Tom Chambers – dancing on the piano
The instruction from Tom Chambers’ PR company is simple enough: ring him on his mobile at 5pm. He answers brightly and almost immediately. Seconds earlier the Derbyshire actor and Strictly Come Dancing winner was on stage at London’s Dominion Theatre, preparing for his sixth show of the week with another two to follow; he has not had time to get to his dressing room, let alone take off his costume.
Tom is appearing in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical which he says is a “really lovely light-hearted comedy”. It means he will have only one day off during the festive season, Christmas Day itself.
Until January 3 he will be playing Phil Davis, a role which involves a seven-minute tap-dancing number and dancing on a piano.
For the next half hour he holds nothing back as he eloquently talks about his career, family, how he thought he would never work in the theatre again after his last show and how he plans to diversify.
He is certainly relishing the part and it is a show he knows really well: he played Bob Wallace – the role taken by Bing Crosby in the 1954 film – in Sunderland in 2009. He was signed up then because of his success in Strictly.
He admits at the time he envied the part taken by Danny Kaye in the film and when producer Michael Rose rang him to see if he would be interested in playing Phil, he jumped at the chance.
“Michael has spent the last six years hoping there’d be a theatre free between November and January – White Christmas is not a show people want to see in August. It just happens that the Dominion was being refurbished after (the Queen musical) We Will Rock You, so they had a gap. I was delighted to accept the challenge of playing Phil.”
Making his West End debut as Bob Wallace is singer and television presenter Aled Jones.
“Playing opposite Aled is absolutely hilarious,” says Tom. “He’s a lot of fun to work with, really down-to-earth – he’s got no ego and he’s not showbizzy. That’s what the role is meant to be. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to work with.
“I’m really excited about White Christmas. There are 20 people in the orchestra so the sound is fantastic. It’s wonderful and it’s got some nice touching moments in it that make you count your blessings.
“The Dominion is an amazing theatre with 2,000 seats. The audiences have been fantastic. We’re really lucky that we’ve had standing ovations at every performance so far.”
Christmas in the Chambers’ household will be different this year because Tom, his wife Clare and their three-year-old son William will be joined by new addition to the family Olive Georgina who was born in June.
“It’s just going to be us because the rest of the extended family will be hours away in Derbyshire and it’s just too much for one day. So we’re going to have a quiet one. We’ll go to church and then walk to the local pub for Christmas lunch and a few ales – but not too many because I need to keep my legs fit for the next day.”
Thomas Stuart Chambers was born in May 1977 at Darley Dale and was educated at Repton School. He attended the National Youth Music Theatre and Guildford School of Acting.
Two life-changing opportunities came his way, first when he was cast as Sam Strachan in the BBC medical drama Holby City, a part he played for three years; and then Strictly Come Dancing.
“I went from a jobbing unemployed actor to a working, earning, employed actor. Holby City was the key but I’d always wanted to dance, the Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly type of thing, especially tap dancing. When Strictly came along I thought it was close enough to the Hollywood era of dancing.
“All of a sudden I became a household name for a time. Everyone always remembers the winners.”
Tom lifted the 2008 Strictly title with Camilla Dallerup, beating the likes of former rugby international Austin Healey; model and presenter Lisa Snowdon; and singer Rachel Stevens. Tom and Camilla’s dance gained the most public votes, making him the third man to win the contest.
Since Strictly Tom has had a varied career. His television appearances include a stint in the BBC drama Waterloo Road and a regular role in another BBC series Father Brown, based on the novels of G K Chesterton, which stars Mark Williams as a crime-solving Roman Catholic priest. On stage he originated the role of Jerry Travers in the award-winning musical Top Hat, playing it for 18 months on tour and in the West End.
So which does he prefer: drama or musicals?
“It’s a really fortunate position to be in if, as a performer or actor, you’re able to get as much variety into your life and career as possible. I feel very lucky and blessed that I’ve been able to cross the line and do both because a lot of actors get put into a pigeon hole.
“An incredible amount of stamina is required for musical theatre. I have so much respect for people in the West End who can continually give 110% to a live audience.
“I certainly thought after Top Hat that I would probably never work in the theatre again because I did 500 performances which was the most demanding role I think I could possibly imagine. It had never been done before on stage.
“It was a real strain on the body and I thought ‘that’s me done, I probably won’t be able to do musical theatre again after this’. I’ve had two years off from that where I’ve been doing the detective series Father Brown.
“I like to do a bit of both (drama and musical theatre) because it keeps you fresh. I feel very lucky to be able to go from one to the other.”
Tom tries to get back to Derbyshire every six weeks if his work allows it. His parents live in Parwich and Clare’s are in Willington, so there are regular trips for the children to see their grandparents.
Will we ever see Tom in a show in Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire? Negotiations are going on that may lead to Tom being part of a tour which will stop off in Nottingham early in the new year and will involve “a slightly new area that I’ll be stepping into”. Nothing else is certain, although he maintains “never say never”.
He is also in discussions about filming series four of Father Brown – series three will air in January or February, again on consecutive weekday afternoons – and no doubt other offers will come his way.
“The trouble with being an actor is you never quite know what you’re doing next until you start the contract.
“I’ve actually got a project that I’m working on myself which hopefully will be very interesting. It’s an entertainment platform but it’s online.
“I struggled so much to get exposure and to be seen in the days before YouTube and all that sort of thing. I can’t give too much away because the concept is in development. I’m hoping it’ll be released in April and hopefully it will help people to be seen or heard.”
That is in the future. For now it is back to preparing for the next performance of White Christmas and no doubt another standing ovation. It is obvious Tom works extremely hard at whatever he does; I doubt whether anyone begrudges him his success.
* This article appeared in the December 2014 issue of Country Images magazine