When actor and Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers returns to Manchester in the musical extravaganza Crazy For You, he will, quite literally, be returning home.
“I was born in a tiny village in Derbyshire, between Ashbourne and Buxton, called Parwich near Darley Dale. There’s one shop and a pub, but it was a great place to grow up in the middle of beautiful countryside,” Tom laughingly reminisces when he meets Natalie Anglessey at Manchester’s Opera House. They last met three years ago, when he was appearing in a fantastic production of Top Hat in London, which won him a well-deserved BAFTA nomination. Now she says he looks as fit as ever. He’s played the Bing Crosby role in White Christmas there, and enjoyed a career which has seen a mixture of musical theatre and television drama series.
“When so many actors are out of work, I do appreciate how fortunate I’ve been,” Tom confesses. He charmed us as Dr Sam Strachan in the popular television series Holby City, then Casualty and Waterloo Road, eventually playing Inspector Sullivan in Father Brown. Now he’s donning his dancing shoes again in the musical Crazy For You in which Caroline Flack, another Strictly winner, makes her stage debut. Tom can’t wait to get back on stage. “As the title implies, it has a zany plot with mistaken identity, happiness and heart-break – but I’m not going to tell you too much because I want you to come and see it," Tom grins. "But I will tell you that it’s a feel-good, fast-paced show with a fabulous score from the legendary song-writing duo George and Ira Gershwin. So it includes hits like I Got Rhythm, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Embraceable You and They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Tom’s career history is fascinating. “My love affair with dancing started when my mother brought me up watching old black-and-white movies. My friends would be watching Rambo and Terminator and I’d be watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! I remember stamping around the kitchen, aged five, imitating Fred’s tap-dancing – so winning that sixth series of Strictly, along with my professional dance partner Camilla Dallerup, was the icing on the cake!” Tom attended the National Youth Music Theatre and while at the Guildhall School of Acting also took dance classes.
"I wanted to appear in the Royal Variety Show, so taped a Fred Astaire dance sequence from the 1937 RKO film A Damsel In Distress in which he danced around a drum-kit. I learnt the steps, auditioned, but was rejected. So I made a thousand video copies and sent them to various people and put my routine on YouTube. "The Holby City people were auditioning for the role of an American doctor, saw my routine and thought I was American. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so put on my best American accent and got the job! However, after three happy years I decided to leave, but bless them they’ve said they’ll keep the door open.” Tom is always the first to poke fun at himself. “In 2008, I took part in the Great Walk on the Great Wall of China, which was organised by singer Olivia Newton-John in aid of breast cancer awareness and research. I was happily taking selfies with her and Sir Cliff Richard, who didn’t know me at all – but when I returned home, my girl-friend pointed out that my bald head, shaved for my role in Holby, may have prompted their kindness!”
It was that same girl-friend, Clare Harding, who put off their wedding plans when Strictly invited Tom to join that same year, and he was relieved to discover his previous dance training was not an obstacle. “I’d never tried ballroom dancing, so the production team were happy about that and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.” Tom admits he’s a bit of a romantic, albeit not one to make hasty decisions. “Clare and I went to the same school – although there’s a five-year age gap. However when she was about 15 and I was training in London, I told her – rather arrogantly, in retrospect – that I may marry her one day. But we were too young, just good friends, and went out with other people. We’d meet every six months to catch up with all the news, because she also worked in TV. When she was knocked down by a car, the first person she called was me – so I knew things had changed.”
In 2000, Tom thought it was his turn to face death when his flight experienced a mid-air hijack attempt. “The jumbo was knocked off course and plunged about 19,000 feet with 398 passengers on board. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I was convinced my number was up and my biggest regret was not marrying Clare. However, the pilots recovered control of the aircraft, we landed safely and I immediately proposed. Mind you it was eight years before we eventually tied the knot! We were married in October 2008 in Derbyshire, and now have William, born in 2011, and Olive, born in 2014. “We bring the children back home as often as we can to see their grandparents and obviously the whole family will turn out to see Crazy For You. I’m just looking forward to the children growing up so they can see what daddy does for a living!”
Crazy For You is showing at Manchester Opera House from 28th November to 2nd December