing. “It was a lot of fun but just before I came on stage it chucked it down but people stayed which was great.
“It’s a great community festival though with an amazing vibe and it was fantastic to play on home turf.
“South London is very much my home and I’ve always been drawn back to it,” she adds. “I grew up here – mostly around Sydenham and Forest Hill – and now I’m on the road a lot it’s nice to have it as base, somewhere I know and love where my family and friends are.”
So what of the future I ask.
“At the moment I am focused on the show but I’m always open to whatever life throws at me," she says.
“I love new writing and I am sure there are loads of brilliant roles out there for me that I don’t know about yet because they don’t yet exist. Like this – I never thought I would be playing Carole King. That just goes to show anything can happen."
Katie Brayben is in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, Aldwych. Tickets from £15. Visit www.beautifulinlondon.co.uk or call the box office on 0845 200 7981.