West End star Gary tunes in as Radio Times hits city stage
ACTOR, writer, comedian, impressionist and singer – the multi-talented Gary Wilmot has done it all over the years.
And for a man who never really made the decision to go into showbusiness, he has found himself performing in all kinds of arenas, from operas and Shakespeare to TV, theatre and panto.
It seems there is nothing that Gary – who treads the boards in Derby next week – can't turn his hand to and yet it was a career that could have very easily passed him by.
"I can't recall ever deciding that I wanted to be an entertainer," he says.
"It was something I was pushed into really by my mates. I was always a very keen sportsman when I was younger and played a lot of football for local teams.
"Football changing rooms are a great place for banter and comedic opportunities and after a few years of keeping my team mates entertained, they decided to start contacting agencies on my behalf, putting my name forward.
"Eventually, an agent decided to follow it up and everything flowed from that really. I feel pretty surprised myself to be where I am."
Gary came to the nation's attention in the 80s, appearing in the TV talent show New Faces.
He then went on to host and co-host several shows including a children's TV show called So You Want to Be Top, The Saturday Gang, Aspel and Company and Showstoppers.
Alongside his successful TV career he also started to branch into musical theatre with live performances in the West End.
His likeable persona and ability to turn his hand to most things opened numerous doors for Gary but he stresses that he is also very aware of his limits, revealing that this was an important lesson he learned from Michael Aspel.
"It can be a hard thing to say no to work in show business because you never know how long your career will last," he says.
"What I noticed about Michael, however, was that he was always very clear about what was right for him and what wasn't.
"He once came into the studio on the back of a camel, which surprised me but he knew he could carry it off and, equally he knew when something just wasn't right for him.
"I took this lesson on board. There is nothing worse for a performer than struggling hopelessly in a role as it becomes such as public failure. "I know exactly how much I can stretch myself and what areas work for me."
Gary admits that fame has opened up a wealth of unexpected doors over the years, too, including performing with world-class orchestras.
But he says fame also has its price – specifically, in terms of family life.
"You do miss out on large chunks of your children's childhood," he said.
"They grow and change so quickly and, of course, the long periods away from home can create a huge strain on relationships."
Looking back on his career, Gary sees one of the real highlights as being his appearances on the BBC's Showstoppers, which was scheduled as a one-off in which guest celebrities were given 10 days to learn and perform a song.
When it was aired, the BBC switchboard was inundated with calls for more and Gary was invited to record a further series of six TV spectaculars with the BBC Concert Orchestra and many national and international guest stars.
He also starred in and directed a tour of Showstoppers which proved so popular that its original 60 dates were increased to 160.
"That was an amazing period of my life and I felt incredibly lucky to be given that opportunity," he says.
Gary also loves performing in the theatre and is enjoying his current role in Radio Times, a wartime musical which visits Derby Theatre next week.
"There is a really strong story line to this show, which follows the trials and tribulations of a group of performers trying to raise morale during the darker days of the war," he says.
"Performers did play a really vital role in the war.
"It was a case of the show goes on, whatever is happening in the world outside.
"The show is far more than a vehicle for wartime songs, though – it is very sad in places, moving the audience to tears at times, but it is also very funny and uplifting in others.
"And I can assure anyone who comes along that we will definitely send then home happy."
Radio Times follows the story of the Variety Bandwagon cast, who are about to broadcast live on radio to America for the first time ever. The clock ticks away, the line-up is shrinking and there is still no sign of star Sammy, played by Gary.
With seconds to spare he arrives with a Hollywood movie idol Gary Strong in tow. The broadcast seems assured but Sammy's girlfriend, seems to know Gary of old and things don't go to plan.
The show, which also stars Sara Crowe, was written by Noel Gay of Me and My Girl – the show that gave Gary his first theatrical break.
A fast moving production, it features many well-loved songs and dancing from the era including Run Rabbit Run, Hey Little Hen and Whose Been Polishing the Sun and the cast of actor musicians play over 15 instruments live on stage while also singing and dancing.
WHAT: Radio Times
WHERE: Derby Theatre
WHEN: October 2-6, 7.30pm; Saturday matinee 2.30pm
TICKETS: £10 to £25
BOX OFFICE: Call 01332 593939