Duncan James: ‘If it’s not all four of us doing this together, then it’s not Blue’

Blue, from left: Lee Ryan, Simon Webbe, Duncan James and Antony Costa
Blue, from left: Lee Ryan, Simon Webbe, Duncan James and Antony Costa
The Coal Porters, 2017. Picture by Chico Vaughn

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The members of Blue have managed to keep themselves in the public eye for 15 years. Chris Broom spoke to Duncan James about the reason for their longevity.

As part of Blue, Duncan James has travelled the globe, performing their hits to huge audiences, and selling more than 16m albums worldwide in the process.

But it was as an entertainer in Hayling Island that the teenage Duncan cut his teeth in showbusiness.

The group released a new album, Colours, on Monday and their first stop on the tour to promote it will be at Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday, March 21.

Recalling his time in Hampshire, he says: ‘I’m an ex-Hayling Island boy. I started my career there at Haven Holidays. I was 18 years old, just finished my A levels, and I went to audition as a redcoat for Haven. I got the job as a male vocalist and I was put on Hayling Island, which was one of their prestigious sites.

‘I did a full couple of seasons there and learned a whole lot of my trade. It was really great fun.

‘I was singing in the shows three times a week, doing things like line dancing with all the old people on golden weekends and things like that. It was just a really great experience. I loved Hayling Island. It was a pretty full-on schedule, working six days a week, but I didn’t have to do all the rubbish jobs – I was lucky I was at the more glamorous end.’

It was at Hayling Island that he was headhunted for a boy band, which didn’t work out. He then spent a year-and-a-half in a band with Rita Simons, who later found fame as Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders. When that finished he returned home to Dorset at 21. It was make-or-break time for James, who says: ‘I thought ‘‘I’ve got to go back to London and really give it a go’’. I auditioned for this group and it turned out to be Blue. It was third time lucky.’

The newly-formed quartet of Duncan, Antony Costa, Lee Ryan and Simon Webbe already knew each other from the audition circuit.

From there things quickly became a blur of hit singles such as One Love and All Rise, multi-platinum albums, and touring.

Blue

Blue

‘It took off really quickly. I don’t really remember those early days. It was so fast.

‘All of a sudden we had a demand in Germany, France, Asia, so we were flying all over the place. We’d be promoting the album or the single in the UK and then we’d be flying off – every week we were in a different country.

‘It was a great opportunity for young guys – travelling the world, doing what we loved and getting up on stage and singing in front of thousands of people.’

By the end of 2004 however, the lifestyle was starting to take its toll.

We said we wanted a break for six weeks. Six weeks became six months, and then six years

Duncan James

‘It was entirely our decision. We wanted it to come to a halt because we were just burnt out.

‘We said we just want a break for six weeks, and six weeks turned into six months, and that turned into six years. It was never the plan to disband for so long but we settled into our own lives, children came, and solo careers.’

During this period Duncan took to musical theatre, among other things, winning the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago which led to a lead role in the original West End cast of Legally Blonde.

The band made a comeback in 2011 when they represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, ultimately coming 11th. But it was appearing on ITV2’s Big Reunion show in 2013 that proved a major boost, taking a lot of people by surprise.

‘Everybody likes to go back to a time, whether it’s when you’re a teenager or a moment in your life, like falling in love for the first time, and that music was very much of that era, 14 or 15 years ago when we were a lot less responsible and more carefree. They brought everybody back into a beautiful bubble of nostalgia.’

Since then Lee has featured on Celebrity Big Brother, Antony appeared in Aladdin at the Kings Theatre in Southsea this winter, while Simon came second in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

But Duncan says there’s no competitiveness between them regarding their extra-curricular activities. Quite the opposite.

‘We’re really supportive of one another. The reason we’ve lasted 15 years in this industry is because we have a lot of respect and love and we care for each other.

‘There’s not many bands these days who can last without someone dropping out or have a member swap, or someone falling out, and we’ve never had that, touch wood.

‘Blue is Lee, Antony, Duncan and Simon, if it’s not us, then it’s not Blue, We’ve always said that if one of us leaves or if one of us didn’t want to do it, then we’d end it.’

Unfortunately, like several of their peers, all of Blue – bar Ryan – have been declared bankrupt in recent years. But as James explains: ‘I think that’s something unfortunate that happens in the music industry. We were part of an era when it happened to a lot of us – there’s a whole history of it.

‘Pretty much everyone’s been screwed over at some point, I would like to think that nowadays it’s much better. I hope that because it is such public knowledge that so many were screwed over by their financial people, that people are a lot more astute and there are now rules in place to stop it happening.’

However, they have put their financial woes behind them, and hopes are high for the new album.

‘This new album’s really important because it signifies our journey which we’ve been on, which is why we called it Colours because it’s bringing it back to the original colours of Blue.

‘It’s very soulful, there are some covers and we’ve mixed it with six originals in the same vein.

‘We’re really excited and proud of the album and we can’t wait to get out there and play it.’

Duncan on...

...being on Loose Women

I’ve done it a few times. it’s one of my favourites to do - it’s good fun. They do brief you before you go in so you know what the subjects are. They don’t make you go in cold.

...representing the UK in Eurovision in 2011

We were an international band with a lot of fans in Europe and it was a great opportunity to let everyone know we were coming back, It wasn’t so much that we wanted to win it. It’s very political and we knew that.

...doing panto

I was in Jack and the Beanstalk in Birmingham this year. It was my first time doing panto and I loved it. It was a huge production – they really went for it.

Where & when...

Blue are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday, March 21, doors open 7pm. Tickets cost £27.50, including booking fee, from portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call 0844 847 2362, open 24 hours a day.