Adam Tomlinson with Ben James-Ellis
By Carole Green
Since leaving Scarborough for the bright lights of London and a place at the Italia Conti Stage School, life has been a bit of a blur for Ben James-Ellis! He's gone from the semi-finals of 'Any Dream Will Do' to starring in the West End'...
Ben didn’t win BBC One's 'Any Dream Will Do' but nevertheless he was offered another lead role as Link Larkin in the multi-award winning 'Hairspray', alongside musical supremo Michael Ball.
The Shaftesbury Theatre
BBC Radio York’s Adam Tomlinson met up with Ben in his dressing room at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, home of 'Hairspray'. He asked Ben about his early days in Scarborough and how he got into acting, singing and dancing:
“I started when I was about ten. I actually followed my little brother to his first audition for the YMCA. He’d won a talent contest ‘Search for a Star’ and I just went along with him to watch him, not really expecting to audition, but my Mum pushed me up there and I did it and from then on I never looked back.”
Getting a place at the Italia Conti stage school made Ben realise that maybe he did have what it took to become a performer. The time he spent learning his craft at the YMCA theatre in Scarborough gave him a great start and Ben owes much to Chris Wilby and others at the theatre.
“Looking back it was a high standard of work we were producing. It was more than just an amateur theatre company, it was definitely a great place. We loved it and we all put on a good show at the end of it. It has such a good atmosphere and a well equipped theatre it made that dream of being on the West End more real because you felt a part of it already.
“They’re the people who gave me that spark and passion to want to do it.”
Ben in 'Any Dream Will Do'
Then along came BBC One's ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and the chance of a starring role in the West End revival of a huge show. Adam asked Ben what it was like being under the microscope week in and week out:
“It was petrifying, it was absolutely petrifying. It was such a big step, I’d come from the YMCA, I’d gone down to London, I’d started stage school which was a big step, and I was doing classes and it was all fine. Then this big massive roller coaster of a journey came along that threw everything up in the air.
“It was really hard, it was scary, it was emotional. After a few weeks of it, I really changed as a person and a performer, I had to toughen up a lot quicker and learn to take criticism and really work with it and not get upset by it. I think by the end of it, I was ready to leave.
“I was disappointed I didn’t win, but I’d already sat back and accepted the reality of the situation. Lee was always going to win, definitely when it got down to the last five or four. I’d already faced that fact and so leaving wasn’t as hard for me as it would have been if I’d left in the first few weeks. Lee deserved to win and he’s perfect for it.”
Ben with his alter ego Link Larkin
Then came Ben’s big break with the offer of a role in ‘Hairspray’. Adam asked Ben how that came about:
David Grindrod the guy who cast ‘Hairspray’ was the first person I saw for ‘Any Dream Will Do’, even before I saw the celebrity panel. He was always at the live shows and he came up to me the night I was out and said, ’I’ve got a script and I want you to come in on Monday and pick it up’.
“It was Hairspray and I didn’t know anything about it, so I bought the CD, read the script and listened to the music and absolutely fell in love with it. I went into the audition eager to do well – I really wanted to get the part – I got called back to do a dance call, so on went the sleeveless vest and the dance pants!
“Everything was filmed and sent over to the Americans, who ultimately had the final word on it, it’s their show and their baby and they wanted to cast it.”
The Americans kept Ben hanging on for a month, but eventually the call came to say he’d landed the part.
Award winning Ben James-Ellis
Does the lad from Scarborough take a reality check and pinch himself now and again, thinking is this really happening to me?
“Yes, looking round my dressing room, it’s not that nice a dressing room – it’s in the West End, but it’s the worst dressing room in the West End! Yes I do have to pinch myself. It’s a great show with a great cast. I’ve reached what I dreamt of reaching, I’m here and I’m sat in my dressing room."
Adam had one final question for Ben. His name! We all know him as plain simple Ben Ellis, but what’s with the Ben James-Ellis?
“Boring reason, it’s just because of Equity and stage names, no one in the business is allowed to have the same name as anybody else and there was already a Ben Ellis down. My middle name is James so it was obvious to put it in as a double barrel.”
Whatever his name, we’re sure the future is looking good for Ben and we’ll keep an eye on him.
last updated: 05/06/2008 at 19:07