Damian Williams had grown up watching comedy. Whether it was Laurel and Hardy or Les Dawson, he decided from an early age he wanted to be a performer. And the one comedian who always caught his eye was Tommy Cooper.
The performer with the trademark red fez was an iconic comedian throughout the 20th century, and Damian gets the chance to play him in Being Tommy Cooper, which is at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on Sunday.
Damian says: ‘I became an actor at 15, joined a rep theatre company and learnt my craft. Twenty seven years later, I’m playing my hero, a genius and a true comedy legend.
‘The play charts Tommy’s life, it’s all about him and how he was both as a performer and as a person. It’s very truthful so it’s all about his dark side as well as his genius – you get the whole story.’
But it wasn’t easy preparing for the role as there’s not much footage of Tommy Cooper just being himself.
‘I do know a lot of his routines but the difficulty is mastering the scenes when Tommy isn’t performing. There are no recordings of him when he isn’t being the Tommy Cooper we saw on stage. He was always playing up to the camera and never gave anything of himself away.’
Tommy famously collapsed from a heart attack on live television on a variety show. Damian visited the theatre where it happened this year on the anniversary of Tommy’s death.
He says: ‘It was a weird feeling walking in the same stage door he walked in that night. Goosebumps, shivers – I experienced them all standing there. A member of the crew appeared and said “that’s where he died”, pointing to the prop store stage left. I just stood there looking for signs of Tommy but, of course, there weren’t any.’
Tickets: £12 to £19.50 from the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on (023) 9282 8282 or go to kings-southsea.com.