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Niamh Perry & Keith Jack On ... Life After Reality TV

Niamh Perry and Keith Jack are two of the youngest discoveries from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s last two offerings of reality TV casting on BBC One. Now, 17-year-old I’d Do Anything finalist Perry and 19-year-old Jack, runner-up on last year’s Any Dream Will Do, have teamed up to star in a new musical, entitled Only the Brave, which receives its world premiere at this month’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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What are your most enduring memories of your reality TV experience?

Niamh Perry: The feeling of the first live broadcast of I’d Do Anything finishing. All 12 of us girls were huddled backstage when we realised what we had just done and the reality set in. We had been in rehearsals or auditions since the end of January. We knew the show was going to happen at some point, but when it actually did, it was just the most surreal experience ever. Also getting through to the final 12 was amazing, but I have never felt more sick in my life. We were in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s house at Sydmonton and, because we were making a television show, it was very important that all the cameras and television stuff was set up so it took all day for them to tell us whether we had got through or not. They brought through the final four girls, the youngest ones, including myself, and got of us in to sing “As Long as He Needs Me” around a piano. We were all completely in tears by the end of it because the pressure was unbelievable. We were sitting in a room with Andrew, Cameron Mackintosh, Denise Van Outen, John Barrowman and Barry Humphries and then about 20 people from the production team in this small room. It was so scary, but I think that has made me a stronger person. Thank god I got through.

Keith Jack: Any Dream Will Do was just such a great experience to work with Andrew and all the panel and all the boys that were there. It’s something I will never forget. I think it taught me a lot, it made me grow up very fast and it just made me a better person really. It was really hard, though, non-stop work all the time. And when you get bad comments, that’s really hard. And being away from home in Edinburgh for so long was hard to deal with for me as I was always a home boy. I haven’t really passed on much advice to Niamh for dealing with what happens after a show like that. She’s quite mature for her age, probably more than me actually - but that’s just a boy thing really, isn’t it?

How has your life changed since your competition?

Niamh Perry: It has been absolutely unbelievable. I came out of the show on a Saturday and I sat my first A-level exam on the Thursday after. I was flying between London for auditions and meetings and for the final show of I’d Do Anything and then having to fly back to do exams. I was living in a bubble for a while. My exams didn’t finish until the very end of June, and then I went straight into the Phantom II workshop with Andrew Lloyd Webber and some of the other Nancys as well. That finished and then the next day rehearsals for Only the Brave started so I literally haven’t had a moment to stop. That’s probably best because I haven’t had a chance to think about how much my life has changed, it’s just kind of naturally changed around me. Phantom II is absolutely unreal so watch this space. I haven’t been involved in very many professional projects, but I don’t think I’ll be involved in something else like that for a long time. It’s not what you expect at all, but I think it’s going to be huge. I’ve been asked back to do the second workshop in October for Act II so I’m really excited because I’ll get to see where the story goes.

Keith Jack: Everything that I’ve done since Any Dream Will Do has been because of the show. I played the Narrator in the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tour for Bill Kenwright. I also did the concert with John Barrowman at the Apollo and a concert tour called Choices for Life. I also have my debut album, This Time, out this month. It’s mainly brand new songs. There’s a song on there by Don Black and another by Steve Robson and then a couple of co-written songs. It’s put together by a producer called John McLaughlin who’s worked with Sandi Thom, Amy Macdonald, Busted, Blue and 911. I’d describe is easy listening, classical pop crossover stuff - similar to Josh Groban. It’s still odd to think now that I was working in Tesco a year-and-a-half ago, before I did the TV show. Now, for the last year, I’ve been doing what I love and always wanted to do: singing and performing. So Any Dream Will Do has changed my life in a really great way.

Why did you want to do Only the Brave?

Niamh Perry: The music. I was sent the demo CD the Tuesday after I was kicked off I’d Do Anything and I put it on in the background while I was revising. But then it distracted me because it was so phenomenal - I didn’t revise much that day! It reminded me of things like Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, but then it has got quite dissonant chords and it’s quite modern at the same time. It’s a nice combination. The story is really poignant too. I still wasn’t quite sure until I realised that Belle, the character I play, is quite like me: she’s a young woman who, at the beginning on the play, is quite naive, but by the end of it she’s grown up and is very sure of herself and aware of who she is. That’s kind of what I was like throughout the Nancy thing. I was really shy at the start but I felt like I had aged a good few years by the end because I had had so much thrown at me. I knew Keith Jack from the week when I left I’d Do Anything when the Josephs from Any Dream Will Do all came back and we did a song together. It’s nice to have someone in the company who has got here the same way I have.

Keith Jack: Matthew Brind, who wrote Only the Brave, worked on Any Dream Will Do as a musical director. He phoned me up one day and asked if I’d like to do a show at the Edinburgh festival. I was touring in Joseph at the time but I told him to send me the music. When I got the CD, I just fell in love with it. I thought it was absolutely beautiful and the character they asked me to play was a perfect role so it just went on from there. My character, Charlie Lockhart, is a Scottish fisherman who moved down to England as a child and got bullied. He has a best friend called Will who looks out for him because he’s fragile and younger-looking. Charlie’s reluctant to go to war but is persuaded to sign up. He tries to keep up but he’s always falling behind. During the war, he meets a French girl called Belle, played by Niamh, and they fall in love. He hates the war, he doesn’t think there’s a point to it, but after he meets Belle, he grows up more and sees that things happen for a reason.

It’s brilliant to perform in my hometown. We did Joseph here at the Playhouse for six weeks and I loved every second of it. To do something else here, a completely different show, and to be up during the festival which is such a great time to be in Edinburgh, and also to be working on a show that I love and with such great people … it’s all just fantastic. Being home and seeing my family is even more special. And my friends and family should help keep the seats full!

Why are your plans post-Edinburgh?

Niamh Perry: I’m doing Proms in the Park in Belfast and also the Phantom II workshop in October, and then at Christmas, I’m doing pantomime in Eastbourne. I’m Snow White so that should be fun. I do hope there will be a future for Only the Brave too. I think it’s very special. I really can see it going forward. Fingers crossed.

Keith Jack: Career-wise, I haven’t decided whether I should be concentrating more on recording or theatre. My heart is in musical theatre, but it’s been great doing the album, putting the music I like to sing onto CD and getting it out there. It’s good to do both. After Edinburgh, I’m doing an album tour which will go around the country and then I’ll have a couple of weeks off and then maybe go into panto in Aberdeen to finish my year off. I also hope Only the Brave does well in Edinburgh and everyone comes to see it. If it does have a future in the West End, I’d love to be involved in it.

- Niamh Perry and Keith Jack were speaking to Terri Paddock

Only the Brave had its world premiere on 2 August 2008 (previews from 31 July) at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it’s running until 24 August 2008 at the festival’s first-ever dedicated musicals venue, the Musical Theatre @ George Square.

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