Dalkeith’s Keith Jack recalls how being bullied made him the man he is today
WHEN Dalkeith boy Keith Jack sang Close Every Door To Me on the BBC talent search Any Dream Will Do, little could he have known just how many doors it would open.
The singer turned actor, who is currently starring as Nick Piazza in the nationwide tour of Fame, is looking forward to returning home next month to appear in concert at Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre, on 24 April.
Having turned 31 earlier this month, he has worked consistently since his TV debut, not least because his boyish looks belie his years.
Keith breaks into a big grin as he reveals, “On my 31st birthday I got ID’d buying alcohol.
“But I don’t feel 31 and I’m currently playing a 17-year-old in Fame so it’s not too bad.”
He adds, “People still think I’m about 19, the age I was when I did Any Dream Will Do - it’s the curly hair that does it, and when I clean shave, people think I’m a pup.”
Accepting that he “hasn’t really changed much” over the years, he admits, “I’d rather feel young and look younger than be young and look old because the parts I still want to play are younger.
“I’ve not really changed much apart from having curly hair now instead of straight and having bulked up a bit.”
That desire to bulk up is perhaps more telling than it at first seems.
A slightly built kid when he debuted on our TV screens, Keith’s love of singing and performing made him an easy target for school bullies in the Midlothian mining town where he grew up.
He recalls, “I was always confident somewhere deep down, but couldn’t really show it because I was bullied a lot for wanting to be a singer and an actor.”
He continues, “At high school I spent a lot of time being beaten up. It started within six months of going there, because I went to singing lessons, it was like, ‘You’re the gay singer boy’.”
As a result of the abuse, both verbal and physical, the young Keith withdrew into himself, becoming close to a small circle of friends who remain his mates to this day.
“I became quiet and close to certain friends, they are the only ones I keep in touch with now.
“I was a Woodburn boy, it was a rough area, so it became quite a challenge to keep pushing forward and not let these guys get to me.
“They were violent. One day I was playing football outside before going to do a concert, they grabbed me, pulled my top off and soaked all my clothes with snow.
“They believed you had to be gay to be a performer, so I got all this stuff because of that.”
Keith spoke to his guidance teacher about what was happening but remembers, “sometimes it gets worse when you try to get things done.”
It wasn’t just at school that he found himself on the receiving end of the bullies attention, being an altar boy at his local church also made him a target for some.
“I was also bullied by people from other schools because, being a Catholic, I was an altar boy and at the time I lived right next to a Protestant school.
“I tried to fight back, but sometimes it was against four or five boys - then you just had to hold your head and duck.”
Keith reached his lowest point when his beloved granddad died.
Just 15 at the time, the performer, who has since starred in Only The Brave and Sincerely, Mr Toad as well as playing both the Narrator and the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, says it was the day he lost his “best friend”.
“I used to stay with him and my nan a lot. He was the one that got me into singing, performing, to being an altar boy and singing in the choir, to going to after-school club.
“He was my champion, he taught me about never giving up, to keep fighting, keep moving forward.”
Which brings us back to his love of the gym today, and his desire to bulk up.
“I was skinny and young and wasn’t able to fight for myself, so yes, to now be bigger, to have that stature...
“That’s a big part of who I am today and probably comes from those experiences growing up.”
There was one incident, however, after which Keith knew the bullying was behind him.
“After Any Dream Will Do, it was a bit mental,” he says. “One night I was in Edinburgh, appearing in a club.
“I was with my best friend and we had the whole VIP lounge to ourselves - free drinks, the lot.
“One of the bullies appeared and asked if he could join us. He did say sorry though; the first thing he said was, ‘Keith, I’m so sorry for what I did. I’m so glad you’ve made it. Can I come in and have a drink?’
“And I said, ‘No’, and walked away. I just felt so satisfied - I hadn’t smacked someone, hadn’t hit him, I’d just got one over on him by being the person I’ve always been. I felt my confidence grow.”
Just how confident a performer Keith has become will be evident at The Brunton and it’ll be a nice change to be back doing what his loves best, he says.
“Because I’ve been in Fame since last June and am in it until November, I wanted to keep singing.
“We have a week off and I get bored really quickly so, rather than go on holiday, I thought I’d do some concerts.
“I’ll keep it simple and sing some songs from the last four albums, chat a little bit, tell some stories - I enjoy doing concerts because its just me
“At The Brunton, my old teachers always come along as do the fans from the days of Any Dream Will Do, they’re like my Musselburgh family and I can’t wait.”
After the concerts Keith returns to Fame, which will see him make his West End debut when the show transfers to London, in September.
“I couldn’t go to the West End with a better show and I’m ready for it,” he smiles.
Looking to the future, he has one ambition yet to fulfil, he confides.
“I’d love play a drug addict or something evil and dark, because I have these traits as a person.
“I can be lovely and sweet but I can also be opinionated and stick up for myself... that’s the stuff I had to learn as a kid.”
Keith Jack: A Night ’Round The Piano, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Wednesday 24 April, 7.30pm, £16.50, 0131-665 2240