IT’S been a busy year for John Partridge. After having survived the Celebrity Big Brother house in February, he found himself in a rehearsal room with just four days to get to grips with his role as the smooth talking and manipulative lawyer Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago.
The show, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, has since been touring the country to packed out theatres and alongside John, stars Jessie Wallace as Matron “Mama” Morton and Hayley Tamaddon as Roxie Hart.
Not only that, during the summer John also walked back on to the set of EastEnders and into his character Christian Clarke after a 12 month break from the programme.
However, despite his extraordinary workload in a chat ahead of the show coming to Bromley’s Churchill Theatre on Monday (October 10), I find John far from tired - in fact he is fizzing with energy and joie de vivre.
“I’m so excited to be coming home next week,” he tells me cheerfully. “I have lived in the South East since I was about 15 and have recently moved to Greenwich so I can’t wait to come back!
“Most of the cast in EastEnders live in North London and always ask why I live down here but I love it and always have.
“It’s so green and has a great atmosphere - I don’t get North London - it’s too expensive for one thing. Saying that I’ve just sold my house in Eltham and moved to Greenwich and noticed that in the last eight years or so it’s got so expensive - if I was coming in as a first time buyer now I wouldn’t be able to afford it. It’s crazy.”
That aside John is clearly delighted to be heading home and bringing the iconic show to Bromley and a venue he knows well.
“I’ve performed at the Churchill many times, in school productions and in my career so I’m thrilled the tour will be coming here,” he says warmly.
“There will be a big South London posse coming along - all my new neighbours as well as family and friends so it’s going to be quite something!
“It’s an amazing show, iconic, highly stylised and choreographed with a strong text and fabulous music. So for us actors there is a real level of respect and care for it as we are its caretakers. Incredibly it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year but it’s a testament to the writing that it is still so popular and appeals to so many people.
“For someone like me who comes from a musical theatre background, it was a show that was definitely on my to do list so I’m incredibly excited to have been given the chance. It was a real baptism of fire though because I only had about four days to rehearse before we were on stage - it was one of my scariest experiences!
“I should be knackered but there was no time to be - I just had to crack on with it. Thankfully I am working with the most extraordinary cast and crew who have helped make a really wonderful experience both professionally and personally so I’m incredibly lucky.
“We’ve had such terrific responses to it and have been packing audiences in to the theatres, it’s been great!
“In fact there is nothing more energising than feeling the warmth and joy of an audience - it’s exhilarating.”
John tells me he was offered the role a few years ago but turned it down as he didn’t feel he was quite ready for it.
But when it was offered again for this year he didn’t hesitate.
“I love him!” he laughs. “Billy Flynn is such a great character, he’s murderous, devious and ruthless, a PR guru, the king of spin.
“He is also a natty dresser so it’s fun to slick the hair back, put on the threads and step out there, giving it the razzle dazzle and feeling like a million dollars. I’ve had a lot of fun playing him and trying out new things with him.
“What’s interesting is that through him the show also shines a light on the times we are living in now. Chicago is a very contemporary show in that it deals with celebrities and celebrity culture, how people manipulate the media, and the lengths they go to to stay in the public eye - murder in this case! When it was written this celebrity culture wasn’t as prominent as it is today.
“I’ve been working for 30 years but I have a far better understanding of celebrity now than I did say 10 years ago - in the past I was quite naive.
“I didn’t feel I was mature enough when it was offered the role initially but my life has changed a lot since then, some for the better and some for the worst but life experience helps you play these roles, so here I am!”
It wasn’t just the character of Billy that appealed to John. The music, singing and dancing were all a draw not least as it was a chance for him to go back to his roots as a singer and dancer.
Indeed he started his career as a student at the Royal Ballet but left ballet behind when he joined the cast of Cats at 16.
It wasn’t long afterwards that someone heard him sing which led him to “leading man roles” opposite the likes of Elaine Paige before stints as a presenter of the National Lottery, in panto and on TV most notably in EastEnders.
But John says although he loves the variety, his heart lies on stage and musical theatre. His career was inspired he says by watching old Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films with his dad when he was a child.
“My dad wasn’t really into kicking a football around when I came along,” he says. “Instead we used to sit watching these old films and I loved it. I guess that’s where that lightbulb moment came from and where I got the love and enthusiasm from for dancing although I didn’t ever imagine at the time I could do that as a career.
“With Billy Flynn I get to do all those disciplines I trained so hard to do. But because of that they’ve added in more dance routines for me so it’s quite a lot of work and it’s tiring but I love it.”
Fortunately the extra demands of the role are like water off a duck’s back for John who says that his ethos has always be to work hard and never take anything for granted.
“I am very lucky to have had the jobs that I have had and am hugely grateful but I take nothing for granted,” he says.
“I’ve never had a five year plan but I do believe in working hard - I have to because I have a mortgage and bills to pay and other family responsibilities so I do say yes to a lot of things.
“It’s been great being back in EastEnders although it can be tiring working all day and then going straight into the show but I thrive on it. Funnily enough they are quite similar because they deal with the same issues - murder, greed and corruption!
“My view is if you get the golden ticket then my God you hang on to it because it’s a privilege and you never know when it might end.”
And as if to prove the point, he tells me that after the tour finishes at the end of the year he will be straight onto the next project but is tight lipped about what that will be.
“I never sit still and like to be working,” he says. “I’m launching a performing arts academy at the 02 next year which is aimed at helping young people achieve their dreams.
“There are a few other things in the pipeline though but I can’t talk about just yet - if I told you I would have to kill you!” he adds laughing.
Chicago is on at the Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley. Tickets from £28.50. Visit www.churchilltheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 3285 6000.