John Barrowman, all round entertainer and actor, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with PledgeMusic on his latest album You Raise Me Up, joining the cast of Dr Who, receiving the MBE and his forthcoming tour.

John Scot Barrowman, MBE, is a Scottish-American actor, singer, dancer, presenter and writer who holds both British and American citizenship. Born in Glasgow, he emmigrated to the United States with his family in 1975.

Since his debut in professional theatre, Barrowman has played lead roles in various musicals both in the West End and on Broadway, including Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of The Opera, Sunset Boulevard and Matador. After appearing in Sam Mendes’ production of The Fix, he was nominated for the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. He can currently be seen as Malcolm Merlyn in The CW network’s hit series Arrow, based on the Green Arrow comic books.

His most famous television role is undoubtedly that of sci-fi hero Captain Jack Harkness, whose first appearance in the revamped Doctor Who created such an impact that he was given his own spin off series, Torchwood.

During a break from rehearsals for his forthcoming tour, he took time out to speak to Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.


Mr Barrowman how are you today?

Hi Kevin I’m good how are you?

I’m very well thank you. And may I just say thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

It’s no problem.

How is life treating you today?

Its treating me very well Kevin, I can’t complain; I never complain. I am sitting right now in my kitchen looking out my back window over my swimming pool towards the mountains in Palm Springs.

Your last album, You Raise Me Up, were you pleased with just how well it was received?

I was, I was very pleased with how well it was received, and in fact it is still being received well both here in the States and also over there in the UK. We are going to be doing another launch of it again when the tour starts. So I am very much chuffed with it.

Am I right in thinking that it was self-funded with pledges from your fans?

You are totally correct Kevin. It was paid for totally by my fans so I am extremely grateful to them. I have told all of the fans who contributed to the album that they are now my record company and they have informed me that they would be happy to do more so it’s great that I have landed upon something that is absolutely brilliant.

Did you enjoy working with PledgeMusic whilst recording the album and did you get involved?

Yes I did get involved and I was heavily involved. It was a good experience but there were a lot of things that I would change. There were some instances where things could have run a little smoother but they didn’t so probably the next one, we will be doing it on our own basis. We will probably be using our own facilities now that we know the people. That way the fans can see what they are going to get and we don’t really need to go through another large company like that.

You have covered two of my all-time favourite songs on the album, and I have to say that I think you have done a fantastic job with……

Thank you. Which were they?

Firstly, the Simon and Garfunkel classic, Bridge Over Troubled Water which must be in everyone’s top five singles of all time.

Good (laughter). It’s one of those songs though that you either love or you hate it. It’s one of those tunes and I tried to put a little bit of a twist onto it in order to get the ones who don’t like it so much to come on-board and go for it. I have always loved that duet itself and I got inspiration from BeBe and CeCe Winans who sang it as a big gospel track in the USA. So that is why we put a little bit of that twist on that track. Ashley Grey, who is a dear friend of mine who plays Elphaba in the London and UK and Ireland touring productions of Wicked, and I had a wonderful time doing it and she was the first one that I thought of when we were going to record that track. She is the only one that can sing it, that is the amazing thing Kevin. Certain girls have to have a voice of a certain pitch and range in order to be able to compete with me because I don’t like to sing very low. My voice is at the higher end male voice so they really have to have some good pipes on them, and she does.

And the second song was Listen To The Music; I think that The Doobie Brothers are fantastic.

(Hysterical laughter) that came about as I am a really huge fan of Mumford and Sons. Eve Myles who was my co-star in Torchwood was with me one evening in Germany and we were dancing around a little inebriated when we realised that our window was open and we thought that no one could see us. Neither of us had any clothes on and we were dancing around being silly, having a great time, but we soon realised at breakfast the next day that everybody could see us because of the reflection in the glass on the building next door (laughter). So that song was recorded as a tribute to Eve and those crazy nights. My big thing, even with my new radio show is when you play Listen To The Music, you want to get up and dance.

Were all of the song selections on the album yours?

Yes Kevin they were all mine. I never do anything where I don’t have any input or a say in it. Matthew Brind, who is my musical director has done all of my concert tours and most of my albums, together with most of the musical arrangements for my TV shows, for the past ten years. I helped him do the arrangements on Listen To The Music and Loch Lomond. He then takes it away and he then implements it. I have a huge input and I only ever pick songs that mean something to me. I would never just do a random song, and that is one of the problems that I have had with some of the record companies. They would come to me and they would say “we need you to do this song because it was number one in such and such and blah blah blah” and I would tell them that I don’t like the song. So yes, I do have a huge input Kevin. And I also produce the albums so there you go (laughter).

Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road?

I am Kevin, I love that. I love getting out on the road because it is a chance for me to meet the audiences and to put faces to the people who have supported me. At the moment I am working on season three of Arrow, which is a scripted drama that I am doing, and with a scripted drama you don’t really have the freedom to go off on a tangent, but when I am doing my own show, I can go off on a tangent if I want to (laughter). That is one of the beauties of doing live shows and anybody who has seen my show before, they know that they will go away feeling entertained and feel that they have had their money’s worth.

You have previously performed here in Nottingham, what do you make of our fair city?

