John Thomson: no cold feet over Derby baddie role
He’s known for playing one of the main characters in the ITV comedy drama Cold Feet and for being the voice of the Channel 5 show Bargain Loving Brits Under The Sun. Now John Thomson is perfecting his Derby accent to play Abanazar in Aladdin at Derby Arena.
The jovial actor, comedian and narrator is delighted to be back in panto, as he told me from his home in Didsbury, Manchester. He explained who was responsible for getting him the part of Abanazar, how a Coronation Street regular is helping him to sound like a Derbyshire native, the debt he owes to Steve Coogan and one of the surprising ambitions he’d like to fulfil.
You may have seen John in October making a guest appearance in the ITV crime drama Professor T which stars Ben Miller as Professor Jasper Tempest, a genius criminologist with OCD. John’s on-screen wife was played by Rita Simons, formerly Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders, who was wicked fairy Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty at the Arena last Christmas.
Rita spoke to the panto’s producers Little Wolf Entertainment about John’s availability and he was offered the part of Abanazar.
“I sent Rita a whopping great big bouquet of flowers for brokering me a panto,” says John.
“I’ve not worked for this company before but we shot a promo (at Pickford’s House in Derby) which was great fun. I’ve seen stills of previous pantos at the Arena and it looks really impressive.”
It will be his second stint as Abanazar after playing the role at Manchester Opera House in 2016. He’s delighted that the billing for Aladdin in Derby describes Abanazar as a “devilishly handsome rogue”.
“I’m in my early 50s so I can’t thank them enough for that. I like Aladdin as a panto – I think it works. Some don’t work too well at all.
“I like it when a venue is full and the audience are roaring. That’s why I do it. I absolutely love it when the audience is up for it, there’s a real buzz in the auditorium and they’re getting everything.”
John is also looking forward to working alongside Morgan Brind from Little Wolf who won best dame in the UK Pantomime Association Awards for his part as nurse Nancy Nightley in Sleeping Beauty. “I think we’ll have a hoot,” says John.
He is getting tips on how to speak Derbyshire from his old friend Chris Gascoyne who was Peter Barlow in Coronation Street.
“He’s from Mansfield. There’s a very fine line between Derby and Nottingham. I love doing accents and I try to perfect them. I want to know the subtle differences between Nottingham and Derby,” maintains John.
John Patrick Thomson was born Patrick Francis McAleer in Lancashire on 2nd April 1969. His mother Mary McAleer gave him up for adoption when he was six weeks old. He was adopted by Andrew and Marita Thomson, a businessman and a bookseller from Didsbury.
While at school he was described as “clearly having a talent for comedy”. When he went to Manchester Metropolitan University he met Steve Coogan who suggested John sent an audition tape to Spitting Image. The programme signed him up and he impersonated everyone from Brian Clough and Frank Bruno to Robin Day and the Queen Mother.
“We got together and we worked together and we wrote together. We just hit it off,” says John of his relationship with Steve Coogan.
“The public still love the show and they love the characters.”
The two then co-wrote Knowing Me, Knowing You … With Alan Partridge before they won the Perrier Comedy Award in 1992 for their act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Then came Cold Feet, with John playing Pete Gifford for six years and reprising the role when the series was brought back in 2016.
“It had been absent for 13 years and people would stop me in the street and ask when it was coming back.”
According to John, Cold Feet could return again.
“The idea was to shoot a 90-minute special in Barcelona. We were all set to do that but then the pandemic put paid to it. I’d like to think a summer special or a Christmas special could happen because the demand’s there. The public still love the show and they love the characters. I was very fortunate after all that time to have been brought back and for it to be a success. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“If it did come back I’m hoping the Giffords would have a lottery win. I had depression (as Pete), my wife got breast cancer and then her mum died. I don’t think our middle name’s Lucky. It’s about time our karma changed.”
The pandemic also persuaded John that the time was right to convert a cubbyhole in his house into a studio so that he can record voiceovers for Bargain Loving Brits Under The Sun and the Channel 5 factual programme Police Interceptors which sometimes features the work of the Nottinghamshire force.
He points out that voiceovers are his bread and butter: “Bargain Loving Brits started on a Sunday night and when it was repeated in the daytime the viewing figures were amazing. So they commissioned 40 more. I have to try to do four a week if I can.”
John admits that acting is a very precarious profession which is why he diversifies as much as possible. As well as being a comedian, impressionist and voiceover artist, he’s also a drummer and a bit of a magician. He can also sing which led to his being cast as Wilbur Turnblad in the musical Hairspray last year.
“Norman Pace (of the comedy double act Hale and Pace) was the normal Wilbur and he wanted Christmas off, so I stepped in for the run at Blackpool.
“The problem was that because of the pandemic I learned a lot of the choreography on Zoom calls. One review said ‘John Thomson is brilliant but struggles with the dancing’. By the end of the run I was great but it’s hard to learn very complex choreography at home from a video.
“The dialogue for Wilbur is quite limited but the song Timeless To Me is a showstopper. I couldn’t wait to do it every night.
“But last year it was daily PCRs for everybody and masks everywhere. I won’t miss that this year.”
Because John has a good skillset, he’s always looking for new things to do – but he’ll do dancing only in panto.
“I can dance because I’m a drummer, so I’ve got good rhythm. But I would never do Strictly because it’s 24 hours’ rehearsal for 90 seconds of telly.”
John is currently preparing for Aladdin which will have quite a punishing schedule of 39 shows in three weeks. Some mornings, before a matinee, he’ll be in his portable soundproofing booth recording more Bargain Loving Brits.
John who is divorced is looking forward to spending the occasional day off with his two daughters when they visit Derby. Nineteen-year-old Olivia has just left drama school and Sophia is 12.
Next year he’ll have more voiceovers and he’s hoping that someone will call with his dream role.
“I’d like to be a villain in a James Bond film. I’m a huge Bond fan, have been since I was a boy. I’d love to do a Bond. And I love horror as well. It’s a genre I’ve not really worked in. Sci-fi is another one.”
So does he fancy being the new Doctor Who?
“Everyone’s said I’d be a brilliant Doctor. But it seems aimed at a younger market now. As a 53-year-old white northerner, I don’t think I’m right for it any more.”
No doubt John Thomson will be right for Abanazar and his all-round skills will instil magic into Aladdin this Christmas.
- Aladdin will be at Derby Arena from Friday 9 until Saturday 31 December
* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine