Pop star Duncan James can't feel blue in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

A life-changing journey, a life-affirming story, a cast of divas and drag queens, and some classic rock numbers.

Duncan James (centre) stars in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Picture by Paul Coltas
Duncan James (centre) stars in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Picture by Paul Coltas

Oh, and a big pink bus. It can only be Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, heading to Crawley’s Hawth Theatre (April 18-23).

Heading up the company is Duncan James of boy band Blue. We’re speaking ahead of a matinee at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, and Duncan is whisking his motor to the car-wash. Questions and answers are tossed and buffeted between swooshing water jets and big whirring brushes.

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Duncan, a multi-talented performer, explains that Blue would only ever be one part of his profile.

“I actually started off in musical theatre, well before Blue – I studied it for A Level at school and I was that kid who always got the lead part. I was a member of a couple of amateur dramatic societies down in the South West where I lived. In fact I was on stage at the age of four! So it seemed everybody knew me, even within those circles, and it was what I always wanted to do.”

“And being in a boy band with Blue was something I had never imagined myself doing – it just happened. We had probably about five years of huge success and popularity, and then when I had the hiatus with Blue, it gave me the opportunity to go back to my passion, my childhood dream, which was being on a West End stage. I was lucky enough to land the part of Billy Flynn in Chicago.”

He followed it up with a switch across to Legally Blonde, playing Warner Huntingdon III opposite Sheridan Smith.

We turn to Priscilla. What’s the appeal and the audience mix? “I think Priscilla has a kind of cult status: it’s built up a following of its own ever since the 1994 movie. I do also get the diehard Blue fans, who come to every show that I’m in, and are awesome and very, very loyal. But Priscilla is much bigger than that. It is such a great musical, a brilliant night out and such a spectacle, and such a feel-factor.”

He continues: “The creatives have done wonders, and they have actually improved on the original West End show and streamlined it a little bit, and taken out one or two of the earlier clunkier bits. It runs like a dream.”

Briefly, we touch on Duncan’s own story and perhaps his own personal journey. “I wouldn’t exactly say that Priscilla is my story or that Tick (his character) is me. But there are similarities. What’s notable is that nowadays it’s much more accepted to be a gay man with a child – which applies to both me and to Tick – whereas back then in the original Priscilla of the early ’90s it was much harder to be out and to have a child. Through films like Priscilla, attitudes have changed.

“In Priscilla we have a transgender character and one lovely scene where she becomes accepted for her openness and honesty. I believe we are definitely progressing and moving forward, and becoming more understanding of each other as a human race, without having to be afraid of being who we want to be.”

Tickets cost £37.50-£42.50. Call the box office on 01293 553636 or visit www.hawth.co.uk.

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