Steps to stardom for boy from the valleys

Ian H  Watkins, Jack from the Lyceum 2013/14 pantomime, Jack in the Beanstalk, at Our Cow Molly. 'Photo Craig Fleming

Ian H Watkins, Jack from the Lyceum 2013/14 pantomime, Jack in the Beanstalk, at Our Cow Molly. 'Photo Craig Fleming

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Ian H Watkins and Daniel Evans grew up in adjoining streets in a village in the Rhondda Valley and have now converged in Sheffield this Christmas.

One is artistic director of Sheffield Theatres and directing Oliver! at the Crucible and the other a singer with Nineties chart-toppers Steps who is starring in the Lyceum panto.

They have taken different paths from similar backgrounds. “In Cwmparc there wasn’t much else to do,” reflects H. “I wasn’t into sport and my mum pushed me into a local theatre group and I was spotted by a professional company when I was 11. We did a lot of work with a local playwright which we toured around Wales and went to the West End a few times.

“Later I auditioned for Steps and fell into that but my heart will always be in theatre and since leaving the group I have done West End musicals and plays. I adore panto I really do - this is my tenth - it’s a very special experience for the audience but for those on stage too.”

After school he became a Butlins Redcoat “where I dipped my toe in the water and became a compere and a singer and a kids’ entertainer, basically learning on the job how to cope with every situation possible.”

It was 15 years ago he answered an advert in The Stage for a boy-girl group - and The Steps adventure began.

“I was a very young and naive 21-year-old from the Rhondda Valley and then travelled across the world for the next six years not knowing which country I was waking up in and doing incredible things.”

But it couldn’t last. “We split acrimonously - we had had enough of each other. We lived in each other’s pockets for five years and we needed time away from each other. We were the last big-selling band of that era, the Nineties, before downloads and iTunes came in.”

After taking a year off “because I wanted my life back basically” he went into Joseph in the West End and then went back to college “to hone my craft”. That experience, first on a post-grad course at RADA, and then at Stella Adler in New York which were filmed for TV documentary series, H-side Story - a precursor of reality TV, he says.

He went on to be seen in such shows as Skins and Celebrity Big Brother and numerous stage musicals. Then another documentary series, Sky Living, chronicled the reunion of Steps which he reckons gave ITV the idea for The Big Reunion. “Because our Greatest Hits album was coming out we agreed to support that and it turned into a No 1 album and a TV show and we sold out 30 arenas so it really exploded again.”

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge, we are different people now, We’ve grown up basically.”

Jack and the Beanstalk opens at the Lyceum on Friday.