There are many different illnesses in this sickly world of ours, and most of them you wouldn’t want to touch with someone else’s bargepole. Malaria is malicious, flu is no fun and smallpox can really ruin your weekend. Of all the illnesses, one is considerably more fun than the rest; Saturday Night Fever stands out as the bug you’d gnaw your own leg off to catch. One performer lucky enough to catch it is ex-Hear’say pop starlet, Kym Marsh. Matthew Amer met her at the Apollo Victoria to see if he could work his medicinal magic.
Saturday Night Fever is, of course, not a malady which results from too much eating, drinking and dancing, but if it was you could ask for no better cure than the presence of the lovely Kym Marsh. Having spent much of her morning cooped up like an ultra-glamorous chicken performing interview after interview, the young songstress is nevertheless the very picture of amiability and. Other, less scrupulous, journalists may have you believe that Marsh, who shot to fame care of Simon Cowell and the Pop Stars phenomenon, is problematic, with the diva-ish tendencies of J-Lo herself. Her modest dressing room speaks otherwise; her only rider – apart from her husband Jack – a microwaveable Paprika Chicken: the food of stars.
"I look like my Mum!"
When I meet Marsh she is, like Noddy Holder or The Darkness, half of the seventies and half of the now. Her clothes – jeans and an off-the-shoulder white top – say nothing but ‘Noughties’ styling, but although it is only two o’clock, her hair has been tucked and waved into the epitome of disco-era chic. It is not the mysterious melding of decades that worries her about her appearance though; “I look like early pictures of my Mum!” she panics, before a quick rethink, cheeky giggle and the addition of “as long as they’re early pictures of my Mum I don’t mind.”
The hair, of course, is just one small part of the glittering Saturday Night Fever package. Add in the outrageously frilly fashions, a disco ball or two and the daddy of all soundtracks and you’re somewhat closer to creating the vibe that got a generation swivelling their hips and pointing to the stars in an effort to emulate a more-slimline, less-Scientological John Travolta. Just the thought of the 70s fun gets Marsh’s Lancastrian blood pumping and dancing feet tapping, “All it was about was going out, partying and having a laff. It probably wasn’t like that at all, but that is certainly how the movie portrays it.”
Saturday Night Fever started life in 1977 as the film which made Travolta a household name. Growing into the movie that defined a decade, the Bee Gees’ disco soundtrack is still, over a quarter of a century later, the best selling motion picture soundtrack of all time. Tony Manero is the disco king par excellence. By day a paint store clerk, a spectacular transformation occurs by the light of the moon. When he dons his white flared suit and feels the disco rhythm in his heart his hips can’t help but react and, like a latter-day Moses, he parts the dance floors of Harlem as others recoil to watch his funky moves. But when the lights go on reality returns, and Tony and his friends have to go back to their harsh lives in the real world.
Marsh, not being able to pull off a decent quiff, has been cast as Annette; one of Tony’s lovelorn dancing partners. Although she made her stage debut at the tender age of ten playing precocious orphan Annie at the Liverpool Empire, Marsh has been away from the world of musical theatre for quite some time. The return to the professional stage has been a bit of a shock to the system. “I didn’t realise exactly how much work was involved in this and how hard people in this industry work.” The ‘Martine McCutcheon effect’ out of the way, the thrill and passion of musical theatre have worked their magic on Marsh. “I’m very disillusioned about the pop industry. This, I love. You can’t hide behind anybody in a theatre; you’ve got to go out there, sing your heart out and do the best you can. There’s no second chances or miming goes on here at all.”
"You can’t hide behind anybody in a theatre."
Possibly the last person you’d expect to see in Saturday Night Fever, except maybe Lady Thatcher or Sir Francis Drake, is Eastenders’ bumbling buffoon Barry Evans. The failed car salesman and general laughing stock of Albert Square was last seen tumbling, like a beach ball with limbs, off the side of a rather scary looking cliff: not the prettiest way to end your soap career. Shaun Williamson, the actor behind the character, will forever be linked with Barry and as such does not immediately spring to mind as a Travolta-esque hip-swinging hero… which is why he is playing sleazy DJ Monty. With a little insider knowledge from her ex-Eastenders star husband, Jack Ryder (formerly Jamie Mitchell), Marsh knew what Williamson was like before meeting him: “We’re all giggling at him backstage, because he is so funny. He always has a cuddle for you if you’re feeling a bit tense… and it does get like that sometimes. Shaun is a genuinely nice man, and I think that is very hard to come by these days.”
