Jason Donovan on Kylie, coolness and cocaine: ‘I’m a survivor and I’ve made errors’ | Jason Donovan

Despite insisting that he likes to look to the long run, Jason Donovan is confronted with the previous a lot of the time. He has simply began a UK tour – one which has been postponed twice due to the pandemic – singing the songs that turned him into an enormous star within the UK within the late 80s and early 90s, after his function in the Australian cleaning soap opera Neighbours (which individuals additionally all the time wish to discuss).

“My catalogue of latest music might be skinny, so I are inclined to depend on my heritage a bit extra,” he says. “It is a kind of second of reflection.” However does he really feel he’s all the time being dragged again? Does it fill him with wistfulness? Does he take into consideration time passing? “I do after I can’t sleep,” he says with amusing. However the reply is not any: “It’s simply nice to have the ability to sing these songs, nonetheless have a voice, nonetheless have an viewers. I’m grateful. These songs are going to stay past me.”

It comes on the again of his summer season run within the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Wonderful Technicolor Dreamcoat. In 1991, Donovan performed the lead function; 30 years later, he returned as Pharaoh, an element for an older man. There had been talks about him reprising Joseph. “I entertained the thought. I can see the youngsters of 1991 rising up and bringing their youngsters to the present, and that’s ticket, that’s an attention-grabbing factor. The query I’ve received to take a look at is: can I revisit that second with the identical ardour and integrity? How do I look in a loincloth?” He laughs. It was the correct choice to not take it, he says. “This was an ideal marriage of protecting my foreign money proper there and having a second that articulated the previous, however might get me off the hook a bit.”

Donovan and Kylie Minogue as Scott and Charlene in Neighbours. Nearly 20 million Britons watched their wedding ceremony episode in 1988. {Photograph}: Fremantle Media/Rex

Was it poignant, seeing a younger man in his former function? Donovan is determinedly avoiding my pit of nostalgic melancholy. “It modified my life,” he says, brightly. “It took me from being this cleaning soap star turned pop star turned ‘What are we going to do now?’ star. Alongside got here Andrew Lloyd Webber, who stated: ‘I’ve received an thought,’ and out of the blue it’s eight reveals per week on the London Palladium and persons are going to take you a bit extra severely.”

He generally performs at 80s festivals with artists such because the Human League and Peter Hook: ‘All fairly heavyweight. I slot in for 20 minutes, sing Too Many Damaged Hearts and Particularly for You and a few different tracks, after which I sing Any Dream Will Do [the big number from Joseph]. The gang go fucking nuts and it’s kind of cool. Are you aware what I imply?”

What does success imply? What does life appear to be? These are questions many people can have mirrored on previously 18 months as priorities have shifted and targets have been re-evaluated. These are additionally questions many fading celebrities can have grappled with – and Donovan has been there. There was a time within the 90s when he was effectively conscious it was not “kind of cool” to be singing Joseph songs; he wasn’t positive what he was speculated to do now that his teenaged followers (me included) had grown up and received into Nirvana.

His response was to spiral into drug dependancy. However now? At 53, his profession rolling alongside, with a protracted marriage, three kids (his daughter, Jemma, is now in Neighbours), a home in Notting Hill and a way of humour, getting by means of the years should carry its personal perspective about what constitutes success.

If I’m feeling overly nostalgic, it’s as a result of teenaged me would by no means have dreamed that I might at some point be sitting in a restaurant with Donovan. (He’s heat and all the way down to earth; the cafe is close to his home and the workers greet him like a pal.) Within the period of streaming and niches, it’s onerous to emphasize simply how enormous Neighbours was – or the variety of enormous careers it launched. The episode in 1988 wherein Donovan’s character, Scott, married Charlene (performed by Kylie Minogue) was watched by 20 million individuals within the UK. Nearly everybody in my era will have the ability to say the place they had been after they watched it, as a result of the reply might be: at dwelling, after college.

Donovan and Minogue had been a pair on the time. Is it bizarre having individuals scrutinise their relationship – and Donovan’s old flame – greater than 30 years on? “Effectively, I’ve develop into used to it. That’s kind of a model.” He has been together with his spouse, Angela Malloch, for greater than 20 years, he says. How does she really feel about it? “I believe, initially, she would get slightly annoyed with stuff, however she’s such a powerful girl and our relationship is so stable that it transcends that second that, with respect, principally journalists are obsessive about.”

