Everybody's Talking About Jamie: Sheffield welcomes home coming-of-age story

By Alex Moss
BBC News

Image source, Amazon
Image caption, The film is based on the musical of the same name which started life on stage in Sheffield

The hit musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie has made the leap from the stage to the big screen - with the city of Sheffield playing a starring role in the film.

Based on the original stage show, the movie tells the story of Jamie New, a teenager from Sheffield who harbours dreams of becoming a drag queen.

It was inspired by a BBC documentary following the true-life journey of County Durham schoolboy Jamie Campbell - a drag-obsessed teen desperate to wear a dress to his school prom.

The musical debuted at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in 2017, soon becoming a sell-out in Yorkshire before going on to flourish in London's West End.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, It is inspired by the real-life journey of Jamie Campbell who wanted to attend his high school prom in drag

But it was during its short run in the former steel city that the stage production captured the hearts of theatregoers and caught the attention of movie producers at Sheffield's Warp Films.

Speaking ahead of the film's premiere, back at The Crucible where it first began life, the real Jamie paid tribute to the city's part in its journey.

"Sheffield has fully adopted us," he said. "I feel like I'm from Sheffield now because it's such a great community."

Work on filming got under way in the summer of 2019 and was shot at carefully-selected locations in and around Sheffield.


Image source, Amazon
Image caption, Max Harwood was still at university when he was cast as Jamie to star alongside Sarah Lancashire and Shobna Gulati

It's the place where one of the story's key scenes is played out - when Jamie struts his flamboyant stuff in a pair of tower-high stilettos on his garden wall.

The urban sprawl of Parson Cross is where Jamie lives with his ever-adoring and supportive mother, Margaret, played by Sarah Lancashire.

The council estate was chosen by Jonathan Butterell, the director of both the film and the musical, because he grew up there.

He explains: "I come from working class roots. I felt I knew the world intimately. I knew those hills, that council estate, I knew inherently that was at the centre of something real."

Image source, Oli Constable/BBC
Image caption, The exterior of Jamie's house was filmed on Parson Cross while the interior was set in a studio

But in the movie-making world, it's not as simple as picking a house and setting the camera rolling.

Richard Knight, who worked as a location manager for the shoot, says: "There was lots of walking up and down roads, looking at Google Earth, peering through gaps in gardens.

"Finding Jamie's house on Parson Cross, it's quite a flat area, but in the story Jamie is very aspirational so then you're thinking, well maybe some distant hills might be nice to give him that sense of looking into the future."

It was a tentative approach to get the homeowners on side, with a note first being put through the letterbox.

"People don't think filming happens around here, they don't make the leap. Most people think it's filmed in a studio or in London or America."


Image source, Amazon
Image caption, Much of the filming at Crookes Social Club was in the dressing room where Hugo, played by Richard E Grant, readies Jamie for his debut drag performance

The concert room at Crookes Social Club in Sheffield was transformed into the place where Jamie makes his debut as his drag alter ego Fifi La True.

Maurice Champeau has been the manager there for seven years and said witnessing drag queens in enormous wigs strutting across his floorboards was a break from the norm.

At one point in filming, the cast, including Richard E Grant, who plays Hugo, an enigmatic former queen and Jamie's mentor, were on a tea break when Grant said he fancied some salt and vinegar crisps.

Image source, Oli Constable/BBC
Image caption, Maurice Crookes said if the film was as successful as the musical, it would have a huge impact on Sheffield's legacy

The Hollywood actor was dolled up in flamboyant drag dress as his on-stage persona Loco Chanelle.

Maurice recalls: "I threw him these crisps over from behind the bar but he couldn't open them because his fingernails were so long so I opened the bag and sat there holding the packet while he ate them.

"I think we were talking about the Rugby World Cup.

"To be honest, it felt a bit surreal to be doing that with a drag queen."


Image source, Amazon
Image caption, Swinton Academy was turned into the fictional Mayfield School where Sharon Horgan plays Miss Hedge, Jamie's well-intentioned but misguided teacher

Jamie isn't like the other boys at his high school. Daydreaming a way out of the classroom, he wants nothing more than to be a drag queen while struggling against the prejudice of his small, tight-knit community.

It was a tough search to find the right school which matched the director's vision, but Swinton Academy in Rotherham made the final cut.

Production designer Jane Levick says the building was transformed to get the exact look they wanted.

"The real classroom, before we got our hands on it, had displays, graphics, stars, speech bubbles, and quotes all over the place.

"It was really brightly coloured and quite loud. What I wanted to do was create the real world of Jamie to be a bit blander."

Image source, Swinton Academy
Image caption, Chairs and tables in the school lunch hall were replaced with a rainbow of colour and glitter for the prom scene

Most of the filming was done while school was closed for the summer, with some of the pupils featuring on screen as Jamie's fellow classmates at the fictional Mayfield School.

The lunch hall was turned into a flamboyant room of glitter, confetti and fairy lights to shoot the prom scene sequence.

Image source, Swinton Academy
Image caption, Parts of school became unrecognisable as cast and crew set up for filming

Helen Marshall, Swinton assistant vice principal, says the experience left a real "feel-good factor" among staff and students.

"When we got the call it was unbelievable, we felt so special that we'd been chosen.

"We're so excited to see it. It sounds ridiculous, but to see your English classroom or the school car park in a film, it's just a bit surreal."


Image source, Lewis Tyree
Image caption, Superfan Lewis Tyree describes the street party scene on Deerlands Avenue as amazing

For Lewis Tyree, a self-confessed Everybody's Talking About Jamie super fan, filming in his home city enabled a dream to come true.

The 30-year-old has followed the Jamie journey since its early days and has seen it dozens of times on stage.

When it was announced it was being adapted for the big screen, the council admin worker jumped at the chance to be an extra.

Image source, Amazon
Image caption, Deerlands Avenue was filled with thousands of people for the street party scene

In one scene he can be seen shopping in Atkinsons department store with his on-screen wife, but his most memorable part was featuring in the street party scene on Deerlands Avenue alongside thousands of other Sheffielders.

"It was just unbelievable to be a part of it. A little person like me from Sheffield doesn't usually get these opportunities. I feel like I'm living in someone else's shoes to be honest."

Image source, Lewis Tyree
Image caption, The real-life Jamie Campbell came to watch the street party scene and posed for pictures with people

Lewis adds: "There is something about the whole Jamie journey which is so relatable .

"You don't have to be a drag queen to get it. I think we all have our own Jamie story inside of us."

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