ATOMIC Kitten Natasha Hamilton enjoys a challenge. The 31-year-old mother of three is chatting ahead of another flying visit to the Capital tomorrow, to star in the 20th anniversary concert tour of the musical Rent - in which she plays a bisexual performance artist.
Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Rent is set in the East Village of New York City, where a group of impoverished artists and musicians struggle to work and survive as the shadow of HIV/AIDS looms ever darker.
Hamilton plays Maureen Johnson, an outrageous performer in a lesbian relationship.
“Singing with Atomic Kitten is my absolute dream job, it just comes so naturally to me,” says the singer. “But when I’m acting in theatres, there’s more nerves and fear because I haven’t done it as much.
“When Maureen comes on, she does make a statement. My heart rate starts pounding before I go on, but I’m loving every minute of it.
“I have a lot of fun with Maureen, she is a big departure from playing a role like Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. She is very feisty, can be a bit erratic, but fundamentally, her heart is in the right place and she stands up for what she believes.
“She also has a very tempestuous relationship with her girlfriend, Joanne - they have a lot of fiery moments. So it was a role I could get my teeth into and, obviously, Maureen being a lesbian, I have to kiss a girl on stage. I’d never done that before... She is actually a dream to play because she is such a diva, whereas I’m quite relaxed and laid back.
“I kind of like it when a role comes along and makes me a bit nervous. It pushes me out my comfort zone, so I know it will make me work hard.”
Ironically, it was the far safer world of pantomime that introduced Hamilton to musical theatre. The singer played Peter Pan at the Liverpool Empire, opposite Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler as Captain Hook.
She recalls, “The legend that is The Fonz ended up coming to my house and having Christmas dinner with me and my family - he was on his own, and I said, ‘You can’t spend Christmas on your own, come and eat with us.’ That was an amazing day. Panto was a nice, light-hearted, fun way to get a bit of confidence on the stage. Then straight after that I auditioned for Blood Brothers.” However, despite her own Liverpool roots, Hamilton reveals that she had to fight her corner to convince producer Bill Kenwright that she was right for the part - Blood Brothers is set in Liverpool. “I was the youngest ever woman to play the lead. At first, Bill said ‘I think you might be a bit young.’
“My response to that was, ‘I’m a mother of three children. I know how it would feel, the heartbreak inside, to even contemplate losing a child. So I think I can bring that motherly love, nurture and sadness to the role.’
“And he said, ‘Yes, you are right. The job’s your’.”
While obviously thrilled by her forays into musical theatre, Hamilton is clear that singing with Atomic Kitten is the job she values most.
Formed in Liverpool in 1998, the trio was completed by Liz McClarnon and Kerry Katona, with Jenny Frost replacing Katona in 2001. Three hits followed - Whole Again, Eternal Flame and The Tide Is High (Get the Feeling) - before the band went their separate ways in 2004.
After occasional one-off performances together they reformed in 2012, with Katona rejoining the group for the ITV2 series, The Big Reunion. Hamilton is pleased to say that second time around, it’s much more fun.
“We kind of know what to expect now. We’re just so much more laid back. Having got a bit older, things that might have tipped us over the edge or made us a bit fiery 12 years ago don’t anymore. So we can relax and have fun.
“I see it as a bit of time for me, Kerry and Liz to bond. Because we don’t see each other that much, when we come to work, we have a great time doing what we love doing.”
Right now though, it’s Rent The Concert that has her whole attention, and she’s quick to point out that audiences shouldn’t be misled by the ‘Concert’ tag.
“It’s labelled the 20th anniversary concert but it is actually the original show that has come from Broadway,” she emphasises.
“The only real difference is that the band are actually playing on stage - that way you get a more live concert feel to the show.”
• Rent In Concert, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Saturday 7.30pm, £24-£30, 0131-529 6000