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Silver Street

Interviews

'Stepping into the spotlight'

BBC.co.uk

Ian H Watkins – better known as H from chart-topping pop group STEPS – recently made a guest appearance in Silver Street. The BBC's Nicola Hicks caught up with the Welsh singer and actor to hear about his radio drama debut...

Ian has always claimed that the H is for “hyperactive” but, judging by this shot of the Welsh singer and actor in his combat gear and camouflage stripes, I can exclusively reveal that it really stands for “hard man”.

“Err... I wish!” chuckles Ian, who plays a survival skills expert in the Asian Network soap. “But bless you – I guess that is the beauty of radio!”

Ian plays former solider Dave, who puts the Parkside community centre boys through their paces when they head to the Welsh countryside for their long-awaited adventure week.

The urban crew soon find that their street-smart attitude hasn’t prepared them for abseiling, assault courses and sleeping under the stars – and the week almost ends in (sorry, Ian) tragedy. Nothing, however, fazes tough guy Dave.

“He’s in charge of all of these truanting kids and he just takes control – you wouldn’t mess with him,” laughs Ian.

But though the one-time Butlin’s Redcoat admits he’s not quite cut out for Army life in reality, he more than stepped up to the challenge of his first radio acting role when he joined the Silver Street cast in their Birmingham studios last month.

“I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve presented on radio before and I’ve obviously done a lot of interviews, but acting on radio is very different – not least because you have to direct all of the action towards the microphone and not your fellow actors. It feels very, very strange. You only have your voice to rely on, so the more you can do to physically act out what you’re doing, the better,” he says.

The performer – who, following STEPS’ split in 2001, retrained as an actor at New York’s famous Stella Adler School and London’s Royal Academy of Music – admits that he was surprised by how much goes on behind the scenes of the radio soap.

“You have something called a ‘dead room’ to get the right acoustic for the outdoors – so there was gravel down on the floor to capture the sound of us running and things. But in one of my scenes I’m supposed to be on an assault course! I mean, how do you get that across? I had to climb imaginary monkey bars and fake swinging on ropes – it was brilliant fun.”

Indeed, Llwynypia-born Ian had so much fun in the studio that he ended up spending his 30th birthday there.

“I was so pleased that I spent my birthday recording because I’ll never forget it – it was brilliant. And then my friends came up to Birmingham and we had a big slap-up birthday meal, so I can’t complain!” he laughs.

The star also enjoyed reuniting with the Silver Street cast once recording was over for a special location photoshoot. “We looked like a real bad lads’ army,” he jokes.

“The other actors were great. They’re all very experienced radio actors and I expected to feel a little intimated. But they made me feel so much at home there. I’m just starting to develop my craft as an actor and to use different parts of myself and they really allowed me to experiment.”

STEPS were a staggeringly successful pop group – selling over five million albums in their five-year career – but Ian insists that he does not miss his old life.

“I loved what I did back then but now I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been famous, I’ve done all that and all the stuff that comes with it; now, for me, I just want to be the best actor I can.”

Though well known for his high-octane dance routines, Ian is now channelling all of his energy into his new career. He’s about to swap his Silver Street combats for civvies to play “a bit of an old git” in Before Bristol, a new play opening in London next month, and later this summer will return to the stage in the title role of Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – a production for which he won acclaim last year in the West End and which is now touring the UK.

“This is what’s great about being an actor – I can play an assault course leader one day and then a Biblical character the next! But that’s great for me because it means I can show people that I can do different things,” he says.

With so many new doors opening, it’s no surprise that getting back on the pop treadmill really is the last thing on Ian’s mind.

 

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