Ex-Hear’Say man Noel battles conveyor belt pop in We Will Rock You

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OF all the candidates to play the lead in We Will Rock You, Noel Sullivan couldn’t be further removed from the rock ‘n’ roll archetype.

As one-fifth of reality TV pop group Hear’Say, the Welshman was complicit in the delivery of the sort of conveyor belt pop that his onstage alter ego, Galileo, is tasked with battling against in the Ben Elton-devised production.

Sullivan calls his transformation from popstar to musical theatre actor “a hell of a slog”, but says that he now has the career that he has always sought.

“This is what I always wanted to do. I’m right at the top of my game now, and I’m exactly where I always planned that I would be,” he says.

“To get [the part of] Galileo, it wasn’t because of the fact that I came through a reality thing, it was because I auditioned (Sullivan auditioned nine times for the part, the last of which was overseen by Ben Elton, Brian May, Roger Taylor and Arlene Phillips).

“Because of how hard this thing is, you can’t fake it, you know? There’s no way of cheating it. They can’t change keys for you. You have to be able to deliver.”

Arriving for We Will Rock You’s final set of dates at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Tuesday, Sullivan is relieved to be on the last leg of the tour (“I’m knackered”, the affable Welshman concedes with a belly laugh, “I can’t bloody wait!”), though he adds that he is looking forward to returning to Edinburgh, a city he has visited regularly.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back to the city, it’s got really fond memories for me because I’ve done a lot of shows there now,” he says.

“One of my first productions, Fame, was up there with Barbara Dickson back in 2003, and I’m back up for the festive season.

“I had such a good time there last time, my family are coming up for Christmas. I’ve got a nice flat on the Royal Mile, it’s going to be magic.”

Asked whether Galileo is the summit of his career in musical theatre so far, Sullivan is in no doubt as to the answer.

“Definintely, definitely, definitely. This is the one for me, within my industry, that will kind of hush my critics and kind of allow me to just be comfortable in my skin from now on within musical theatre.”

Prompted to expand on the specifics of these critics, Sullivan adds, “It’s funny because people would think that something like [Hear’Say] would open the doors within musical theatre, and I found that it closed quite a lot really.

“I had a great run at it with that band, but it’s not something that I wanted to do, it’s something I went for an audition for.

“This is the thing: you will never replace that naivety that we had – nobody knew what was going to happen, no TV company, no record company. No-one knew.

“Now it’s so contrived and so over-controlled, but people know now. If I’d seen what Hear’Say had gone through, I would never have gone and auditioned for it because that wasn’t the kind of thing that I was into.”

We Will Rock You is, in a funny way, an extravagantly ironic way to leave behind a career in pop music, but Sullivan stops short of dismissing it completely.

He concludes, “I don’t regret it, I think it was an amazing experience and it taught me a hell of a lot. I do count myself incredibly lucky.”

* We Will Rock You, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Tuesday until January 7, 7.30pm (Wednesday and Saturday matinees, 2.30pm), 0844 871 3014