He’s not quite your classic renaissance man, but the number of things that Joe Pasquale has turned his hand to since first coming to the public’s attention is as impressive as it is perhaps unexpected.
Joe burst onto the scene when he came second in the 1987 series of New Faces (a forerunner of Britain’s Got Talent that also gave us Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood and The Chuckle Brothers among others).
With his distinctive voice he has since become a household name, loved by millions.
Besides the stand-up comedy that made his name, he has been crowned King of the Jungle in I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, learned to box and paint, taken up running to complete the London Marathon, got his pilot’s licence, and is currently in the middle of studying for an Open University degree in earth sciences.
But now he is once more astride his invisible horse as King Arthur in the musical Spamalot, ‘lovingly ripped off from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, when it hits the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton on Tuesday. It’s actually the 53-year-old’s third stint in the role – he starred in two runs in the West End and now during its nationwide tour.
Joe says: ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail was one of my favourite films when I was a kid. To go out there and do Eric Idle’s words is a comedy gift. You know it’s going to work – you just go out there and do them how it’s written.’
He first got the part after going to watch it when his friend Bonnie Langford was starring in it as The Lady of The Lake. She recommended him to the show’s producers, and two weeks later he was in it himself.
‘Learning scripts is one of those things you’re either good at or you’re not, and luckily I’m quite good at learning them quickly so it was all right. And the nature of the show lends itself to learning the script quite quickly – it’s the staging that’s the difficult part.
‘I just love it. It’s one of those shows where you know you’re going to work for two hours and laugh.
‘As Todd (Carty, King Arthur’s sidekick Patsy on the tour) says, it’s therapy that they pay us to go to – how many people know that they’re going to go to work and laugh the whole time?’
I love this business, I do, but there’s more to life than just the business, and I like to fill my time productivelyJoe Pasquale
Joe was talking to The Guide before going onstage in Woking. He talks at high-speed and regularly calls you ‘love.’ And he often gives the impression that he can’t quite believe the way his career has shaped up.
‘What’s really great about my age and career and where I am now, is that one minute I’m doing a panto, the next minute I’m doing a voice-over, then a musical, then a bit of stand-up, or climbing a mountain for the Discovery Channel.
‘I do different things all the time so I never get the chance to get too bored, and luckily I’m in the position that I can pick and choose what I want to do and I’m lucky that I get offered gigs like this.’
And while he may not always know what he’s doing in six months’ time, he claims to thrive on that.
‘When you start in the business you never know what’s coming – it may be nothing,’ he says. ‘I love the insecurity of not knowing what’s coming around the corner.’
Does he ever feel worried about that insecurity?
‘Sod that, I’ll be dead one day. There may be nothing today, but tomorrow – who knows?
‘You never know what’s around that corner, and that’s what keeps you going.’
In his downtime he’s been completing his Open University degree: ‘I’m at 210 points, and I need 300 points for the degree, 360 with honours.
‘It’s all online, and because of the nature of this business, if you’re not travelling you’ve got plenty of time to fill in, so rather than going round TK Maxx and picking clothes up off the floor, going to the pictures or playing video games, I try and learn stuff, use my time wisely.
‘There’s a lot of things I do that people don’t realise.
‘I love this business, I do, but there’s more to life than just the business, and I like to fill my time productively.’
He was also in a production of Tom Stoppard’s classic riff on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. But it was the closest he’s coming to straight acting. With perhaps a tiny hint of regret, he says: ‘I’ve not gone down that path – but you can only go down that route if you’re offered the chance – a director saying they want someone like me.
‘Fortunately, or unfortunately, whatever way you want to look at it, once you get to a certain level in this business, you carry a certain profile, and people know if they want you or not.
‘Even if you think you could do it, the director has an agenda and if you don’t fit that agenda, you don’t get a look-in. Sometimes it’s a problem, sometimes it’s not. For example, I do a lot of voice-over work, and I don’t get booked to sound like a northern bloke with a deep voice, I get booked to do me. My voice speaks for itself.’
Ah yes, the voice. Ask most people about Joe Pasquale, and it will be among the first things they mention. He has performed live shows with titles like Live And Squeaky, Twin Squeaks and Bubble And Squeak.
Has he ever felt it’s hindered him? ‘It’s just there, I didn’t even realise that it was something people would make a fuss about. It’s nothing special.
‘It doesn’t sound like other people, but people like to hang a hook on something: “Oh, that’s him with the funny voice.’ you know what I mean?
‘To me it’s not a funny voice, it’s something I’ve lived with for 53 years.’