Nick Bateman was catapulted to fame by reality TV show Big Brother where he picked up the nickname 'Nasty Nick' for his underhand tactics. Now he's starring in cult musical The Rocky Horror Show which opens at the Richmond Theatre tonight, one stop in a nationwide tour. Nick Bateman tells Laura North what's going on over at the Frankenstein place…
'Nasty Nick' Bateman is full of surprises. Did you know he has triplet sisters? Or that he was in the running for Radio Four's hero of the year? Or that Nick – who has been tagged villainous, Machiavellian and "extremely calculating" (that's from Esther Ranzen) – gets nervous? The former city stockbroker and devious dweller of the Big Brother house actually finds the thespian world frightening. "This is a terrifying lifestyle: you don't know what's coming next." Before previews for The Rocky Horror Show began he admitted he was "90 per cent excited and 10 per cent nerves". Now, having faced the fear, he reveals that the adrenaline rush of stock broking does not match the high of live performance: "It's a different level of stress. There's such a buzz about a live audience, the anticipation you have and how your heart beats like a drum – then it dissipates and then you're standing there with the spotlight and the audience." And the audience on press night happened to include Robbie Williams (there to support his flatmate Jonathan Wilkes in the lead role), nestling among other celebrities and a dispassionate press, surely an unsettling experience. "You're more self conscious about press evening. I wasn't as relaxed as I'd normally be."
"This is a terrifying lifestyle: you don't know what's coming next"
The Rocky Horror Show is quite an experience in itself. A heady mix of transvestites clad in suspenders and corsets, alien assassination and rock n' roll – it's not the kind of show that you'd take your grandmother to. But Bateman was not shocked by the racy content; what took him by surprise was the obsession inspired by the show. "I've seen it on film but still I was shocked – I went on stage for the first preview and suddenly there was this energy from the audience, shouting and screaming. It's the most phenomenal experience." One man has booked for 47 performances. "He sits at the front every night. He's like a critic in his own right." And on the press night, a large man in leather pants and a big red wig knelt before creator Richard O'Brien in supplication before attempting to kiss his bald pate. That kind of idolization is usually reserved for the knicker-strewn arena of a Tom Jones concert. "It's amazing when you get people who really appreciate it.
Audience participation is a vital part of the show. There is a running dialogue between the actors and the audience. Whenever the name Brad is mentioned, the collective response is "asshole"; when his fiancée Janet's name is uttered, the audience yell "slut". Robbie Williams was a game participant and yelled at his flatmate, "You're not coming home dressed like that!". The talk-back has developed over the 30-year history of the show, and the official website encourages the formation of new and improved insults: "For instance, when Christine Hamilton as the narrator says the line 'What further indignities were they to be subjected to?', she may get the response of 'Louis Theroux!' (If you've seen the documentary it all makes sense)." The role of the narrator is a traditional target for abuse. Dressed in bow-tie and dinner jacket, he is a pseudo-serious story-teller, and delivers his lines in the style of the fireside narrator from Tales Of The Unexpected. Bateman points out that "a lot of the heckling is not aimed personally, it's aimed at the character". But 'Nasty Nick' can be no stranger to harassment – he was ushered out of the Big Brother house via the back door to a secret location in order to avoid the lynch mob spurred on by a tabloid campaign. He is confident that he can fend off heckling effectively and believes it is imperative that the narrator lets it happen. "If you stop and let the audience have their banter and then fire back at them, they really do enjoy it more."
The role of the narrator has been rotated between Bateman, Christine Hamilton, Rhona Cameron and John Stalker, ex-Deputy Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police, although Bateman has really been the guinea pig. As the narrator in the first performances, he was observed by the beady eyes of the narrators-to-be at press night. "It's lucky that the other narrators saw what it's like. I would have liked it the other way round – maybe if I'd seen John up there." Cameron and Hamilton, recent competitors in reality TV show I'm A Celebrity – Get Me Out Of Here!, are the first two women to take on the role of the narrator. Bateman thinks they are the ideal candidates to tackle this challenge. "I think Rhona is fantastic because she's a comedian, although it's not a vehicle for comedy, it is essentially a straight role." And he agrees that Hamilton is a pretty strong character and can hold her own. John Stalker is good "because he's quite droll anyway." If Nick had to choose another role, apart from the narrator, he quite fancies the part of Dr Scott, an elderly wheelchair-bound scientist who eventually gets his legs out in suspenders. At the risk of digressing, there is an online test which determines which Rocky Horror character you are most like. Intriguingly, if you process Bateman's details through the test (making some assumptions on his dancing abilities, whether he was born on Transsexual or Earth, and what his natural hair colour is), he turns out to be most like Dr Scott.
"I love this role, I haven't had so much fun for a really long time"
One thing that is impossible to ignore, and ever-present in his nickname, is his participation in Channel 4's Big Brother. He and 11 others were the first group of people to take part in the English version of the show, where the housemates are under the constant surveillance of a camera. The show proved a huge hit, helped substantially by Bateman's scheming: the edition where he was disqualified attracted 5.5 million people, at that point the biggest late night audience in Channel 4's history. Three years later, the name 'Nasty Nick' sticks like mud, and must start to become tedious or distressing. "Whether I like it or dislike it, it's not going to matter, because people will still call me it." However, he insists he is not really nasty but has "a heart that burns like a fever", which marks him out as sarcastic if not nasty. The show clearly had a huge impact on his career. "Big Brother has changed things. Would I be doing this now if it wasn't for Big Brother? The answer is obviously no, I wouldn't. Big Brother was a catalyst but at the end of the day you still have to audition and you still have to be able to do it otherwise they wouldn't employ you."
The reputation has taken him far and he now has many strings to his bow. Immediately after his departure from the house, he signed a lucrative deal with the very paper that started the "Kick Out Nick" campaign, The Sun. This has been followed by a TV game show based on the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages fall in love with their captors; Hell To Pay, a film shown at the Cannes Film Festival; a couple of stints in pantomime; and journalism for publications as diverse as The Guardian, Cosmopolitan and She magazine. He has also written a book How To Be A Right Bastard and is following up with another. This time it's not a practical handbook: "It's a book of fiction, a novel. Since I was twelve years old I've always had an immense urge…" And you'd expect him to say, "to write a novel" but his ambitions are loftier than this. He continues: "…to win the Booker Prize." He explains that this is not elevated ambition but an attempt to keep himself on the right track. "It's good to have aspirations and goals otherwise you become misdirected." The subject matter for his potential Booker-winner is murder. "Not a murder mystery, I think murder mystery is a bit sixties, isn't it? It's more of a serial killer on the loose." It is untitled as yet and still definitely work in progress: "I've only done about 90 thousand words so I'm still plugging on with that."
"I've always really really wanted to do Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat"
Rocky is proving to be a good move for him. "I love this role, I haven't had so much fun for a really long time." But what sort of dastardly thing would 'Nasty Nick' like to try his hand at next? Perhaps the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, or the creepy Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; maybe he'd even like to revive his role of Fleshcreep the man-eating giant in Jack And The Beanstalk in time for Christmas? The answer, again, is more surprising. "I've always really really wanted to do Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. I just love that musical." Andrew Lloyd Webber and the stronghold of squeaky-clean Philip Schofield and Stephen Gately? "I don't care if I was one of the brothers, I'd do it. I love it."
It seems that 'Nasty Nick' is beginning to show his angelic side. With his soft spot for family musicals, would it be such a big surprise if he popped up in pigtails in The Sound Of Music?