Antony Costa has already lived a hell of a life. For five years he was one quarter of Blue, one of the world’s most lauded and applauded pop acts. He has also released a solo single, attempted to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision and spent nearly two weeks living under constant surveillance in the Australian outback. He is now starting all over again, making his West End debut in long running musical Blood Brothers. Matthew Amer met the re-born pop star…
“I’m not fake. I don’t like being fake. I never will be fake. If people like me, people like me; if they don’t like me, they don’t like me.” This is Antony Costa, the surprisingly straight-talking former member of pop chart-dominating boy band Blue. There is no false charm, no ducking of questions, no PR man lurking to quash anything slightly delving; just Costa, very happy to be sitting in his modest changing room at the Phoenix theatre.
“I’m more nervous now than I’ve ever been,” he openly admits. It’s strange as he has performed to arenas packed with people; at Capital FM’s Party In The Park alone he entertained over 100,000 excited fans in London’s Hyde Park. Yet the nerves really start to tingle when he steps onto the stage as Mickey in front of just 1,000 theatregoers. It is the history of the show that produces this effect. “It’s been going for nearly 20 years,” he says in awe. “They haven’t had Mickey Mouse people playing parts.”
"I’m a grounded boy. I work hard."
The former Blue star is “absolutely chuffed to bits” to have landed this role in Blood Brothers. “I’m privileged that I’ve achieved something on my own,” he says, referring to his new career away from Blue. Though he feels the pressure of years of previous performances and the need to maintain the show’s high standards, he believes it would have been harder for him had he made his West End debut in a new production where success or failure may have rested on his shoulders. He likens taking over in Blood Brothers to sneaking in the back door while no one is looking, and that suits him: “People aren’t coming to see Antony Costa in Blood Brothers,” he says, “because Blood Brothers is established as one of the best plays in the West End.”
Costa knows the history of Blood Brothers well. He has long been a fan of the show. Growing up it was his favourite drama class piece: “Any opportunity I got, I’d read Blood Brothers or do a snippet out of it with another boy as Eddie. I’d just get a buzz out of it. And now I’m doing this for real every night; week in, week out. Brilliant.”
If you didn’t know Costa’s history you would not believe that until recently he was one quarter of the world’s biggest boy band. As he sits in his dressing room, habitually removing his baseball cap to reveal a mop of hair reminiscent of a matted cat, wearing jeans and a plain white t-shirt, he could be absolutely anyone. There is nothing on or about him to make you believe he has sold millions of records around the globe and has hordes of female admirers. This is entirely indicative of Costa’s attitude to life: “I’m a grounded boy. I work hard. I was singing in pubs and clubs when I was 15. I’ve had cheers and I’ve had boos, but I treated that like my apprenticeship. I always kept going and kept going, and it paid off.”
This workmanlike attitude is exactly why he has joined the cast of Blood Brothers unheralded. “It’s about going back down the ladder and working your way back up again,” he explains earnestly. “That’s what I want to do. Mr Kenwright [Bill, the Blood Brothers producer/director] wouldn’t give me the job if I wasn’t good enough. He’s not a silly man.”
"If I was sitting at home watching chat show Tricia, I’d be worried."
There are few people within the theatre industry that would argue with Costa’s view of one of the West End’s leading producers, but for Blood Brothers, Bill Kenwright has always been rather more hands on. The show premiered in the West End in 1985, but was not successful at that time. Kenwright collected the rights to the show in 1987 and claimed directorial control of this new production, creating the hit that still runs at the Phoenix today. Even now, 18 years on, he still finds time to keep the cast on their toes. Costa has already been part of a Kenwright rehearsal, which he appreciated as it showed Kenwright still “cares about the play so much”.
As if to shirk the trend of the modern music world, Blue was a boy band that was not manufactured. Costa, along with band mate Duncan James, was the driving force behind creating the group. Together they recruited Lee Ryan and Simon Webbe, and so began the phenomenon. “If an opportunity comes my way I’m going to take it,” says Costa, “and that’s what we did with Blue. We believed we had a good product, a good sound and something different, and that’s what we sold ourselves on.”
They had some fairly high profile fans as well. Mr Elton John – he of the extravagant parties, outrageous costumes, occasional hissy fits and multi-million pound bank balance – actually asked the boys whether he could play the piano and lay a vocal on their cover of Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. Their reaction was one of laughter and disbelief. It was a similar reaction that their A&R man received when he suggested a duet with Stevie Wonder, yet it didn’t take too much for the R&B legend to agree to join them on Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours. Looking back, Costa appreciates what he had. “Best five years of my life. No one can take that away from me. Memories, that’s what it is. It’s all stored up there,” he says, once again releasing the hair from its cap confinement and tapping the side of his head. “It’s nice to be able to sit here now and talk to you and tell you I’ve done it.”
Costa has trouble sitting still. The cap comes off, hair is ruffled, the cap goes back on again. He stands up, he sits down, he moves backwards and forwards in his chair. Like a bored child in a classroom, he needs to be doing something, to be occupied. This is not just the case during an interview: “As long as I’m busy, doing work and doing different things, I’ll be happy. I want to keep active. If I was sitting at home watching chat show Tricia, I’d be worried. For me, it’s all about working hard and getting out there again.”
"You just think ‘this is a joke; I’m a laughing stock now.’"
The need to keep going, working hard and pushing forward may be the reason that Costa’s career has already had both ups and downs. On leaving Blue, he embarked on a solo career that lasted only one song – Do You Ever Think Of Me? which charted at number 19 – before he fell out of love with the music industry. “I had people working around me that weren’t doing their jobs properly,” he explains. This team seemed to be working only for themselves, with lots of tales being told. As he puts it: “This one said this, he said, she said, they said.”
Then came this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and Britain’s search for a song to represent the country, Making Your Mind Up: “I got forced into doing it. I didn’t want to do it; deep down I didn’t want to do it. When you’re sitting at home doing nothing you think ‘I might as well give it a go, I’ve got nothing else to lose now.’ Then you don’t win it, some other guy wins it. You just think ‘this is a joke; I’m a laughing stock now.’ I was gutted for about half an hour. I had a couple of drinks and then got on with it.”
His stint in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! was a much more pleasant affair, even if it did involve scurrying across high wires – “I’m a big scary heights man” – and singing for his supper while being doused with all manner of abominable creepy crawlies: “When you’re hungry, you’re hungry; you’ll do anything. Seriously, all you think about is food,” he says, smiling.
What may be more of a trial for the football mad singer-turned-West-End-star is performing in Blood Brothers during the upcoming World Cup. “I’m JR Ewing about that,” he mentions in his inimitable fashion. England’s group games don’t fall nicely for the show’s matinee days, yet even that can’t dampen Costa’s spirit or work ethic. There are, rumour has it, televisions secreted very close to the Phoenix stage so that matches can be monitored, but if any members of the Crazy Costa Crew – Costa’s loyal collection of fans – want to create banners to update him with the score, I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Other theatregoers, however, might not. em>MA