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Q&A: Jim Dale

Published 18 May 2015

Jim Dale has had a busy life. By most standards, busy might mean holding down a successful 9-5 career, maybe having a couple of kids, fitting in a holiday here and there and, perhaps, mastering the art of karate or crochet. Depending on your preference.

Not Jim Dale. 50 years after making his West End debut, the star of stage and screen – and music and audiobooks – is returning with his hugely successful Off-Broadway hit one-man show which, through a “myriad of irresistible showbiz tales, songs and performances”, will take audiences on a whistle-stop tour through his downright incredible career.

From working with Laurence Olivier in his legendary National Theatre Company to starring in 11 of the cult Carry On films, Academy Award nominations for both his music and screen work to becoming the voice of the Harry Potter books, narrating all seven, Dale’s unbelievable career redefines both the definition of ‘busy’ and ‘downright amazing’.

To find out more and why now is the right time to perform his memoirs, we challenged Dale to our revealing Q&A.

You’ve had an incredible career. What was the catalyst to writing this show?

I simply thought that 60 years in show business should result in a few worthwhile stories and observations.

How have you found the process of writing it?

It’s certainly brought back a lot of very happy memories. And I’ve had to learn to cut a lot of things out to be able to fit everything I’ve done in my life into a two hour show.

Has the process uncovered any ambitions you’d still like to fulfil?

Having had no ambitions as such throughout my entire career, it’s difficult to answer that question. I took everything one step at a time and that has led me to each of the fascinating branches of this show business career tree. The tree is still growing and so there are hopefully more new branches to explore.

Was there an adjustment to performing as yourself rather than in character?

I have never hidden behind a character, I just hope that I’ve been able to become that character. On stage in Just Jim Dale, hopefully that weight is off my shoulders as I’m being myself instead.

How do you feel to be returning to the London stage?

It’s frighteningly exciting. I love that turn of phrase.

You have been nominated for and won so many incredible awards, from Academy to Tony Awards. What award are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my first ever medal for tap dancing in 1944. I still polish it every ten years.

If you had to sum up your experience working on the Carry On films in five words, what would they be?

Some of my funniest memories.

Who has been your favourite co-star?

Paul Scofield in The Captain Of Köpenick at the National Theatre. He makes acting look so easy, you just want to run on stage and join him. So I did.

What was it like working with Laurence Olivier as part of his National Theatre company?

Watching him at rehearsals was the biggest thrill. Not just watching Olivier, but also the other great artists of the time like Joan Plowright, Charlie Kay, Jeremy Brett and Ronald Pickup.

If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be.

It would be a silent movie project with Buster Keaton, not only starring in it but directing it also. I just adore visual comedy at its best.

Stage or screen?

I have to say stage because I just love performing in front of a live audience and feeling their energy come back to you. It’s one of life’s most incredible experiences.

Broadway or West End?

I can’t really say I’ve got a preference to either. I’d have to say that I love both, although being an Englishman, there’s a real excitement about appearing on the West End stage in my own show.

Who or what has inspired you?

Sheer talent on the stage really does leave me gobsmacked. I’ll cry at brilliant comedy rather than laugh at it, it truly affects me that much.

Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?

Honestly? No. I’ve been very blessed to have the career that I’ve had and every opportunity that has arisen as a result of each new branch of the show business tree that I’ve been lucky enough to be on.

What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?

Very young children and their excitement and wonder at life.

What one book, film or album would you recommend to our readers?

Just for fun I would have to say anything by Jake Thackray. Wonderful writing and great humour.

What is the best bit of advice you could pass on to an actor starting out on their career?

The advice that I’d give to any actor is to watch other actors and see how they do it. Also, you can only truly learn from failure, so do everything and don’t be afraid to fail.

What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?

I have a home in the country that I look after. My wife says that if she dies then she wants her ashes sprinkled in Home Depot as that’s where I’ll visit her the most.

If you had to imagine a life where you hadn’t gone into entertainment, what do you think you would have done instead?

I’d have died at an early age from boredom.

Who would you most like to come and see Just Jim Dale?

I’d most like people to come who would like to know who Jim Dale is now – not the Jim Dale of 50 years ago who was doing stand-up, not as the Shakespearean actor, not as a pop singer – but who Jim Dale is now.

Just Jim Dale plays at the Vaudeville Theatre from 26May. You can book tickets through us here.

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