Paul Nicholas has opened his own chain of acting schools. But, he tells Alison Jones, it as much about learning confidence as it is being a star.
He has had a pop career, starred in musicals, acted in films, in dramas and in sitcoms, directed and produced. And now he can add schoolmaster to his long list of credentials.
Paul has not abandoned stage and screen for a life in front of the blackboard.
His school is for aspiring actors, dancers and singers who will learn their craft by attending classes twice a week, after school and on Saturdays.
The 62-year-old father of six started his school of acting in 2006 after being impressed by how much the children he appeared with in panto seemed to enjoy themselves.
“They always loved what they were doing, were always very polite and well disciplined. I thought it would be nice to be involved in some way with that.”
Following a meeting with Karen Roberts, an actress and acting teacher running a school in Blackpool, he set up a franchise operation called the Paul Nicholas School of Acting, with Karen as Principal.
There are now 22 schools opening or already open, around the country. One will be based at Turves Green in Northfield and will be opening on September 18, a second will open in Handsworth on September 23.
“They are basically two times a week where the kids learn about drama and stuff like that and work towards a showcase at the end of term.
“It is relatively accessible in that it is not expensive.
“We are not all academic, I certainly wasn’t, and not everyone is good at sports.
“It is really a way of having fun and maybe learning something that will take you can take on through life. At the very least it will give you confidence.
“I have been doing it for 150 years and I am still having a laugh,” he jokes.
“I usually go along and launch the schools and turn up for the Christmas shows. I keep an overall view of it and I know what we are doing but I can’t teach, so my side of it is to help the schools get some profile.
“Karen runs the training courses for the teachers and shows them all the modules and things like that.”
The acting school aren’t the only way that Paul is encouraging young people to discover their potential. He is also involved in a community arts project aimed at involving disenfranchised and excluded youngsters in the arts.
The pilot scheme was launched in the spring in front of Boris Johnson, although the projects have been run in and near Blackpool.
The scheme was funded by Wyre Borough Council and Paul is hoping other councils will follow suit.
“We give rapping classes or street dancing things, they might have dabbled in a bit.
“A lot of these kids wouldn’t turn up for ballet classes necessarily and they might not be aware of musicals like Oliver, but they would be of rapping because it is part of the popular culture.
“When we launched our second project we had kids from the first one come along and they were rapping and singing. These were kids that had been very in their shells, quite insecure in many ways, and they love it now.
“We don’t make any money out of it, all we do is supply the teachers. It is a bit too early to say how successful it has been because we have only done two but I think the fact they turn up every week to do these classes is a bit of an achievement.”
Paul thinks that the popularity of talent shows like the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and the quest to find new musical stars for the Sound of Music, Joseph and Oliver, is inspiring youngsters to try their hand at performing.
“I think these shows are great, anything that gives people an opportunity,” says Paul, who appeared as an acting coach in the search to find two new stars for Grease.
“Obviously in shows like X Factor they are going to show acts that are deemed ‘amusing’ which I am not so keen on because they are patently dreadful and using them to poke fun at.
“But it is a free country. If people who can’t sing and believe they can want to go along and know they may be shown then it is up to them.
“At the end of the day there will be performers there who are given an opportunity to come through. It also gets the musicals on television, the pubic involved and hopefully the audience watching it enjoys it, so it is a win win for everyone.
Paul’s own path up fame’s greasy pole was less then orthodox, even though he was the son of an esteemed entertainment lawyer, Oscar Beuselinck, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts was at the end of the street where he went to school.
“I didn’t know what it was,” says Paul. “I was only about 13 or 14 and I grew up in the austere 50s when everything was in black and white. Besides, I was always more interested in being Elvis Presley than Laurence Olivier.
“I started off as a rock and roll piano player for Screaming Lord Sutch.
“The only drama I did was playing his victims in his big song Jack the Ripper when I dressed up in silly wigs and silly dresses and he used to stab me and pull out rubber hearts and rubber lungs. Then he started to take it seriously and went down to the butcher and got real animal hearts and I had to say ‘Dave, you are ruining my dresses, we can’t have this love’.
“We used to do these shows in dance halls and he’d come out dressed as Jack. You can imagine what the local Herberts were like after a few beers with this mad man coming towards them. I can remember, on several occasions, having him by his feet and them having him by his cloak with him in the middle, being strangled.
“I was only about 17. The first thing I did when we went on stage was to find the quickest exit off it because we used to get all sorts of things coming at us. One place in Oxford they used to throw pennies at us all the time, so I used to go on with a towel over my head. We actually earnt more from the pennies than Sutch paid us.”
Paul went through several stage names before settling on Nicholas. However, all Sutch’s pianists were called Freddie Fingers Lee in tribute to the original pianist, so that was what Paul was called.
“I remember this bloke showing up at one gig. He was about 10ft tall and he came up and said ‘Are you Freddie Fingers Lee?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘You knocked my sister up’ I said ‘No, no, no I am not that Freddie’.
“My misspent youth was running around learning to sing with Sutch. There was a kind of training there, but it would have been great for me to have found an outlet like an acting school to have attended because I didn’t know anything about it.
“I probably still would have ended up in musicals though. My mum used to take me to see things like Singing in the Rain. I grew up in England in the 50s when it all closed down on a Sunday and it always seemed to be raining. Then you saw these wonderfully colourful movies in a magical place called America, where the sun always seemed to shine and people danced and sang. That was really what attracted me to showbusiness.
His talents as a singer won him a part in a new musical called Hair in the late 60s “I heard it had four letter words and nudity and I thought that’s the show for me,” he recalls.
Although his was a leading role he was one of the few to remain clothed.
“I was the guy in the middle singing the aptly titled Where do I go? as everyone stood around me and took their clothes off. I never had to. To be honest, I think I would have been rather shy, though it is probably one of those things that once you have done it is quite liberating.
“I went to a Hair party last year and the original cast were all there. I thought why don’t we all do a charity concert?
“I spoke to the powers that be but I couldn’t get the rights because they want to do a proper kind of production.
“I did ask what charity can we do it for and some wag said ‘Help the Aged’. People would have been paying us not take our clothes off!”
After Hair Paul was cast in Jesus Christ Superstar and also starred in Grease opposite Elaine Page as Sandy. He was Tommy’s sadistic cousin Kevin in the Who’s rock musical. He had several hit singles including Dancing With the Captain and Grandma’s Party and then reinvented himself as sitcom star in the 80s, in chalk and cheese romance Just Good Friends.
He got involved in production together with actor turned producer David Ian and now also directs as well as taking on stage and television roles.
“I am now at the age where my options as an actor are less than what they were when I was say 25 or 35, even though I only feel like I am 23,” he admits.
He is currently preparing to direct A Tale of Two Cities, a musical he originally starred in. He’s also appearing in BBC production about the history of publishers Mills and Boon and at Christmas will be in Wolverhampton playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
“It has always been a downfall of mine because you kind of end up spreading yourself a bit thin. I have been a pop singer, in sitcoms, done straight stuff,
“I personally like that, I like to mix things I would hate to be just one thing, I like variety.”
* For more information on Paul Nicholas School of Acting look up pnsa.co.uk