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Joe Pasquale shares the secret of his success ahead of his show at Wolverhampton Grand

By Andy Richardson | Weekend | Published:

Stand-up star, king of the jungle, panto legend – after 30 years in showbiz Joe Pasquale has done it all. He shares the secrets of his success. . .

Joe in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

When Joe Pasquale started his career, Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister. The Ford Escort was Britain’s best-selling car for a sixth year running, unemployment was 2.6 million and England were losing 4-0 to West Indies in the summer’s test series.

Nigel Mansell was following the late Ayrton Senna around Silverstone in the British Grand Prix and Pet Shop Boys were enjoying a Christmas number one with Always On My Mind.

Joe, meanwhile, was hoping his career would last more than five minutes. He’d enjoyed a big break on New Faces, finishing second, and his biggest hope was that he would do well enough to not have to return to the Department of Transport, where he’d worked in the Civil Service.

Joe in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

Fast forward 30 years and things haven’t worked out too badly for the one-time employee of Smithfield Meat Market, who also worked as a spot welder at the Ford factory, in Dagenham. Joe cut his teeth working as a holiday entertainer at camps across the UK before becoming entertainment manager at Warner Holidays, in Suffolk.

He’s done six Royal Variety Performances, most recently in 2005; he’s hosted a new version of The Price Is Right; he won I’m A Celebrity . . . in 2004; and dazzled in Dancing on Ice, with skating partner Vicky Ogden.

Joe is seldom far from the nation’s theatres – or pantos, he’s played Birmingham Hippodrome three times and Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre in 2013/4 – and he regularly features on TV.

He’s back on the road this autumn with a 30th anniversary tour, called Joe Pasquale – A Few of His Favourite Things. The tour will call at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on September 12 and Mid Wales Pavilion on September 14.

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The shows will give him the chance to reflect on 30 remarkable years and, as the title suggests, enjoy his favourite stuff.

“It will be singing, dancing, music, magic, mind-reading, painting and a lot of audience participation. It’s me going out there and having a laugh. I can’t wait.” Joe can barely believe he’s been in showbusiness for 30 years. He got into entertainment because he hated working in ‘normal’ jobs. He didn’t think it would make him a national treasure or keep him in gainful employment for all of these years.

“I never thought I’d still be doing it 30 years later. I initially did it because I didn’t want to work for a living, but 30 years later I’m still doing it. It’s busy, but it doesn’t seem like work at all.

“I never look back – I learned that from Bruce Forsyth. He told me, ‘Never look back, always look forward’. I never watch myself back on TV. You can’t change it, so leave it alone. When I occasionally do, I think, ‘I wish I’d done that differently’.”

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Joe loves stand-up as much as he ever did. For him, there’s a sense of flying by the seat of his pants – it’s the best buzz imaginable.

“Definitely. I love that feeling. Also, it’s just you. You’re the performer, the producer and the editor. You go on stage and you just go with the flow. I have a rough plan beforehand, then I just see what happens on the night. I like being scared. It makes you realise you’re alive.

“I still get nervous before going on stage. I’ve done a few parachute jumps, and it’s the same feeling. As you’re about to start, you think, ‘Oh no, oh no. OK, here we go . . . Now I’m doing it, and it’s great!’ You just hope you have a good landing. I don’t want to be sitting on the sofa at home with my feet up. For me, that’s not experiencing life. I want to do things that really scare me.”

Joe is one of Britain’s most energetic performers. And there’s a reason for that. He likens stand-up to being a stone that skims across the water – if it loses energy, it drops and falls.

“Being on stage is like juggling two ping-pong balls with two hairdryers. You just have to keep going. I just love stand-up. I hate the travelling and getting stuck in traffic – that’s the curse of this job. But the buzz is still there every time I go on stage.”

Joe will be in fine form when he visits Wolverhampton and Mid-Wales. He recently completed a major UK tour of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. The show struck a chord with the general public which adored his interpretation of Frank Spencer – a character made famous by Michael Crawford.

Joe with fellow Spamalot cast member Todd Carter

“It’s like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers. From the moment they hear the theme tune, the audience goes with it and we’re off and it’s non-stop laughter for two hours.”

Joe identified with Spencer.

“He is so close to who I am in real life. No acting required! I am accident-prone, and my voice is not a million miles away from Frank’s. I remember watching Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em as a child and thinking, ‘That’s not a sitcom – it’s my daily life!’ That feeling hasn’t changed in the last 40 years.”

As well as Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Joe earned rave reviews for his work as King Arthur in Spamalot while he regularly features in panto – this year it’s as Mr Smee in Peter Pan in Nottingham. Theatre is in his blood.

“I love the fact that it changes every night. It’s the same as stand-up. You never know what it’ll be like. When you make a film, it is put down on celluloid, and then it’s the same forever. In the theatre, the performances, the audiences and the atmosphere change every night.”

Not that Joe is content to retread old ground. The process of reinvention is important to the Essex-born entertainer. Last year he took his career in a new direction when he published his first book of short horror stories, Deadknobs and Doomsticks. He’d previously written a musical stage version of Rentaghost, which toured the UK in 2004. Joe enjoyed putting pen to paper and was thrilled that Deadknobs was such a hit.

