Dave Willetts engages in some happy talk with Alison Jones.
It is amazing how little 25 years of fame has altered singer Dave Willetts.
On the phone from Hull, where he is on tour with South Pacific, he sounds just as much of an ordinary Brummie bloke as he did more then two decades ago when the fact he was starring in The Phantom of the Opera made national news.
Quite possibly the reason is because he has never let it irrevocably change his life. Singing is just work. It's what he does to earn a wage. Once he has finished he gets in the car and, if he is within a two hour radius, drives home.
If it is a bit further and his wife Lyn isn't teaching, she comes to stay at whatever hotel he is booked into and they "make a bit of a thing of it".
"My policy is that if I am touring I should live in no less comfort than I have at home, so I always stay in nice hotels with swimming pools and this and that." But that is as flash as it gets.
They are a team Dave and Lyn. When he first got the opportunity to appear in a professional production after years as an enthusiastic am drammer, Dave would only accept it with her blessing.
"It was a joint venture because I changed careers drastically. I wouldn't have been selfish enough to come home from work where I was a manager, earning relatively good money, with world wide travel, a company car and BUPA membership and say 'I am going to do this'. We had two little girls. It had to be a joint venture and from that day to this it still is."
The subject of spousal support has come up as we discuss opera star Bryn Terfel's decision to pull out of a production at Covent Garden because his wife wanted him at home as his son was due to undergo an operation on a crushed finger.
Though Dave can certainly sympathise with Bryn's desire to comfort his son, it is clearly warring with his sense of professionalism.
"I can't comment on Bryn's reasons. It is very difficult. But my wife and family, we all benefit from the success that we have. I do think if you are committed you should fulfil that commitment and unless my family really needed me, I would do my utmost to do that."
He's looking forward to starring as Emile De Becque at the Alexandra Theatre next week, and not just because it means he has only got a short drive back to his home just outside Stratford. It's that it is one of the classic musicals.
"People don't go out humming the songs to South Pacific, they come in humming them," he says. "Nothing Like A Dame, Bali Ha'i, Gonna Wash That Man, Happy Talk, Some Enchanted Evening. These are all standards. There are very few people writing them like that anymore.
"There are these compilation musicals like Mama Mia and they are successful but it's a bit like going to see a concert of your favourite artist. It's not original.
"Lord of the Rings is the most expensive musical ever but I know people who have come out saying 'the sets are fantastic'. Yes, but what about the music? 'Can't remember'."
Dave, who is finally getting to play his own age of 53 as the suave plantation owner, acknowledges that beneath all the catchy tunes and Polynesian skirts, South Pacific does deal with some unsavoury issues.
Nellie Forbush, the naive nurse from Arkansas, dumps Emile because he has two mixed race children. And Lt Joe Gable is equally uncomfortable with his attraction to the daughter of a native peddler.
"A lot of people do tend to gloss over the racism issue because it is a Rogers and Hammerstein musical and they concentrate on the fantastic songs and the comedy.
"But to have a fully rounded musical and appreciate its lighter side you have got to have the darkness as well. It might be uncomfortable viewing but the moral of the story is that it doesn't matter what colour your skin is, what shape your eyes are or what your religion might be, we are all the same."
Dave has been practising his French accent in order to appear convincingly French.
"Whenever you do the accent, René from 'Allo 'Allo pops into your mind. The secret is not to make it too French, to get your inflections and inferences right. No one's laughed at me yet anyway.
"I'm a Birmingham lad, I was brought up in Acocks Green, and it was great when I was doing a show at the Alex called Go and Play Up Your Own End because it had a cast of Brummies. We didn't need a voice coach then. We were teaching everyone else how to speak."
South Pacific has always represented the one that got away to Dave. A quarter of a century ago he was spotted while performing in a production of Charlie and Algernon at the Priory Theatre in Kenilworth.
Bob Hamlin at Coventry Belgrade offered him a role in Annie "playing third plonker from the left in the chorus".
"After that they were doing a production of South Pacific and he had cast me when I got a chance to go and audition for Les Miserables in the West End," he recalls. "I went back to Bob and said 'although I have signed a contract with you I have got the opportunity to do this with the RSC'. Bless him, he reached into his draw, took out the contract, ripped it up and said 'Good luck to you'."
Lyn and Dave had agreed that once he gave up his job as a troubleshooter for an engineering firm, they would give it three years for him to make it big as a singer.
Within 12 months he was playing Jean Valjean in London. Then, in a casting decision that surprised the showbusiness world, he took over the title role in Phantom of the Opera from Michael Crawford.
"In those days the hype that surrounded it was amazing. My curtain calls were live on News at Ten, I think they interrupted a summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev to go over to Her Majesties.
"People used to camp outside the theatre overnight for returns. I used to come out of the theatre and pick a group who were camping out and take them a bottle of Champagne."
He remains modest about his accomplishment, saying he was just in the right place at the right time, looking right and sounding right. However, the fact that Hal Prince and Andrew Lloyd Webber had faith in him left him confident he could do it.
"I felt sorry for the people on my opening night who'd had their tickets in their sweaty hands for six months, then all of a sudden it was 'who is this engineer playing Phantom?'.
"Then when I left 12 months later it was 'who is going to take over from Dave Willetts?' It doesn't have the same hype now but it is still running because the show is the star."
Dave's story could be the stuff of a "fairy-tales do come true" musical itself.
"Brad Pitt can play me, he's got the looks," he laughs. "I'll dub the vocals."
When he was a boy, stardom was something that happened to other people.
"There was always music in our family. Mum played the piano and Dad a mean comb tissue paper. At get-togethers my sister Linda and I used to have to do our party pieces - she is a good singer as well - so you get to know that you can hold a tune.
"As for making a living at it, that wasn't our line. You went to school, got qualifications and got a job and that is what I did. I always liken it to playing for the pub football team on a Sunday morning. You run onto the pitch in the park but you dream you are playing at Wembley.
"But sometimes opportunity comes your way and you have to grab it or let it go by."
Acutely aware of how lucky he is to be in his position, Dave has never let it go to his head. Though he may be the star of the show he always sees himself as one of the team.
"I love it when understudies come on because they come to me and say 'what do you want me to do?' and I always say 'Do what you want to and I will work around you'. They are nervous enough without me putting any pressure on them and to me if everybody does their best then the show will look good and we'll all look good.
"I don't suffer fools. What we do is not brain surgery, it's not life and death but people are paying good money to see it so you want to give the best you can, hit your mark and try not to bump into the furniture."
* South Pacific is on at The Alexandra Theatre from October 30 to November 3. For tickets ring 0870 380 0071.