Interview: Ian Watkins, H from Steps, singer

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Ian Watkins will forever be known to a generation of pop fans as simply H.

The 35-year-old Welshman made his name, or rather his nickname, as one fifth of 1990s pop group Steps - the H standing for hyperactive.

These days, of course, he’s better known as a musical theatre star, indeed his last visit to the Capital five years ago saw him play the title role in Joseph And His Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Next week he returns to Edinburgh, to the Festival Theatre, in Rhinestone Mondays, Joe Graham’s brand new romantic comedy.

From Tuesday, audiences at the Nicolson Street venue are invited to join the maverick members of the Warbleswick Monday Night All Star Line Dancing Club as they fight, feud and fall in, and out, of love. There’s a traitor in the ranks and mutiny on the horizon.

“The only way I can describe it is like the movie Stepping Out... with stetsons. A real feel good show,” says Watkins.

Featuring country music classics such as Achy Breaky Heart, Rhinestone Cowboy, Stand By Your Man and Crazy, Rhinestone Mondays finds Watkins starring alongside ex-EastEnder Shaun Williamson, New Seekers’ Lyn Paul and fellow Steps band-mate Faye Tozer.

“It is the first time that we have been on stage together for ten years,” he confirms, “and because this - theatre - is what we have done since Steps, it’s really lovely to see how we have both grown as actors.

“To then be able to bring that to the stage together has been a wonderful experience.”

In the piece, Watkins plays Duncan. “Let’s just say he’s in touch with his feminine side,” he laughs. “He’s more Dixie Chicks that Billy Ray Cyrus and he’s great fun to play.

“He loves life and he wants to be the centre of attention in every way. He’s definitely gonna cause a stir.”

It’s a character that the performer has created from scratch, and there’s no hiding his joy at the fact.

“It’s been a strange process, completely different to anything I have ever done before,” he says.

“The script is what it is, but we have worked with the director to create the characters, where they are going, where they have come from.

“It’s the first time that I have done that. I’ve done a lot of plays before but never before been in a first cast. In the past I’ve always taken over a role so it’s lovely to be able to create the blueprint that other people will make their own.”

In many ways, Rhinestone Mondays brings Watkins full circle, Steps’ first hit in 1997 was the line-dancing favourite 5,6,7,8... although he confesses he’s not a huge fan of the style.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of line dancing, but it has definitely been in my blood, obviously with our first single and also my mum was a line-dance teacher, so line-dancing has been in and out of my life. She hasn’t been to see the show yet but I’m sure she will pick me up on a few points.”

Away from the stage, life is busy for Watkins. A new Sky series will shortly reunite the five members of Steps, while he and his partner, Craig Ryder, are looking forward to becoming parents.

“Becoming a parent has been on the top of my list for many, many years, and very soon it is going to become a reality,” he beams.

“My partner and I are very, very excited. It was a huge decision and not one we made lightly. We talked about it for many years, but we feel we are in a good place in our lives together. We made this decision together and we feel like we can provide for and nurture little people.”

And if those little people want to follow him into show business when they are older?

“Do you know what, I will be there to support him or her, or him and her, every step of the way. Whatever they want to do, I’ll be happy,” he smiles.

In the meantime there’s the Sky series to look forward to, but it’s not a Steps reunion, he insists.

“We are just all together talking about how we split, what has happened since and what we are up to now.”

So might they be tempted to perform together again?

“I don’t know,” he says candidly. “You know what, I’m very happy in my life and I would only do that if it made a difference to my life.”

Rhinestone Mondays, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tues-Sat, 7.30pm (mats 2.30pm), £18.50-£24.50, 0131-529 6000