After all, it isn’t simply journalists – it’s followers, too. Donovan, affably combative, smiles and softens. “And followers, I agree, as a part of that nostalgia. It’s one thing I’m not obsessive about, however I perceive it’s what individuals wish to hear about.” (He says Minogue is “superior”; they message one another often.) The video of the pair reuniting at Minogue’s 2018 live performance in Hyde Park, central London, to sing their hit Particularly for You has been watched almost 6.5m occasions.

The primary time I watched it, I stunned myself by bursting into tears – it was the thought of old flame, enduring friendship, misplaced years; the teleportation again to at least one’s youth {that a} good pop tune can present. Donovan’s relative dishevelment and vulnerability (he had arrived on the gig by bike – he cycles all over the place – and the thought was sprung on him) in contrast with Minogue’s dazzling superstardom solely added to the emotional affect. “It’s a kind of moments meaning quite a bit to many individuals,” he says.

Donovan and Minogue first appeared collectively on display as kids, within the Australian present Skyways. His father, Terence Donovan, is an actor, as was his mom. When his dad and mom broke up, his father received custody; he grew up on movie units “as a result of we didn’t have a babysitter”. It was uncommon then for a father to be given custody. Did Donovan really feel completely different to his mates? “Yeah, I did, truly. I do bear in mind issues like lunch bins, usually given to you by your mum with this array of meals in it, and my dad … the bread wasn’t all the time recent. However I had love.”

Performing at the Royal Variety show in London, 1989
Performing on the Royal Selection present in London, 1989. {Photograph}: Eugene Adebari/Rex Options

His father remarried and Donovan turned near his stepmother. “We’re nonetheless very shut; we spoke at the moment. My grandmother was a giant a part of my life, so I by no means felt like I missed out on something. I’m positive, psychologically, these issues affect individuals’s lives, however … I suppose the web result’s with my circle of relatives – how vital it’s to guarantee that these moments aren’t repeated.”

Donovan would pester his father to arrange auditions. He did a number of reveals aside from Skyways earlier than his debut in Neighbours because the mulleted Scott Robinson a number of months earlier than he turned 17. What was it wish to take care of sudden fame so younger? “I don’t assume something prepares you for that. On the coronary heart of it, I didn’t be a part of Neighbours to develop into well-known. I joined it as a result of I beloved getting up in entrance of individuals – slightly shy, however I felt assured with the correct script to have the ability to categorical myself.”

He had already seen fame up shut – individuals would stare at his father on the street. “I understood it’s a foreign money – it’ll go up and down, take advantage of out of the second – however the second stored on going and it grew. How do you course of, on the age of 19, individuals going nuts for you, individuals exterior your home for 2 or three years? I don’t know. It may be very claustrophobic and overwhelming, and it may be fantastic; it may be all kinds of issues.”

He had all the time beloved music, however turning into a pop star appeared unintended. “I noticed what Kylie was doing [Minogue’s first album was a huge hit]; that will get you motivated fairly fast.” She had been produced by Inventory Aitken Waterman. “I suppose they checked out her and stated: ‘Who’s subsequent?’ and I went: ‘I believe I might do one thing right here.’” Particularly for You turned Donovan’s first No 1 (he would have three extra within the UK, in addition to 10 High 10s) and his debut album was the very best promoting of 1989 within the UK.

Donovan as Joseph and Linzi Hateley as the Narrator in 1991’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Donovan as Joseph and Linzi Hateley because the Narrator in 1991’s Joseph And The Wonderful Technicolor Dreamcoat. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The music he was into was extra David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Australian rock bands. How did he really feel concerning the industrial hits he was singing? “I nonetheless beloved pop music,” he says. “I always remember being in golf equipment, listening to Rick Astley’s By no means Gonna Give You Up, going: ‘Wow.’ However on the identical time I used to be a giant New Order fan, I beloved the Remedy. I used to be slightly bit confused, however I knew the Inventory Aitken Waterman route was the correct method to go, to enhance what I used to be doing on Neighbours.”

As soon as Particularly for You turned successful and cemented Donovan as a teen icon, “there was no turning again”. Generally he catches previous episodes of High of the Pops. “I pinch myself and go: ‘That occurred to me.’ It’s about timing. I might have been fussy and gone: ‘I must be a bit extra indie,’ and the second would have gone.”

