BIG INTERVIEW Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff on Fat Friends: 'You just sit there thinking: "Blimey, I'm in this as well!"'

Fat Friends the Musical. Photo by Jay Brooks
Fat Friends the Musical. Photo by Jay Brooks
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I was just calling to see if I can convince you to buy some PPI?' asks the voice on the other end of the line.

The Guide's phone has rung at the arranged time for Andrew Flintoff, the former England cricketer, TV personality and now star of stage, to call. The voice hasn't given a name, but it certainly has Flintoff's distinctive Lancastrian accent.

'Go away Freddie,' The Guide replies – okay, it was something slightly stronger than that, but this is still a family paper.

We wouldn't usually recommend opening an interview by swearing at the subject (however mildly), but there is a booming laugh and he immediately admits who it is.

Flintoff, probably better known by his nickname Freddie than his given name, was one of the all-time cricketing greats. Breaking numerous records during his career, the all-rounder twice won The Ashes with England, being named Man of The Series after the 2005 victory (pictured far right). Aside from a minor comeback in 2014, he retired from professional cricket in in 2010. He has also been a team captain on the James Corden-hosted Sky1's sports/comedy panel show A League of Their Own for 12 series. 

But now he's appearing in the musical adaptation of Fat Friends, the hit ITV show written by Kay Mellor that ran for four seasons in the early 2000s.

Freddie is playing the part of Kelly's fiancé, a big lad but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he's lovable and adores Kelly – the heroine of the piece – played by Jodie Prenger.

So how did he end up on stage?

'It's a natural progression from playing for Lancashire at cricket,' he deadpans.

'It’s not something that was ever in my plans, it’s not something I even thought about until recently, but since playing cricket I’ve had a lot of opportunities, I’ve been lucky.

'To be honest with you, cricket is all about performing and putting an act on.

'I started having acting lessons for about 18 months-two years, off the back of not getting a part which I went for, not knowing I was going to go for it!

'Then I got a part in Kay’s new drama, Love Lies and Records [which screened on BBC1 late last year], did a comedy short for Sky, and while I was doing Love, Lies and Records, Kay mentioned Fat Friends The Musical.

'Obviously I knew about the TV show because James Corden was in it, and before I knew it I found I was auditioning, standing at the end of a piano with Nick Lloyd-Webber, singing two songs and acting out a scene. Which was really strange, but I thought I’d have a go, when I got the part I was quite surprised.

'I’m sure there are so many reasons not to do it, and I’m sure people will tell me them,' he laughs, 'but the way I look at it is, why wouldn’t you do it? Nick Lloyd Webber has done the music, Jodie Prenger, Kevin Kennedy, Sam Bailey, all these people are in it, and so far in rehearsal I’ve not disappointed them!'

Aside from once demonstrating his singing chops while fielding, treating everyone to his version of Elvis Presley's In The Ghetto, how has he found the singing side of things?

'That’s been the biggest thing – one, singing, but two, having the confidence to do it in this environment with people who are very, very good.'

Freddie was speaking with The Guide when the show was still in rehearsal, late last year.

'When I heard them singing for the first time, I didn’t realise how well people could actually sing! We did a couple of warm-up exercise and I just opened my mouth with ‘owt coming out, I didn’t want people to hear me.

'But then over the past two and a half weeks, I feel I’ve got better, and I’ve got more confident. I’ve just got to be the best I can be and make sure that my voice fits the character I’m playing, and I think I’m winning at that at the minute.'

How has he found it with the rest of the cast? Have they taken the mickey?

'Of course they wind me up, I wouldn’t want it any other way. But the nice thing is, from two weeks ago, turning up, not knowing what I was getting myself into, how it works, what I was going to do, thinking: "I’m going into other people’s world here as an ex-cricketer, what sort of reaction they’re going to give us?" And they’ve been amazing, everyone offers help and advice where they can.

'It’s nice to be part of a team again because they’re definitely a team. They’ve been brilliant, they really have. As well as doing their jobs, they’ve been working at mine too so I’m very thankful and appreciative. Some of the people here are ridiculously talented. I’ve never seen it in this world.

'When you see it in cricket where someone’s better than anyone else...I’m seeing it in this world for the first time, they can do everything, they can sing, they can dance, they can act, you’re just sitting there watching them thinking: "Blimey, I’m in this as well!"

Of his fellow cast members, he worked briefly with John Halliwell who plays Paul, on Love, Lies and Records, but the rest are new to him.

'Sam Bailey popped on for a Pop Star Penalty on League Of Their Own for about a minute, but with everyone together every day from 10 to six at the minute, we’re all getting to know each other really well.

'It’s really nice, I’ve spent a lot of time smiling and laughing as well as working, which I guess means I’m enjoying it!'

Since retiring from cricket, he's certainly had a random career, one which he says has been largely defined by his 'seize the moment' attitude.

'It depends how you look at. I’ve never been the type of person who has a 9-5  job. You say random, I say fortunate more than anything.

'There have been opportunities that have presented themselves, others that I’ve created. I’ve been so lucky on a League of Their Own, and I’ve done some presenting jobs on prime time ITV. This, doing a theatre show never entered my plans, but why wouldn’t you?'

'It’s just the chance to do it – I’m working one of the best writers in the world, one of the best musicians and actors who are amazing.'

Strange as it may at first sound, Freddie has been able to draw on his cricketing experience to help him on stage.

'There’s some similarities between the two of them, when I was playing cricket it were all an act – you go out there and play the part of the person who you want to be, you’re in front of people, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, although I hope in this I’m going to be more sure what’s going to happen, but you’re outside your comfort zone and you’re performing.

''The nice thing about both is you’ve got the comfort of a team around you and everyone is working together to be the best they can be. But if you’re batting or bowling, you’re the only person doing it, similar to this if you’re singing or speaking, you’re the only one doing it, so you get the chance to be in the comfort of a team, but you are out there on your own at times as well.'

• Fat Friends – The Musical is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from February 5-10. For more information go to mayflower.org.uk.