West End tenor to perform in village
Rachel Buller Benjamin Lake has come a long way since winning an ITV talent show. Now a major West End star, the opera singer tells Rachel Buller why he is playing a special, intimate concert in Norfolk and how he has managed to shed 12 stone to stop being typecast.
Hethersett village hall might seem an unlikely venue for one of the biggest operatic talents in the UK at the moment, but Benjamin Lake has a very personal reason for choosing it - he is keen to involve himself with the local community as it may soon be his home.
His wife-to-be Abigail is from the area and the couple are keen to move from London to be closer to her family and are house-hunting in Hethersett.
“I was looking at just doing some concerts in small local venues across the country and we like Hethersett, so when I saw the village hall I thought it would be a great place to sing. I am really into the idea of community and I thought if we are going to move here it would be a nice way to get involved,” he says.
“We now have a little boy, Ted, who is 16 months old, so we are thinking about schools and things like that and we are always here anyway.”
Having just completed a run in London's West End in Phantom of the Opera, which came after a long stint performing in the controversial, critically-acclaimed Jerry Springer, The Opera, Benjamin said he was excited about doing the series of more intimate concerts.
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“Being in the West End is a wonderful thing and I absolutely love it, it is a privilege, but it can be a bit monotonous at times. What I enjoy about doing the smaller concerts as well is that I can sing what I like and it is completely fresh. Sometimes I still perform in random old people's homes and people think that is really strange but I just genuinely love singing and entertaining people,” he laughs.
For the 29-year-old London-based singer, it has been a hectic time since he was discovered. After completing his A-levels, Benjamin studied at the Trinity College of Music in London and began performing in major operatic productions.
But it wasn't until leaving college in 1999 when he made the decision to appear on ITV primetime show My Kind of Music, presented by Michael Barrymore, that he got his big break and was spotted by an agent who asked him to perform in a major new show in America.
“I had finished at college and everyone said 'don't do the Barrymore show'. It wasn't quite the X Factor but it was the only singing talent show around at that point. But I was trying to get a break in the business and I saw the advert and thought I would go for it. These things are always a gamble, it can be a great notch on your CV or a nail in your coffin. But it got me noticed and was great for me.”
During his three years working with the American company, he began to secure some major one-off performances in the UK, including opening the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, singing in front of 70,000.
After deciding to return home, he found himself starting afresh with a new agent and it wasn't long before he was offered the role of serial adulterer Dwight in Jerry Springer and his career has continued to take off from there.
“It was wonderful working on Jerry Springer, it was hyped up a lot by the press because of its content, but only really after it went on television. We had been going on stage with it for about 18 months before that. The important thing is that everyone who comes to see it really enjoys it. It was those who hadn't seen it that were complaining the loudest.
“I am not ashamed of it. It was an absolutely great show, as was illustrated by the number of awards it won. It put me on the map.”
His role in that, and subsequently in Phantom, did lead him to make a major decision about his lifestyle and future however.
At 26 stone, Benjamin was concerned that he was getting typecast in certain roles and, with a young baby, he decided to lost weight and change his image.
After going on a special weight-loss plan in February, he has dropped 12 stone and now weighs 14 stone, which he says has transformed him.
“It was really hard to start with. I used the Lighter Life plan where you have shakes and bars and then gradually reintroduce more and more food. I exercised and rather than eating after shows at two or three in the morning, I now try not to eat meals after six. The weight has stayed off and I don't deny myself anything, it is all about moderation, a sensible diet and keeping active.
“Already the phone has been ringing with some different offers. I feel wonderful and it is the best thing I could have done. Yesterday I had a break in my work and went for a jog, I would never have done that before.”
He has a lot to thank Springer for. Not only did he win the prestigious Best West End Newcomer of the Year award for his portrayal of Dwight he also met Abigail while performing in it as she was a dresser in the show.
“I gave her a wink and a nudge, and it went from there,” he laughs.
Benjamin's concert at Hethersett Village Hall is on Sunday November 23 at 3pm. Tickets cost £7. To book call 01953 605798.