We’re in an understated hotel room in London, where an understated John Barrowman is dressed in a sensible cream winter sweater and curled up on a comfy sofa.
Understated is not a word you tend to associate with one of the most showbiz people on the planet, a man who has now become so synonymous with the word ‘Fab-U-lous’ (and yes, he says it to us in that way about 20 seconds into our chat) that you can never hear it without his image popping into your head, all jazz hands and pearly whites.
The 51-year-old has been singin’ and dancin’ his socks off since the 80s, from the West End to Captain Jack in Torchwood and Doctor Who , and got himself a new audience when he braved the critters of the I’m A Celeb … jungle and finished a respectable third.
John, who’s been with husband Scott for 25 years, might have been born Scottish, but he’s all American (he moved to the States aged eight, thanks to his dad’s job in a tractor company) with his total lack of British modesty or self deprecation.
He clangs some heavy name-drops into conversation, and regales us with tales of fan devotion. And why not? If you’ve got, it flaunt it – and John Barrowman has it in showbiz spades…
How has the jungle changed things?
I turned on my phone when I came out and it froze. Just on Instagram I’d gone from 600,000 to 1.2 million followers. It’s unbelievable. I’ve always had a wide fan base, but it’s even bigger. Ten-year-olds to nans. I wear many hats. That’s what entertainment is. You wouldn’t tell a plumber to just plumb sinks.
What made you do it?
I wasn’t asked to do panto, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got free time’ – that was it. And the jungle reiterated who I am. A lot of people before tried to make out that John Barrowman being John Barrowman was a persona. I’m quieter at home, but I’m still stupid and outrageous.
Is there another less ‘fab-u-LOUS’ side to you, though?
The stereotype of me as a fabulous gay man is a bit of a misconception – I’m fun and silly, but there are no feather boas in my house. It’s all clean lines, modern, lived in, there might even be socks on the floor.
There’s a Dalek in the kitchen, and the only kitsch stuff is in the TV library room, where I have all of my Captain Jack props. My house in Palm Springs is amazing. People say it’s like walking into a resort. You get a cocktail when you arrive, too.
You all got on very well in the jungle…
I’m not making a judgement on anyone who’s gone in before, but all of us who went in this time are still working and I think that’s why we all got along. There was no air of anyone needing to do something to facilitate what they want to do next.
Do you still see your jungle mates?
We have a WhatsApp group, we were on there yesterday taking the mickey out of Nick Knowles . I’ll let him tell you what it was about, but we were like, ‘Nick! F***ing come on!’
I saw Emily (Atack) yesterday, and I’m seeing her tonight to take her to meet my friend Catherine Tate . I have other friends I’m going to introduce her to who she’ll have a great time with when I’m not here.
Was it hard to adjust to normal life when you got home?
I didn’t go home, I went to Sydney because why wouldn’t you? I flew Mum and Dad over – Mum tried to get out of it because she’d had a hip operation, but the doctor said, ‘How are you flying?’ and she said, ‘Well, of course, first class,’ and he said, ‘You’d be stupid not to go.’
The jungle was the best thing I ever did for them. But now I’m home, I’m having trouble sleeping. I find it difficult being in confined spaces. The back of our house in Palm Springs is a glass slider, so I have all the doors open all night and Scott’s like, ‘It’s f***ing freezing in here, what have you done?’
So you’re off on tour next…
It’s going to be stories from the past 30 years, sharing my life with the fans because they’ve made it happen. At the end of the night, you’ll walk out feeling entertained with a smile on your face.
Does life on the road get rock ’n’ roll?
I’m past that. I’m 51 and the last thing I’m going to do is be like mutton dressed as lamb, partying all night. My audiences deserve 100% of my attention. When I’m done with the show I have a vodka soda, that’s it.
Ever behaved like a showbiz diva?
I can count on my hands the amount of times I’ve lost it with people, and there was always a valid reason. I’ve never done a Mariah Carey and wanted the set painted white, that’s stupid.
We bet you have very devoted fans…
Don’t mess with them. I have to stop my die-hards from ripping trolls to pieces. I say, ‘You’ve got to pull back and chillax.’ We throw trolls out. I have somebody who watches it all. I don’t have to defend me, and if you don’t like me, why are you on my social media? And if you’ve got an account where people can’t comment back, you’re a f***ing chicken.
What’s the weirdest present you’ve received from a fan?
I like to use the word ‘imaginative’. Are you ready? I was at a Doctor Who convention and a Klingon came up to me and gave me a box with my picture on it, and instead of the Captain Jack bomb I was riding, there was a vibrator shaped like an appendage.
I was very taken aback and said, ‘Thank you very much’, and I took it home and said to Scott, ‘Do you want to see what I got? A Klingon gave us a dildo.’ And he was like, ‘Throw that the f*** away, it’s filthy!’
That’s quite something…
It’s always the Doctor Who fans. Musical theatre people don’t give you marital aids. You do have people watching three or four nights in a row who are there weekly, though.
You’re not from a showbiz family?
No, but my great Aunt Isabel Bailey was a very famous opera singer in Europe, and my mum’s cousin Sandy Anderson was exceptionally talented and we also think he was gay.
I always wanted to do this. When I went to school in America a teacher said, ‘Do you think you have a good voice?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘Are you arrogant?’ And I went, ‘Yes’, even though I didn’t know what the word meant. He was like, ‘I like that.’
That’s when everything changed. He developed my talent and put me on the right foot.
You and Scott have been together for 25 years. Spill your secrets, please.
The secret is not to judge each other, to allow the other person to be themselves, and if there are any bumps along the way, to think about whether they’re worth ruining things over.
What if somebody gets drunk and snogs or has a feel at a party? Is it worth ruining what I have with this person who I have truly loved for 25 years?
What annoys you about each other?
He thinks I’m not patient and I can also create a little chaos if I want to, but I feel very calm around some chaos. I’m the one with the socks on the floor. He’s the one with the underwear.
He likes to think he is well put together, but he’ll put his feet on the table with his shoes on and he’ll throw a ball in the house. I’m like, ‘If you break anything on that frickin’ shelf, you’re screwed!’
Who is the most romantic?
With him, it’s the simple things – one night recently I fell asleep watching TV and I woke up and he was taking my glasses off. That’s sweet. He would say I’m not romantic, I think I’m very romantic.
When we got together, I showed him my New York over Easter break. We wanted to do our own thing that wasn’t the Easter bunny, so I got an Easter cat and I put it in a basket with tons of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because he loves them.
To this day, I travel everywhere with the Easter cat – he was my luxury item in the jungle.
John Barrowman’s Fabulous is touring the UK in June and July. For more info visit cuffeandtaylor.com
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