He did attempt to develop into edgier for his third album, however it didn’t promote significantly effectively. Even then, his previous had a stranglehold – his new label shoehorned Donovan’s previous hits into the album, leading to an odd combine. It got here out in 1993, two years after he had taken the title function in Joseph. That had been an enormous success, however it wasn’t precisely the peak of credibility. “I checked out myself on the Palladium in a coat of many colors and a loincloth, going: ‘What am I doing?’ In hindsight, what I assumed on the time wasn’t cool was so fucking cool. Nevertheless it takes a era.”

He needed to be Kurt Cobain – “however grunge was a riot towards individuals like me” – or Michael Hutchence, the INXS singer (and the person for whom Minogue had left him). “I checked out somebody like Michael and stated: ‘I want I used to be you.’ In hindsight, that every one doesn’t matter, however the child in me needed to crash the automobile to have the ability to realise what I need and what I don’t need.”


In the 90s, there couldn’t have been something cooler than being invited to Kate Moss’s twenty first celebration on the Viper Room in Los Angeles, which was part-owned by her boyfriend on the time, Johnny Depp. Donovan was carried out on a stretcher after having a seizure, introduced on by an excessive amount of cocaine. In his 2007 autobiography, he recounted the humiliation with painful self-awareness: “I’d tried to occasion with the large boys, tried to be so very rock and roll, however all I had completed was make an entire fucking fool of myself. Who was I making an attempt to idiot? There was nothing rock and roll about me.” Was that his lowest second on medicine? He laughs. “Effectively, it’s one in every of many moments that weren’t nice.”

A few years earlier, Donovan had sued the music journal the Face for libel. He gained £200,000 damages, which he waived, however it was disastrous for his picture. The journal had printed a narrative implying Donovan was mendacity about his sexuality; posters of him had appeared round London, presumably posted by activists who had been making an attempt to out closeted celebrities. By suing for libel, not solely was Donovan attacking a modern journal, however he was additionally inviting accusations of wanting homophobic. On the golf equipment and bars he went to in London, he had develop into a pariah.

In his ebook, he referred to as suing the Face the largest mistake of his life, however now he says: “I’ll stand by the choice. However nobody gained.” It was about what was morally proper, he says. “It was concerning the suggestion I used to be mendacity.” There have been additionally political concerns – Donovan didn’t agree with the marketing campaign to out individuals. “You possibly can’t out somebody since you assume you will have a proper to inform their story. It’s not proper. That might not occur at the moment.” Does he remorse that, to some, it appeared like homophobia? “I used to be introduced up by a dad who was an actor and a stepmother who was a mannequin, in a really open world,” he says. “The problem was not about sexuality.”

Jason Donovan outside the high court in London after winning his 1992 libel case against the Face magazine
Exterior the excessive court docket in London after profitable his 1992 libel case towards the Face journal. {Photograph}: Neil Munns/PA

Feeling burdened and bruised, a cocaine behavior took maintain. By 1994, he had been dropped by his report label and, with no work to anchor him, his partying took over. He moved again to Australia for some time. After collapsing in a restaurant after a two- or three-day bender (he can’t bear in mind), the media began to report on his state. These round him tried to assist. “The issue was I wasn’t anxious about what they had been considering. It’s a really egocentric existence. It’s an sickness.”

It was assembly his spouse – a stage supervisor on the UK tour of The Rocky Horror Image Present, his first foray again to work – that marked the turnaround, adopted by the delivery of their first two kids. She stated they may stay collectively as a household provided that Donovan got here off medicine. It wasn’t a tough choice – Donovan adored being a father – and he additionally had a smart streak. Even at his lowest, he “all the time stored one foot within the door of accountability” (he continued to train usually and, though he spent a fortune on medicine – “I don’t know the way a lot” – he was financially savvy in different areas).

For the previous few years, Donovan has labored steadily in theatre, offered a radio present, launched albums (largely of covers) and embraced his function as an entertainer and object of public affection. “I’m a survivor and I’ve made errors. No life is ideal. If you’re younger, you’re fearless, and you then realise how fragile we truly are. It’s not about essentially having chart success or essentially the most profitable this or that. I take consolation in the truth that each profession has its ups and downs and, as you become old, you assume: what number of bedrooms in a home do you really want? I don’t want to point out something off.”

When did he make peace together with his – dare I say it? – uncoolness? “When you will have youngsters, your life adjustments, as a result of it’s not about you, it’s about them. It mattered about working and protecting transferring ahead.” Even if you’re too previous to thoughts about such issues, and even when others consistently wish to drag you again to the previous, what may very well be cooler than that?

Jason Donovan is touring the UK and Eire till 2 March

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