The unfortunate things is that I don’t get to spend much time in the cities that I come to because literally I am in, do the show, and I’m out. But the one thing that I love is that I have played the fair Robin Hood in shows in the past (laughter) so I know all of the reference’s to Nottingham and all that kind of stuff (laughter). Although I love playing the big venues, it’s the smaller venues that are great because in a place like Nottingham not many people come to the venues in order to do shows and concerts. What is wonderful is the response that we have from the people there because they are so appreciative when somebody does come and they really do want the entertainment in their town. So I am happy to bring it.

I have been looking at your diary and I feel shattered reading it. When do you ever take any time-off for yourself?

(Laughter) well Kevin let’s take this afternoon for example. When I have finished doing the interviews at around 11 o’clock, I will then have the rest of the day free. I will probably play with the dogs on the backyard, and I will maybe have another coffee by the pool. Later I will hook up with a friend and we are going to go out and do a little bit of shopping, so I am on a little bit of a break at the moment. But when I am working, I am really working and we fit everything in during the work period. Everything that you can see from my schedule is scheduled down to the second and then when my free time is free, I basically just do what I want to do. So I do get free time but I do work very, very hard.

Yes you do, very much so, it is a very hectic schedule.

Yes it is Kevin but you know what, if you find something that you love to do and you find yourself in the position that you are doing it, you should continue to do it because if you love what you do you should not sit around and do nothing. We are all on this planet for a reason and one of my reasons is to entertain people, and therefore I will do it.

How did it feel last year when you were awarded the MBE?

It was absolutely stunning; it was a bit overwhelming because I didn’t realise that it was going to happen and then I got the letter through, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. I actually couldn’t believe it; I thought that it was a joke. I said to Gavin (Barker) my business partner and manager ‘what have I done to deserve this’ so we sat down and went through a bunch of stuff and he said ‘well this is what you have done’ and I thought holly shit (laughter). I am exceptionally honoured by it because I was put forward by the Prime Minister’s Office in Downing Street. The Queen had agreed to it and so I feel really proud because it is the top echelon of the country who have recognised what I have done and I am so pleased with that.

I did tell my parents right away Kevin because they are both in their eighties and I would have never forgiven myself if anything had happened to them and I had kept it a secret. So when the day came to fly over to the UK, Arrow literally gave me two days off from filming, to fly back. The four of us literally flew in one morning; my mum, dad, myself and Scott, stayed the night, got up the next day, went to Buckingham Palace, had a great big lunch of celebration that afternoon, and then the following morning we all flew back to Los Angeles because I had to start filming again. So it was literally an in and out experience.

But a nice experience none the less?

Oh absolutely, I wouldn’t change it for the world Kevin. As I was walking into the Palace with my mum on one arm and my dad on the other, my mum turned, looked at my dad and said ‘did you ever think that we would be walking in to receive an award with one of our children’, so I am totally chuffed by it.

How did you feel when you were approached to join the cast of Doctor Who?

I have to tell you that I was overwhelmed Kevin. I had never thought as a little boy when I used to watch it in Glasgow and sit behind the sofa scared like everybody else, and then continued to watch it when I moved to the States on the public television channels; never did I think that the day would come when I would be part of the team and the Tardis. Not only that but to also be given my own spin-off show Torchwood which, although is no longer being shown over there in the UK, it is massively popular over here in America to the extent that everybody wants it back. Dr Who was the dream job of a lifetime.

At the time I was doing musical theatre and I went to audition for it and within an hour of the audition I got the call from the Executives at the BBC saying that there was no doubt in their minds that I was Captain Jack Harkness, and that was that.

Out of all of the things that you do, singing, writing, presenting, acting, which is your favourite?

I’m not going to knock you back Kevin but I am just going to tell you that I never answer favourite questions (laughter). The reason being is that if I say what my favourite is, then I never get to change my mind. I am never in a position where I can un-favourite that. I use the example that I am like a plumber; you would never ask a plumber just to plumb toilets and not to do any other plumbing work. So in the entertainment business, which it is, a business and I’m the product, I need to be able to do the different things that I love doing and that is all about entertaining people whether that be books, albums, live theatre, concert tours, on the television, performing variety; if I can do it, and do it well, I will give it my best shot and if I can’t do it, then I will not do it.

That is my outlook on life and being someone in this business, you have to be diverse because one day, for example, I am not going to be dancing for the rest of my life in big shows, so I have to have something else to do otherwise I wouldn’t be working and I love to work.

Are there any ambitions that are left for you to achieve?

Hundreds Kevin but I would never tell you (laughter). If I told you what they were and they didn’t happen, I would then have to explain to you as to why they didn’t happen, and therefore I just keep it to myself. For instance, there was something that I was keeping very quiet last night and Scott and I had dinner with one of my best friends and my mum and dad. We were sitting around and because it is starting to come into fruition I decided to talk about it and they didn’t even know about it (laughter). So I am very much a person who keeps things close to my chest until I am ready to speak about them Kevin. Or I want to instigate them by getting some, shall we say, support drummed up from a lot of people out there and then I would let something slip (Laughter). I’m not stupid (hysterical laughter).

On that note I will thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me.

Awesome Kevin, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Bye.