Charming – oh, yes, Adam is!
JON WELCH He’s been a star of stage and screen but he’s never done panto – until now. Jon Welch meets former Coronation Street actor, pop star and would-be Tory MP Adam Rickitt, appearing in Cinderella at Norwich Theatre Royal.
If you see a familiar face running through the streets of Norwich early one morning, feel free to wave and say “hello” - but don't expect him to stop and sign autographs.
Having been thrust into the limelight at 18 as a star of Coronation Street, Adam Rickitt is quite used to being greeted by complete strangers.
Now starring as Prince Charming in Cinderella at Norwich Theatre Royal, he's looking forward to some interaction with the residents of what he considers to be the country's friendliest city.
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“I love Norwich. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly the people are in this city compared to other cities,” he says.
“It's the biggest city environment I know which retains a local community sense - things like opening a door for somebody and them saying 'thank you'. Walk around the streets in Norwich and people make eye contact and say 'hello'. In Manchester and London they're desperate to look everywhere else.”
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This will be Adam's first-ever panto. “There was a lot of stigma against panto: people said it's not terribly credible. But when Sir Ian McKellen did one, I thought 'You know what? I would enjoy doing one'.”
And he's confident that he's chosen the right one. “It's not one of those very typical production-line pantos. I think it's more of a Christmas show than a panto. I'm really excited by it.”
Adam has fond memories of family trips to panto each year in Manchester. “I used to find it such a great Christmas tradition. The idea of helping someone have that is just amazing. I am the biggest sucker in the world for Christmas: I'm a giddy little three-year-old.”
It was as Nicky Tilsley in Coronation Street that Adam got his first taste of fame. “Meeting members of the public was great - these are the people you work for. The only time it ever bothers me is when I'm on my run.”
He runs 10 miles each morning: curiously, he says this is to help his bad back. He says it's also a good way to get to know a new place, although he can't remember any landmarks from his first run through the streets of Norwich. “It was just running round all the houses and stuff.”
On leaving school, Adam decided he wanted to become an actor. Despite having no experience, he landed the role in Coronation Street.
“It was a great place to learn,” he says. “Coronation Street was my drama school and an amazing place to work because it was so professional, so quick and the actors are so good. The downside of it was my learning process was in front of 18 million people. When I first went in I was very, very green and that was very obvious, but as time went by it was great.”
Adam soon found himself public property. “Back then the whole media celebrity focus was on soap people - there was no I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! or Big Brother - that was what the tabloids were filled with.
“That gave me my first taste of, for want of a better word, celebritydom - and it made me realise I didn't like it.”
He left the Street to look for new challenges. “To me, the thing about being an actor is finding jobs you're going to be interested and challenged by, and doing the same character day-in, day-out for 20 years doesn't appeal. There were theatre gigs, TV gigs and film things I wanted to do.”
Still only 28, Adam has packed a lot into his career so far. He's had two spells in Coronation Street, and has also appeared in TV shows including Doctors and Judge John Deed.
By the time his character took part in Coronation Street's first-ever gay kiss in 2003, Adam was already a gay icon.
“It never bothered me in the slightest,” he says. “I've been lucky in that I've always had really good support from the gay community and when my mum raised me it never occurred to me that someone should be prejudiced against someone because they're gay.
“Everyone came to me and said 'Pretty boy, blonde boy - are you gay?' and I would say 'No, I'm not' - that's the truth - but I'm not going to make a big song and dance about it. I'm not going to do a Jason Donovan and sue somebody to prove I'm not.”
He's currently single, having split from his girlfriend. “I don't particularly like being single, but it's not too bad when I'm living with my brother because we've got a bachelor pad,” he says.
Adam's theatre credits include Telstar, Office Games, Final Judgment and Rent.
“I love doing theatre,” he says. “That's where I realised my passion is. Meeting somebody at the stage door afterwards and chatting to them about whether they enjoyed the show - that immediate feedback you can't get anywhere else.”
After leaving Coronation Street, Adam had a brief but successful career as a pop star, scoring a top five hit with his first single I Breathe Again. He had two more top 30 hits and released an album called Good Times in 2000.
What does he think now of his music career? “It was crap, I'll be honest,” he says. “It was everything I didn't like. But I was 18 years old and my manager at the time was Nigel Martin-Smith [the man who put together Take That] and said 'It will be a great way for people to see you as Adam Rickitt rather than Nicky Tilsley'. And at the end of the day, someone gave me a big cheque and said, 'Do you want to come round the world with me?'”
Adam's good looks made him a heart-throb, and he posed shirtless for magazine covers, showing off an impressive six-pack. “Oh, yes, that's still there,” he says. “I'll have that for the rest of my life because I have to do all this stretching and running for my back.”
As for the shots, he says: “I find them embarrassing now and I found them embarrassing then. Nobody likes getting their kit off, but it's part-and-parcel of the deal.”
Just recently, though, we've heard more about Adam's political ambitions. He's made it on to the Conservatives' so-called 'A-List' of prospective parliamentary candidates, but not without controversy. Some commentators said he had been selected at the expense of more experienced candidates, and had done little or nothing for the party.
Adam denies this. “It was always far more important to me to campaign on the issues than to campaign on myself. I have been an active party member for donkey's years - I've done the whole leafleting and canvassing thing.
“I haven't been a councillor so I haven't got as much experience as other candidates, but in other ways I've got more: I've been in the media industry for 10 years and unfortunately so much of being able to communicate our message and giving a voice to the community is dependent on the media.”
Adam was bidding to stand for the party in the new constituency of Mid-Norfolk at the next election - saying he would give “both my arms and legs to serve Norfolk” - but lost out to George Freeman.
“I was really gutted,” he says. “I do love this part of the world. It was exactly the type of environment I'd love to serve: it was a rural constituency. Of course, I was really disappointed but they got themselves a fantastic candidate.”
Adam, who was brought up in the Cheshire countryside, says he's in no rush to become an MP and is prepared to wait until he finds the right constituency to contest.
“I don't want to be some playboy politician where I just take a seat purely to get into Westminster. I was born and raised in a small farming community so I understand rural communities - I don't understand urban city centres.”
Nevertheless, becoming an MP remains his long-term aim. Although he'd like to continue acting as well, he thinks juggling two careers might be impossible.
He admits he's had a charmed life, from getting his first acting job on Coronation Street to jumping the queue for prospective Tory candidates after Boris Johnson put in a call to Central Office on his behalf.
“Yes, I have, totally, but I've got a saying, 'If you work to get in the firing line you're going to get shot',” he says.
“People say 'You've been lucky'. Well, you're lucky when you get your breaks, but you can't rest on that. If I'd got into Coronation Street and just drifted into being a celebrity rather than being an actor, I'd probably never have worked again and be in rehab and now be doing something different.
“Instead I worked my arse off. Same with politics: Boris Johnson made that phone call, but it was me who had to go to the assessments, me who had to prove myself to the selection committee.”
Until Westminster comes knocking, Adam says he just hopes to keep doing jobs he enjoys. “I don't care whether it's earning Equity minimum doing a play, or hundreds of millions of dollars in a film.”
Cinderella opened at Norwich Theatre Royal runs until January 20. Call the box office on Norwich 630000. Performance details at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk