Jason Donovan: '˜You can't build a career out of being a teen idol'
At the end of the 1980s Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and the rest of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable ruled the chart roost.
Jason’s debut album, Ten Good Reasons, was the highest-selling album of 1989 – selling a staggering 1.5m copies in the UK and going five times platinum. He was hot off of the back of Neighbours, where he played Scott Robinson opposite his then real-life girlfriend Kylie, who played Charlene Mitchell. The show was at the peak of its popularity, pulling in up to 20m viewers.
His debut also held three massive number one singles, Too Many Broken Hearts, Sealed With A Kiss. and the duet with Kylie, Especially For You.
Now he’s hit the road to play the whole of his debut album, in order, for the first time.
Jason says: ‘It was a very successful record that year, and I’ll be honest with you, the recordings I’ve made over the past 20 years probably haven’t quite hit that mark,
‘It seemed like a good concept for a tour, rather than just going out and doing another greatest hits tour. It’s an interesting experience – if you’re someone who bought that album, then you’ll probably know those songs back to front.
‘I think it’s an opportunity to come along and enjoy that whole experience. It keeps me out of trouble – and I’ve got bills to pay too!’
When Jason spoke with WOW247, the tour was yet to start, but he says: ‘There are some songs on there that I haven’t played live.
‘I’m quite lucky in the sense that while I play some of these songs at festivals, I have a career where I do a lot of musicals and stuff like that, I don’t just rely on this as my income.
‘Now I’m on the road with Priscilla (Queen of the Desert) and I will be right up until I go on the tour with the album.’
‘I’m lucky to have these songs – it was the biggest-selling album of 1989. Music definitely puts you in a time and a place and when those fans hear Too Many Broken Hearts, there’s an emotional connection that you don’t get with any other creative form really.’
Back in the ’80s. it was Kylie who jumped ship from Neighbours first, and almost immediately began having success with the SAW hit factory.
‘I guess I followed in her footsteps,’ recalls Jason.
‘I was very keen to pursue my music, but I was someone who did it more as a hobby at that point.
‘But watching her and her success, it was hard to not hope that maybe that opportunity could come my way too. Then people naturally moved towards me to make that happen.
‘When the opportunity came up to work with Stock, Aitken and Waterman as well, that was sort of the perfect marriage.
I was a big fan of Rick Astley’s album and absolutely loved Never Gonna Give You Up and couldn’t believe my luck when working with SAW became a reality. The melodies, the production, the whole package was like a first class ride.
‘And the rest is history.’
In 1989, Pete Waterman took Jason on his Hitman Roadshow and has said ‘Jasonmania’ was a huge phenomenon, with the teen idol their biggest star and the fans’ reaction like nothing he’d seen before or since.
But how did this young performer cope? Enormously popular, he was seemingly everywhere.
‘The teen idol, the whole fame thing, is a by-product of being an entertainer and creative person,
‘It was flattering for people to think you’re genetically gifted, but that’s only paper-thin, that stuff.
‘You can’t build a career out of being a teen idol, you build it out of being a good actor and a good singer and building the career in ways that make it interesting, trying to push forward and learn your craft.’
However, his second album Between The Lines, while going platinum, sold far less than his debut. In what turned out to be a savvy move he took the lead role in a revival of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. At the time, casting a pop star in the lead of a West End musical was an unusual move.
‘I think that marketing aspect, I was probably at the forefront.
‘I think when Michael Crawford came into Phantom (of the Opera) as well, that changed the whole landscape, but for producers of musicals it’s as much about bums on seats as it is about the creative process. You’ve got to sell the tickets, so if you can get someone that ticks both those boxes, then, well...
‘You know, I never set out to be a musical star, but it’s been very good to me.’ And he laughs, ‘and you can age well in musicals.’
Since then he’s taken leads in several other musicals, including Sweeney Todd, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Rocky Horror Show.
‘It’s important to be challenged by stuff.
‘At the moment I’m doing Priscilla, which I love, and I really enjoyed doing something like Sweeney Todd – that was a big challenge for me.
‘Joseph was a period for me where all the cards were stacked in the right way and working with Lloyd Webber, he really pushed up my currency as a credible performer, being at The Palladium, and the whole prestige of that experience.’
Alongside his rise in musical theatre, though, Jason has told how he was beginning to harbour a serious cocaine habit. Things reached a nadir in 1995 when he had a drug-induced seizure at the notorious Viper Rooms in Los Angeles.
He has reportedly been drug-free since 2000, and asked if he has any vices these days, he replies: ‘I’m not one of those people that’s gone completely teetotal.
‘I still love a drink and a glass of wine, but I think my drug days are pretty much behind me. I don’t need that. That’s a box I’ve ticked and I certainly know now what I don’t want to do with my life, that’s for sure.’
So was it one of those things that was best to get out of the way when you were young?
‘Maybe, or not do it all,’ he says with just a hint of regret.
‘Look, I’m still lucky to be working in this business – I’m in my late 40s now, I still enjoy my job, there’s a demand for what I do, and my kids are getting a good education.
‘Long may it continue.’
There have been reality TV appearances as well, in the likes of I’m A Celebrity... and Strictly Come Dancing, but more recently Jason has taken to trying straight drama on stage.
He took the role of speech therapist Lionel Logue to Raymond Coulthard’s stuttering King George VI in The King’s Speech at Chichester Festival Theatre last year, to generally good reviews.
‘I really had a good time there – it’s a great piece of drama and it was well received.
‘I would have loved to taken it further and taken it into town (the West End) but that’s about demand and supply in terms of what producers think is possible, but I had a lovely time in Chichester. We’ll see about that one, I guess.’
n Jason Donovan plays Ten Good Reasons and his greatest hits, supported by Mon Aime, at O2 Guildhall in Southampton tomorrow. Doors open 7.30pm. Tickets from £32.85. Go to o2guildhallsouthampton.co.uk