Interview: John Barrowman

We chat to John Barrowman to find out about his multi-talented career.

Interview: John Barrowman

John Barrowman says working hard is a family trait.

If variety is the spice of life, then John Barrowman is a super hot vindaloo with extra chillies. The singer, dancer, author, presenter and writer is, by anyone’s standards, one of the most showbiz men around. And, if the reaction of the adoring crowds that flock to see him are anything to go by, he’s pretty tasty too.

But life is not always running at 500mph for the 47-year-old. As well as the day job (if you can call it that when he spends so many evenings entertaining), the Glasgow-born star is a loving husband, son, friend and brother.

Now returning to the stage with You Raise Me Up, the performer is embarking on his first UK tour in four years. But how on earth, we want to know, does he find time to be a normal person?

“It’s very easy to balance my hectic life,” John tells us from Palm Springs, California, where he shares a home with partner of 22 years and husband for two, Scott Gill. 

“It’s like anybody with a job, you have to find time to deal with your kids, your friends, your spouse and your family.”

And John speaks with an air of relaxation that surprises us. The last year has been full of accomplishments that many performers would hope to achieve in a lifetime.

The Doctor Who and Torchwood favourite was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last June, something that he says was ‘an honour’. He’s the star of Sky show Arrow, in which he plays The Dark Archer Malcolm Merlyn, and also released his third fantasy novel The Book of Beasts which he co-authored with his sister Carole last summer. 

On screen, he hosted Sing Your Face Off in the US, as well as quiz show Pressure Pad here in Blighty. He was also the host of The Small Pet Hospital and introduced The National Lottery Awards too.

That, along with a stint in Glasgow playing Buttons in panto, topped off a year of achievements.

Do we need to reiterate that all of this happened in ONE YEAR?

It can’t be denied that John is a hard worker, but he seems to take everything in his stride, something which he appears to have nailed after 26 years as a pro. That, he tells us, is a genetic trait.

“I’m a grafter!” he says. “The Barrowmans are grafters – we come from a background in Glasgow where the family were all really hard workers. We’re here on this earth for a purpose, we shouldn’t be lying back doing nothing!” So how does he find time to himself, we ask? We’d been reminded by his team of his busy schedule before the call, so we wanted to know how a typical day in the life of John Barrowman would go.

“Today I’m working 9am until 11am and then I’m taking the rest of the day to spend with friends and Scott. I always block time out for them. Being busy comes with the territory but I always make sure I make time for myself.”

John and Scott were wed just days after the California’s ban on same-sex marriages was overturned and have been living happily in, what sounds to us like utter bliss, ever since.

“In my ideal day, I’d get up and go get coffee for Scott and I. I’d sit out by the pool and look over at the mountains. I have a car collection so I might go and do work on one of those, and then I’d maybe hook up with a friend and hang out. I love getting home and having cocktails out by the pool, going out for dinner with Scott and relaxing.

“I love being at home, and I’m a real homebody. We’ve got homes in Wales and London. It’s like that old saying, but where I lay my hat really is my home! We’re a bit like gipsies in that respect, always on the move. 

Leading light – John’s TV roles include Torchwood and Arrow
Leading light – John’s TV roles include Torchwood and Arrow

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“There’s nothing that I love more than putting on my jim-jams, downloading a movie and sitting down with Scott and getting my feet scratched!”

There’s something infinitely warm about John, and from a chin-wag on the phone, we understand why he’s earned himself a horde of passionate and loving fans.

And it’s a love that is reciprocated. His new tour begins on May 16, arriving at Birmingham Symphony Hall on June 6, and he’s really looking forward to getting back in front of Barrowman faithfuls. He loves the Midlands, having appeared in the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime on a number of occasions. 

“I don’t want to give anything away about the show, but anyone that’s been to one of my shows before knows that they’re going to leave with a smile on their face. 

“You really get your money’s worth. I put 100 per cent into every show I do, I write it, direct it, arrange the music for it. It’s full of laughs and surprises too. Last year, my mum and dad got on stage and performed YMCA! My mum was dressed as a police woman and my dad a construction worker!

“At another we performed Man! I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain and the boys came on dressed in drag, handbag dancing. It was a lot of fun. 

“The whole show is an insight into my life, I tell a very personal story. That’s why I have to have time away in between – I have to live and experience things to be able to create these new stories!”

It makes complete sense, and John talks with equal passion about his professional and personal lives. Perhaps for a natural-born performer, they’re one and the same.

John Barrowman in Arrow
John in Arrow

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So what’s John’s favourite facet of his glittering diamond of a career? TV? Music? Writing? “I never answer a question like that, because once I specify what I enjoy doing most, I can never change my mind,” he says.

“For me, it’s an entertainment business; I’m the product and I need to develop in different elements of that to do a good job. It’s like saying to a plumber, you can only plumb toilets and nothing else. I’m an entertainer and a hard-worker at that.

“I don’t grade my successes and everything has its weight. Right now I’m a bad guy in Arrow. Doctor Who and Torchwood were great for me but Arrow has gone tenfold! I got an Olivier Award nomination when I was in London and I was awarded an MBE, but nothing is, I feel, more of a success than anything else I’ve done.”

At that, our time slot is up and we leave John to get his work done so that he can go and enjoy the fruits of his labour. As we daydream of sitting by a pool in sunny California, supping Cosmopolitans and looking out over one of the most exciting states in America, we’re quickly shaken back to life by the realisation of a newspaper deadline and the vague promise of a pint of cider once 5pm comes.

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