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Lee steps into the boots of Robin Hood with star-studded band of merry men

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

More familiar as the face of TV's Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead will be appearing as Robin Hood in this year's Plymouth panto

More familiar as the face of TV's Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead will be appearing as Robin Hood in this year's Plymouth panto

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Only one dream will do for female panto fans this year: to gaze adoringly as Lee Mead swaps his Technicolor dreamcoat for the legendary green.

The in-demand singer and actor plays the lead role in Robin Hood at the Theatre Royal Plymouth from next week.

The show brings him back to square one, long before the meteoric rise to fame that came in a TV talent show six years ago.

"Robin Hood was the first role I ever played, when I was nine years old in school," says Lee, 32. "I'm really looking forward to doing it again."

This is only his second panto. He made his debut last year as the title character in Jack and the Beanstalk in Southampton with his Robin Hood co-star, veteran actor Nigel Havers, who plays the villain of the piece this time, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sitcom favourite Jeffrey Holland (Hi-de-Hi!, and the rest) marks his 42nd panto, this time playing Nurse Till Tick in Robin Hood, while comedian and impressionist Bobby Davro, as Will Scarlett, is only seven seasons behind.

Lee was on a slower road to stardom, appearing in a professional Phantom of the Opera after leaving performing arts college without graduating.

The Essex-born performer had his musical theatre career transformed by winning the BBC1 series Any Dream Will Do in 2007, which catapulted him into the top rank of West End stars and made him one of Britain's most bankable performers.

His immediate reward was to star in the title role of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End. He – and the show – proved so successful that he spent 18 months in the role, a full year longer than was originally scheduled.

Further West End roles followed in Wicked and Legally Blonde and he has also pursued a music career. Lee has released three solo albums and a fourth is due next year.

He has shown his versatility, playing the lead character in Lord Arthur Savile's Crimes. The melodrama, from an Oscar Wilde short story, visited Plymouth in 2010.

Now, though, he has a long-term TV commitment in hospital drama Casualty. He will play Nurse Lofty in the BBC1 show from March next year.

As all that has been going on, his personal life has undergone a transformation, also thanks to Any Dream Will Do. He dated and married show judge Denise Van Outen and they have a three-year-old daughter, Betsy. They announced in the summer that they were splitting after four years of marriage.

Having a child gave him a fresh perspective on panto. He'd been asked to be in one of the Christmas shows not long after his breakthrough.

"I said 'no' then but it's different being a dad," he says. "You see it differently. Panto is for the kids. I'll be getting back to London to see Betsy on my days off and she'll be coming down to Plymouth too. She'll to see the show.

"It's a lot of work, two shows a day for five weeks, but it's good craic. You have to enjoy it, because if you do the audience picks up on that, too."

Despite all the media exposure that comes with a showbiz career and the added pressure of the spotlight focused on a relationship with a fellow celebrity, Lee is the unstarry type. He was laid-back at the panto launch, which involved his first ride on a horse for the benefit of the press. "I really enjoyed it. I think I'll take up riding lessons. You have to adapt to the attention," he says, switching to the media focus. "It's part of the job. I try to ignore the stuff about my private life. It is private, after all."

Robin Hood is at the Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth from Friday, December 20, to Saturday, January 25.

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