'Why I owe everything to Sheffield cleaning ladies who saw dress rehearsal of Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

Because of Sheffield, I can now swim front crawl. Let me explain. About five years ago, me and my friend Dan started writing a musical. We thought it would be good and we hoped it would do well, maybe it would run a couple of weeks somewhere cool, and a few people would get to see it. It was our dream, and we believed in it, and we worked on it for about three years, and then almost two years ago somewhere cool did indeed decide to put it on for a couple of weeks, and a few people did indeed go and see it.

Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 15:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 15:25 pm
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Quite a few people in fact. Quite a few thousand people in fact. And then, because so many people started shouting about it, we transferred to the West End where the show has just celebrated its first birthday.

The show is, of course, Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

The cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie - with John McCrea, centre, as Jamie New - at the Crucible in 2017. Picture: Johan Persson

When we opened for the first (and only) public dress rehearsal, we hadn't sold a lot of tickets for the rest of our run. We were a brand new show with no star actors, no famous songs, two relatively unknown writers doing a musical for the first time and telling a story that nobody really knew. Our publicity budget was tiny and, unsurprisingly, we hadn't sold a lot of tickets. The official projection was that we were not going to do well. That is, until that first public dress rehearsal changed everything.

There was a queue of people waiting for that show outside The Crucible, and performing in front of a Sheffield audience for the first time made Jamie just take off.

It was an incredible opening night, and got a massive standing ovation. Everyone left the auditorium buzzing. And God bless them all, because those people told their friends, the word of mouth spread, the buzz grew and within a few days we'd sold out the entire theatre for the rest of the run. It was the first time that had happened at The Crucible for 10 years.

Because of the Jamie-mania in Sheffield, other people started to take notice. Warp films came to see it and offered to make the movie of Jamie's story. Nica Burns, the London impresario, came to our second-to-last show and offered to take us straight to the West End and into the Apollo Theatre '“ the theatre that we still call home - and there we opened to five star reviews and more sold-out houses.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

Because of Jamie's success, I was able to move to Hollywood and use Jamie as my calling card, and because everyone who sees the show falls in love with it, everyone wanted to meet with me and I was offered a bunch of movie deals. The movie deals meant I was able to move into my house in Studio City, on the north side of the famous Hollywood Hills, and the house has a pool in the garden so I am now able to swim every day, and so after all these years I have finally taught myself front crawl.

Everything that happened back then has lead directly to everything that is happening now. I owe my life, my pool, and my improved swimming skills to the wonderful Sheffielders who turned up to that first show. There is a simple chain linking all of these things together, and every link of that chain is made of Sheffield steel.

But here's the really magical thing; I told you that we had almost no publicity budget and could barely sell a ticket before we opened, so how, you may ask, did we manage to have so many people turn out for that now-infamous public dress rehearsal? Well, here's the honest truth: because our cleaning ladies overheard us rehearsing, and told their friends they HAD to come and see Jamie. The cleaning ladies, and the front of house staff, and the stage door staff and a small army of behind the scenes people told their friends, and that created the snowball coming down the hill that rolled and rolled and got bigger and bigger until finally it became a West End smash hit.

Everything is connected, back to that first drizzly day when we didn't think anyone was going to come. But you did come. Sheffield showed up. And you carried us on your shoulders into a more amazing future that Dan or I could ever have imagined. To put it simply, everything that has happened since, is because of YOU.

And now Dan and I, with Jonathan our director, are being made Honorary Doctors by Sheffield Hallam, and all that's because of you too. When we needed you, you came, and that's why we always say that Jamie belongs to the people of Sheffield. It couldn't be more right and it couldn't be more true. You are our heroes.

So, thank you Sheffield. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope we are able to give back to you as much joy and wonder and excitement as you have given us.

Sheffield gave Jamie a home, and has become my second home. Without your love and support in those early days we wouldn't have a show, we wouldn't have a hit, we wouldn't have honorary doctorates and I wouldn't be able to swim front crawl.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie is at the Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue currently booking until September 28,  2019. Visit www.EverybodysTalkingAboutJamie.co.uk