Marsh can be forgiven for a slightly jaded view of the human spirit. Her life over the last four years has been like the proverbial rollercoaster, but with peaks and troughs of Everestine proportions. An unknown singer with a dream at the start of 2001 Marsh, like hundreds of others, entered the first Pop Stars competition. Unlike hundreds of others she made it through the many laborious stages, putting up with the ridiculous comments of television’s dark prince of high waistbands Simon Cowell. But having made it into the final five – Marsh, the equally gorgeous Myleene Klass and Suzanne Shaw, the cheeky chappy Noel Sullivan, and Danny Foster, collectively known as Hear’say – the next big thing for British music were plagued with problems and adverse publicity.
The stories promoted by the tabloid press were of disruption and discontent in the camp as the five musicians whose ‘dreams had come true’ came to terms with what that meant for their lives. “We certainly weren’t at each others throats 24/7. It wasn’t a big battle of the bitches between me and Myleene. There were certain things that went on that all of us know, but none of us will say. We had some hard times, but we had some fun times. We had some great times together.” But, in her typically feet-couldn’t-be-more-firmly-on-the-floor-if-they-were-set-in-concrete-way Marsh knows that although it was tough, it has affected their lives in a positive way. “We’ve all managed to make a career out of the fact that we were in that. If I hadn’t been in that band I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”
Marsh’s time in the media spotlight has been a troubled one. After winning Pop Stars she left Hear’say just a year later amid a media circus of Jerry Cottle proportions. All you can read about Kym in Heat, Now and the tabloids these days are her fluctuations in weight and her latest fitness regime – “That’s all they ever want to talk about” – but back then, the burden for the failure of Hear’say to achieve world domination on the back of their ITV success was laid squarely on the demure shoulders of Marsh. “I think they wanted someone to blame at that point. Someone had to have the finger pointed at them. That was me, because I was the one that left.” In more recent times, although her first solo album went gold and included two top ten hits – not bad for a debut, one would think – she and her record company have parted company. With two huge disappointments already, which have been sprawled across the nation’s tabloids, it would be understandable if Kym Marsh was a name we didn’t see in the public eye for a while. A life away from the world of entertainment would be an easy solution; after a few weeks the hacks would find a new victim to chase. “That’s not in my nature. I’m from a very working class background and when things get rough you don’t stop. When things get rough, you pull together and you fight back.”
"If I have to take a bit of stick now and then I will."
“I don’t want to look back on my life and think I’m a quitter, because I’m not. I want to perform for the rest of my working life and if I have to take a bit of stick now and then I will, because I am determined.” It is that determination and never say die attitude that has, along with a fantastic singing voice and not unpleasant features, endeared her to her fans; the local girl from an ordinary family who has worked hard to achieve her goals. It is a modern fairytale of sorts. Yet again, as Marsh prepares to open another chapter of her life, she is aware that the critics will once again be waiting to huff and puff and blow her house down. “If they want to say I’m rubbish, let them say it. I’m not going to be because I’m going to work my bum off. I have worked really, really hard and I will continue to give 100%, because I owe it to everybody involved, not just myself. They love me; they’re all big fans really!” she concludes, with a wry smile and a twinkle in her eye.
Interviewing Kym Marsh is an odd experience. As delightful as she is, there is always the feeling that the press have screwed her over one too many times and that the wrong question at the wrong time may see it all come to a crashing halt. This is not a fault on Marsh’s part, but on how she has been portrayed in front of the nation. If she were in control of journalists’ questions, things might have been slightly different: “I’ve been in situations where something that I’m really excited about doing has been overshadowed by someone wanting to know what diet I’m on. I think if someone asked me more questions about music and why I’m doing this, and about what interests me in that respect I would be over the moon.”
What should I ask then, to finish the interview on a high? “Would you like to go and have your dinner now? Hahaha!” I’ll take that as a hint!