“Yes. It went to number one on the Amazon charts for short horror stories. Stephen King was at numbers two, three and four! I love writing and am already writing a follow up – Deadknobs and Doomsticks 2: Dying for a Sequel. I love being scared and scaring other people. I don’t want people to have a full-on Stephen King experience when they read my book; I just want to give them the willies!”

But comedy is his first love and he remains committed to making people laugh. He grew up adoring iconic entertainers such as the late Bruce Forsyth, Ken Dodd and Bob Monkhouse.

“They all had a stage skill that no one has any more. They learned how to work an audience in variety, and they were simply the best at it. My ultimate hero was Bob Monkhouse, as a writer, as a performer and as a man. I knew him very well. He was so generous. He and Ken Dodd really helped me. I’m not sure that camaraderie exists on the comedy circuit anymore.”

While Joe has been in the game for 30 years, his experience on I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! was transformative. Joe overcame competition from Royal butler Paul Burrell and nightclub owner Fran Cosgrave to become King of the Jungle. He famously had a relationship with two emus and became known for his use of the term ‘Jacob’s’ (for Jacob’s Crackers: a rhyming slang term for testicles). He was also buried underground for five minutes with rats in a trial called Danger Down Under. For the 16-day duration of the show, Joe was the bookies’ favourite to win.

He recalls it with nothing but fondness. “I loved the whole experience, but I particularly loved being away from the phone and emails. Technology is rubbish. It’s going to kill the human race. We all use it all the time, but none of us know how it works. Sooner or later, we’ll all be connected to the mainframe, someone will pull the plug and no one will know what to do. We will all end up living in caves drinking our own wee. But on the back of I’m a Celebrity, I learned to fly and I did a survival challenge on Alone in the Wild, so I think I could survive as a caveman.

“Technology has taken over and has created a society of lazy people who want everything done for them. Years ago, all we had to do was hunt buffalo, catch it, cook it, eat it, go to the loo, go to sleep, get up and do the same thing again. Cavemen would fight a sabretooth tiger and – Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s a rude word – there was their dinner. Nowadays you have to pay taxes and the electricity bill and the water bill. Cavemen never had to pay the water bill. They just drank water from the nearest river.

“Winning I’m A Celebrity . . . doesn’t do anything for you long-term. Being on I’m a Celebrity . . . is like going on a crap holiday and coming back as Elvis for six weeks. But it doesn’t last. There are peaks and troughs in every career. I’m A Celebrity raises your profile for a while, but the real challenge is keeping your longevity going.”

King of the jungle – Joe won I’m a Celeb in 2004

And keeping that longevity going involves constant reinvention. Joe will consider all roles and enjoys mixing theatre with TV. He’s a small screen legend whose appearances include everything from Sugar Free Farm and Total Wipeout, to The Prisoner X and Alone in the Wild.

His best TV moment, however, was An Audience with Joe Pasquale. He did it straight after I’m a Celebrity and loved the experience of performing in front of his peers. It got great figures, too: 13 million people watched it.

Another highlight was The Muppet Show. “That was great as well. It’s everyone’s showbiz dream to appear on The Muppet Show. I did most of my stuff with Gonzo. So when I did An Audience With, they said, ‘Who do you want with you?’ and I replied, ‘Gonzo!’”

Away from the stage, Joe is a family man and his son, Joe Tracini, has followed in his footsteps. The 30-year-old performer is best known for his role as Dennis Savage in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks and he also enjoyed a successful stint on the BBC Three comedy series Coming of Age before following his father into Spamalot.

Pasquale is well placed therefore to offer advice to young, up-and-coming performers.

“My advice is simple: Enjoy it. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; if you can earn a living from showbiz, that’s a success. Also, don’t stick to a rigid career plan. No one plans any more. The world in such a corrupt state that no one knows what’s going on and planning doesn’t work. You simply have to go with the flow and see what happens.

“I’m very aware of my own mortality. I don’t want to be lying on my deathbed thinking, “Why did I sit there watching TV? Why didn’t I climb Everest? I don’t want to sit around moaning. If there’s something wrong, I do something about it.

“If it’s dangerous or scary, I’ll have a go. The scarier, the better. They asked me to do both The Island with Bear Grylls and Hunted for charity, but unfortunately I was on tour at the time. I’d love to do those shows.”

The secret of Joe's success. . .

Though Joe’s career has been filled with achievement, some of his finest moments have come in the classroom. He completed a pilot’s licence to overcome his fear of flying before working towards an Open University degree in Earth Sciences.

“A: I’ve nearly finished my Open University degree. When I’ve done that, I’d like to go on Strictly Come Dancing. They have often asked me to do reality TV shows like Big Brother. But unless I can learn something from it, I’m not interested. Having done Dancing on Ice, I can still ice skate – very badly!”

So are there any unfulfilled ambitions for the man who has tamed reality TV, thrilled hundreds of thousands in the theatre and become a best-selling author?

“I’d like to get to base camp on Everest and learn how to scuba dive. I like to go walkabout in Australia. I’d also like to go in to space, but I don’t think I’ll have the money for that.”

  • Tickets for Joe Pasquale’s 30th Anniversary Tour – Joe Pasquale – A Few Of His Favourite Things, are available at www.joepasquale.com
Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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