Gary Wilmot is a much-loved British comedian, singer and actor. First finding fame through the television programme New Faces, he has enjoyed a brilliant and varied career. Possibly best known for his stage roles in Me and My Girl and most recently seen in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Gary is going to be performing at Cadogan Hall in August along with Lesley Garrett, Ruthie Henshall and Michael Xavier in Some Enchanted Evening, a concert celebrating the music of Richard Rodgers.
I was honoured that Gary took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about this show and his career and what better way to start the interview than to ask: what’s your personal favourite Richard Rodgers song?
Of course. I love The Lady is a Tramp, but I think I’ve discovered a new favourite in the form of a soliloquy from Carousel called My Boy Bill. It’s about seven and a half minutes long. It has light and shade and every feeling. It’s a masterpiece, and I’m looking forward to performing especially with the orchestra.
You are well known for live theatre, concerts and television. Do you have a preference for any of them?
It may sound corny but really it’s whatever I am doing at the time. I enjoy the rehearsal time when we all meet and you can bounce ideas and the creative process takes shape. I view it as cross word puzzle or Sudoku trying to get into the minds of the people who wrote it. That’s the process I really enjoy.
Do you get nervous before a performance? Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Yes, I get nervous – I probably won’t be by the Saturday night (laughing) – as I haven’t performed these songs before. The Lady Is A Tramp I have, but this version has refrain in front of it so it is different. However, I picked up the score to Edelweiss to learn it and discovered that I did know it after all. It must be just part of our DNA it’s gone in over the years. I am not superstitious but I respect if others are in the dressing room. Some don’t like whistling in there and I respect that. As for rituals, I always like to check I have clothes on (laughing) but other than that no not really.
What do you think is your biggest achievement to date?
Me and My Girl was my most successful and got the ball rolling for me and is my favourite without a doubt. To play Kipps in Half a Sixpence, Radio Times also written by Noel Gay who wrote Me and My Girl is a fantastic show and I wish it had a longer run. (Caroline Radio Times Is not a show I was familiar with however I do know it was set to have a new run in the Charing Cross Theatre in October but unfortunately has needed to be postponed due to artist non-availability lets hope a fresh date is set soon) Carmen was a huge departure for me but I loved it.
If you Could play any character in any play/musical who would it be?
Oh I don’t know I think most of the good ones have gone now. A few years ago I wanted to do a musical called Little Me which is quite a large musical and I don’t suppose it will ever be done again being a Tour DE Force. Michael Crawford did it and Bruce Forsyth in one of his few musical performances. Russ Abbott did a production of it as well. I would love to have done that but it takes an awful lot of stamina to do something like that. Maybe the Court Jester or if there was a musical written about Walter Mitty – At this point I asked if Gary would like to write it himself? Gary – I’ve written a lot but it’s hard for writers, who make a living from it, to get something produced and if a performer does it people are wary. It costs so much to get something on, so people pick and choose what actually gets produced. There is a lot of revivals, and of course I love them, but if we keep reviving shows then there’s no-one learning to write new shows for revival in thirty or so years time. If we don’t move forward then we end up going backwards it’s such an expensive thing to do though. Broadway have it off, they have a lot of new stuff but if you put millions into producing a show you need to know it’s going to make you some money back.
You are so busy writing and performing but what do you do to relax?
Well I’ve a lovely garden, I like gardening. A bit of cycling that’s the kind of thing I do. I do relax but if an idea pops into my head I do write it down.Very often it looks like I’m doing nothing but I’ve got an idea in my head and I’m mulling it over.
After the Concert dates you are going into the hotly anticipated “Big – The Musical” do you know what’s next?
Not at all, you travel the road and you come to the crossroads and you choose and you don’t know how long you’ve got until the next crossroads or what’s coming next. It’s what people have got to offer me or may think I’m right for the role. Gone are the days when I know what I am doing for the next three years. I’m more laid back and think “well something will come in” and it generally does, and I’ve got a fantastic agent as well who works extremely hard for me.
Some quirky questions now:
Your first name is really Harold and in fact Gary is you second middle name after Owen. So what made you use Gary as your stage name?
When I first started in the industry I had an agent who was a relatively new agent and he viewed Harold or Harry as an old fashioned name or very Victorian names and wasn’t right for the show business world as it was then. So we decided to go with Gary and it kind of stuck, now I wish I’d kept with Harry because it’s such a great name and it was my dad’s name and I just wished I’d kept it.
Do you make your family laugh?
To be honest I like the people around me to make me laugh, I like it to be not one way traffic. My very best friend is Shirley Bassey’s Musical Director Mike Alexander, and when we are together we always laugh a lot, he makes me laugh and I make him laugh. Sara, my wife makes me laugh a lot.
What is the best thing you’ve seen personally recently?
There is a character Count Arthur Strong and he has a couple of TV programmes at the moment. As far as musical theatre goes I was in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but that was right up my street I loved that. I saw Sweeney Todd in the Pie and Mash shop in Tooting which was absolutely fantastic, I just thought that was true intimate theatre. Whatever I see whether it’s good or bad it stimulates me mentally, you can learn from other performers, it’s inspiring.
My final three questions are fun questions I ask everyone.
If you could be a super hero or have a super power what would it be and why?
It would be invisibility – I think that speaks for itself you can go in and get information and be a fly on the wall without anyone knowing you are there. So that I can eavesdrop maybe go into Stevie Wonders room whilst he is writing and then quickly leave and write that same song (laughing)
Who do you think is the most influential person is in the world today and why?
That’s difficult I suppose I’d have to go with Barack Obama because he has inspired a lot of people.
If you could go back in time to any era in history when would you go back to and why?
Oh that’s easy I’d go back to around 1900 because that’s when it was all happening the industrial revolution. Lots of things were happening and of course the main thing was the discovery of electricity and when you think how man has evolved over a million or so years and really only in the last one hundred years is when we moved forward. We can do so much now talk to people across the world and even see people whilst doing so. Caroline – of course the Savoy where you performed was the first theatre to have electric light. Gary It would be nice to be there and walk in and see that very first night of electricity.
I hope you agree with me when I say what a charming and interesting interview that was and Gary certainly made me laugh. All that remains for me to say is: Gary stars in ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ alongside Ruthie Henshall, Lesley Garrett and Michael Xavier at Cadogan Hall 18-20 August www.cadoganhall.com