Mike Atkinson

Interview: Jason Donovan

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

Once all but consigned to the celebrity dumper, Jason Donovan has been enjoying a remarkable comeback. Indeed, his current All The Hits And More tour sees him headlining at major concert venues for the first time since the old hit-making days. For Jason, the tour will be something of “a reflection on the past, with some self-indulgence in terms of new material.”

“Whether you should call that self-indulgent, I don’t know. Because those songs haven’t necessarily been heard before, I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t get the opportunity to air them. But there’ll be about 70 percent old to 30 percent new.”

If people want to view the show as a nostalgia trip, then Jason is entirely comfortable with that.

“I was listening the other day to a friend’s compilation of Eighties music, and it really put a smile on my face. I’m sure that a lot of the people that will be at the shows would have listened to Rick Astley, and Bros, and the usual suspects from that time. So it will be a bit of a celebration.”

What relationship does Jason have with those old songs? After all, it could feel somewhat strange to be still singing them, if he has evolved into a different person from the pop idol of his youth.

“Of course, and until I actually get out there, I can’t really tell you what that relationship is. However, I am extremely proud of my past. If you look at those Stock Aitken Waterman songs, they had great melodies – and I would argue that you could put some of those melodies onto today’s beats, and get away with it.”

Although often regarded as deeply uncool at the time, it is remarkable how well some of the SAW productions have aged. After all, nothing dates as quickly as the fashionable, and it’s often the so-called “disposable”, “manufactured” pop which stands the test of time best of all.

“It depends on how analytical you want to be, though. I’ve always had a broad musical taste. I can listen, as I did in those days, to a New Order record, and then pick up one of the Donna Summer tracks that Stock Aitken Waterman produced. And I was also a big Cure fan. But if you don’t like a particular scene, you don’t have to buy into it. Nowadays, it’s the Pop Idols and X Factors which get heavily criticised – but every poet’s a thief, and everything has an element of the old. It just depends on how you dress it up to make it look new. So what is “cool”? I don’t know, you tell me.”

That said, there seems to be a clear difference between the Stock Aitken Waterman acts, who were trained for stardom and understood the game, and today’s reality TV contestants, most of whom are put on public display before they are truly ready, in the belief that they are “living their dream” Isn’t there something rather cruel about that?

“Maybe, but then talent will always come through. To a certain degree, I’d even put myself in the same category. My singing abilities early on weren’t fantastic. But I had the additional element of the exposure from Neighbours, and the marriage of those two was quite explosive.”

“These days, I guess it just comes down to phone votes. It’s the networks trying to gain their revenue. It’s not so much from advertising any more, so it’s from phone voting instead. So we keep having to move on to the next star of X Factor, and the next celebrity, and so it’s a very quick moving world. But the Leonas and the Will Youngs are very talented people. Believe me, it takes a lot of guts – and I haven’t done it very often myself – to get up on live television and sing. That’s a tough art.”

Were Jason’s own “pop idol” days a pleasant time, to be looked back on with affection, or was he just under immense pressure?

“At the time, there was a lot of pressure, of course. Any business – as it was, really, to a certain degree – has pressure with it, if it’s going to be successful. It’s not until you look back with hindsight that you think: wow, those really were glory days. I’m very lucky that I stuck it out. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest.”

“It’s given me a good lifestyle, and put my kids through a good education, and so there are those bottom lines – but on a formative level, I’ve also discovered a great love of music, and that transcends into the work I’ve done in the last fifteen years where it hasn’t been as high profile.”

“You’d be very deluded to think that a career could maintain a 1989 level for twenty or thirty years. Some people are more successful at it than others, and you’ve got to learn not to compare yourself to other people in life, otherwise you end up wandering around thinking: God, I’m not good enough for this world.”

As for Jason’s perceived fall from grace in the latter half of the Nineties, maybe the media were handed a story which they couldn’t resist: Clean-cut Boy Goes Bad. There was a certain amount of shock when he dropped the wholesome image, and made no attempt to hide the more hedonistic aspects of his lifestyle. Although this was presented to us as a troubled time, was it perhaps more of a period of liberation?

“You may well be right. The great thing about being interviewed is that I get people analysing my life more than I ever look at it, so there’s an element of comedy from my perspective. But I looked at myself in Joseph, and saw a technicolour dreamcoat, a loincloth and pair of long white socks, and thought: you know what, is this where I want to be? Not quite!”

“So I went out to have a good time. I’d worked hard for seven or eight years, I had money in the bank, and I could afford to do it. I would argue: what person in my position wouldn’t? If you look at our celebrities at the moment, nine out of ten tend to go down that line.”

“In a cultural sense, the happy clean-cut boys of the Eighties got washed away by Nirvana in the early Nineties. So there was a general rebellion against all that. But I came to realise a few years ago that there’s no such thing as “being cool”. You can take as many drugs as you want, but you’re either going to be alive or dead. How you function as an individual is what you’re going to be judged upon, whether you value that judgement or not.”

“It was funny going back into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, where I did Joseph, and where I took the decision to go into another direction. To see a bunch of kids smile, while you’re flying around in a stupid little plane: that’s what it’s all about.”

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