Simon Webbe of boy band Blue comes home to Brum and tells David Johns about growing up on ‘his’ street, stopping thieves nicking car stereos, and the drama teacher who inspired him to fame
Simon Webbe doesn’t come across as a big, bad wolf. In fact he seems the complete opposite – a bit of a big softie at heart. “Yes, I suppose I am like that most of the time, but everyone has a dark side that they like to be able to show now and then,” he says. Just how dark Simon truly can be will be revealed when he huffs and puffs and tries to blow the house down in the new production of the family musical The 3 Little Pigs at Birmingham Town Hall. The performer best known for being a member of the boy band Blue is the show’s ‘baddie’ – and he’s loving every minute of it. The false ears, the shaggy costume… the lot!
CORRIDORS OF LEARNING
He’s also loving the fact that he’s coming home to Brum, where he grew up from the age of six until he was 19. “My first ever stage appearance was actually at Town Hall back in 1994 when I was the lead in a play with an outside production with my school, so I’ve kind of come full circle you could say.” Although born in Manchester, Simon is a true Midlands lad with his roots firmly in the city. “I’m very proud to be a Birmingham boy,” he says. So much so that when we caught up with him, he’d just been on a visit to one of his old schools, Holy Trinity in Small Heath. “Walking along the painted corridors and past the classrooms, it felt like only yesterday when I was going to school there. My favourite teacher of all time, drama teacher Mrs Jones, was the one who always encouraged me to do drama. In fact when I first joined Blue, she was a bit upset that I was doing music rather than something in performing arts. She told me: ‘You’re better than that’. “It was great to go back though, the kids gave me a great reception. I know everyone talks about giving something back, but if I can inspire just one or two of the kids to go on and do something really great, outside of their normal comfort zone, that’d be so good. When they saw me turn up with the bodyguard and the Porsche, they were kind of like ‘Wow’. I want them to know they can have all that too if they really want it and work for it.”
Facing challenges and trying new things is something Simon believes in. As well as being part of Blue and a successful solo artist, he’s appeared in a number of West End musicals. He’s also known to millions from I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Strictly Come Dancing, where he was runner-up in the final and winner of the subsequent Strictly arena tour. “I’ve got the glitterball in pride of place at home,” he says. Fans of will remember how Simon went from timid dancer with two left feet to confident king of the ballroom floor and master of the meanest Argentine Tango ever seen on TV. “Strictly is something I will never forget. It’s part of my experience, but now I moving on to lots of other exciting things, on my own and with the band.” Simon grew up on St Andrew’s Street, right next door to Birmingham City football ground.
KEEPING MUM HAPPY
On match days, he and his mates earned some pocket money by charging fans to look after their cars parked on the road and “make sure the stereos weren’t pinched”. He says: “The cars were on my street – and no one and nothing was going to come to any harm on my street. “I enjoyed growing up in Birmingham, first at St Andrew’s School, then George Dixon and finally at Holy Trinity. I was very privileged, I had a relatively normal childhood. My mum would worry if you weren’t home indoors by eight or nine in the evening. It’s all a bit different for kids these days…” As well as drama, football featured large in Simon’s loves – he played at district and county levels before having trials at Birmingham and Aston Villa. “I still come back to Birmingham as often as I can, though I’d like it to be more often if I had the time,” says Simon. “My daughter is here and so are all my old school friends. I just love the place…”