Dance craze inducing pop band Steps was one of the biggest pop phenomenons since Elvis went to the big cheeseburger factory in the sky. When the group split last year a shocked world was left to wonder if that was the last we would see of the cheesy quintet. Thankfully, one of the five, Lee Latchford Evans has returned to the public eye, playing Teen Angel in Grease at the Victoria Palace. Matthew Amer caught up for a chat over a quick hand jive.
It is never easy for an artist of one genre to make the transition to another. The public are generally very sceptical about Jacks-of-all-trades. Numerous ‘actors’ have tried to make it in the fickle world of pop, but few have had any more than a fleeting moment in the spotlight. Even the most successful are quickly forgotten: where is Jason Donovan these days? Latchford Evans is a man attempting to move in the other direction, from a glittering pop career to a burgeoning acting one. His first teetering step along this rocky road is the role of Teen Angel in the hit high school musical Grease. Having been one member of a group in which the females did most of the lead singing, does he think he is striking the right chord with a possibly sceptical public? “Everyone who’s come to see it has been quite surprised. I don’t think people really know how I sound, if we’re honest, but they come and watch the show and I think they are pleasantly surprised.”
"I don’t think people really know how I sound, if we’re honest"
The character Teen Angel, for anyone who hasn’t watched Grease every bank holiday since the beginning of time, is a cameo part played by Frankie Avalon in the film. In a fantasy sequence he appears to tell beauty school dropout Frenchy (who’s not actually French at all!) that she’s not really cut out for a life in the beauty industry. In the words of his song, “Who’d want their hair done by a slob?” (Peter Stringfellow, maybe?) It is a role that combines a certain sophistication with a dash of comedy. Lee explains “I think you can really go overboard if you want to and make him very camp. I have a touch of comedy in there and a touch of the charmer as well.” Whether that is a reflection of his own personality or natural acting ability we can only speculate.
Latchford Evans himself admits that it is only a small part, but his appearance “is creating a bit of a stir, which is good for me and good for the show. I’m not in it much, I’m in it for about four minutes!” So, he has not yet broken the big time in theatreland. With a long career in front of him and a high profile to build it on, the choices open to him are many and varied. “I don’t really want to pigeonhole myself into one thing. I think that is a bit silly in this day and age. This business is so fickle and it’s so hard to get work these days anyway. It’s really good if you can have variety in what you can do, be it musicals or movies or whatever else sort of pops up. I’m just keeping my doors clear to see which one opens first.”
What of the other four band members? The break up last Christmas seemed very sudden. “Some of us knew it was going to happen and some of us weren’t prepared for it”, but the official line at the time was that it was an amicable split; a parting of the ways for artistic reasons. Since the break Lisa has managed a now-dropped pop band, Faye has made occasional singing appearances most notably with Russell Watson, and Claire and H (the artist formerly known as Ian) have recorded as a duo, producing music that sounds incredibly similar to that of Steps. Are the friendly bunch still in touch? “I saw Faye last night actually and I will see Lisa tomorrow. The other two I get the odd text from now and again.”
The lifestyle that comes with being part of an extremely successful pop franchise is a dream for many people, or at least many teenagers. Latchford Evans lived that dream, selling over 12 million records world wide and charting 12 consecutive UK top five singles, a feat bettered only by the Beatles. Steps really were iconic in their status amongst pre-pubescent children and university students alike. Leaving behind the lifestyle that accompanies the fame must have been hard. “If you ask any famous person out there they will tell you that their life is taken away from them. They can’t really go anywhere without people knowing who they are, even if it is just shopping or to a premiere. It’s all the same no matter what: you won’t know anybody and they all know you. I think in that respect you lose your life and it is very difficult.” A stark reminder to all the reality TV show contestants that are trying to make their names in the music industry at the moment. “Whoever wins, they’re going to work really hard. They’re going to work damn hard. They’re going to not see their friends any more. They won’t see their family any more. They’ll probably all live together and all get up each other’s noses after a while. That’s the lifestyle unfortunately.” You get the impression that he is happy to be away from the scrutiny of the press and the ever-present gaze of the fans, although he would never admit it.
"I'd like to do some sort of action flick, not necessarily martial arts and not necessarily Bond."
This time out of the spotlight seems to have given him a sense of perspective on life and what he would like to achieve. Desperate not to fall into the trap of stereotyping, a trick he may find very difficult having just stepped out of multi-million pound manufactured pop career, it seems that his life is at a crossroads and not even he knows which direction it may go. “I’m quite a physical person so I’d like to do some sort of action flick. I think that would be good fun. Not necessarily martial arts fighting,” (although he did used to do martial arts training three times a week,) “and not necessarily Bond either.” Clearly he is keeping his options open. “I would like to do a skydive, just to have the thrill and see what it is like. Life’s about living. Make a movie? Well everyone will hear about that when I do it. I think it would be good to play something where people would not be totally aware that it was you. Maybe some random psychotic killer or something.” Bright and breezy, Lee doesn’t strike you as someone who could be the next Hannibal Lecter, though in his own slightly hushed, darkly ominous words, “you never know.”