Singer Sam Bailey heads to Crawley’s Hawth for Chicago

Hayley Tamaddon, John Partridge and Sam Bailey. Picture by Dewynters
Hayley Tamaddon, John Partridge and Sam Bailey. Picture by Dewynters

Touring with a major musical like Chicago; distance parenting; working behind bars; the rise and rise of women’s football.

Oh, and winning X Factor. When you meet Sam Bailey, there is plenty to talk about.

Ms Bailey arrives at The Hawth, Crawley, next week (May 30-June 5), playing Matron Mama’ Morton in Chicago.

The lady with the sensational voice, who won an avalanche of a million votes winning the 2013 X Factor, is on the road in every sense.

Now, I am fortunate enough to grab a lot of interviews with performers, all fascinating, some learned, some inflated, some occasionally a bit jaded. And then there is Sam Bailey. This one isn’t an interview, it’s just a good old natter. She’s a reminder that there are normal, grounded people behind the make-up.

Sam cheerfully fields my questions ahead of a matinee at Manchester Opera House. The first one is hard to resist: casting a former prison officer as Mama – fate or marketing?

“Oh, that has to be a piece of smart marketing, doesn’t it? I did make a little joke about it when I went into the audition, but I’m sure we were all thinking it would look great on the posters – prison officer plays prison officer. But Mama Morton is such a terrific part and I still absolutely had to prove I was up to it.

“I have a short list – quite long actually – of roles I want to play in musicals: Fantine in Les Mis, Nancy in Oliver, Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, several others, but this part was definitely on the list, and it’s probably the best one for me to start my musical theatre career and I’m truly proud of that. It’s going really, really well, and I think there are some people in genuine shock that I can actually act as well as sing.”

I suggest that, with a million votes, Sam Bailey is already the People’s Champion with no need to prove herself.

“Well that’s true, but there might have been a few people who were waiting for me to screw up, or wondering if I can do the American accent. I’m happy if I’m surprising people, if they are going away and I’ve helped to give them a great night out, and then some of them are even booking to come back a second time.”

Has her background helped? “Absolutely, yes. I was on the clubs circuit, in a band for nine years, worked as a Bluecoat and on the cruise ships - a 20-year singing career. And that spell at HM Prison Gartree as well. You have to work to reach your dreams.”

Sam Bailey’s other Theatres of Dreams were football stadiums. Originally from South-East London, she enjoyed a successful professional footballing career that encompassed Millwall Lionesses, West Ham and Crystal Palace. And the passion remains – shared by this writer. We reflect on the progress of the women’s game – “it’s been neglected but now it’s on the rise and there is fantastic talent out there” – and the triumphs of Sam’s adopted home city.

“Yes, I have lived in Leicester for sixteen years now, and had a season ticket for fourteen.”

Touring, of course, means being away from home and family but Sam’s still parenting properly: “My husband is an absolute rock and runs the show at home, as long as he gets my instructions, of course. I did win Celebrity Mum of the Year this year but I’m going to halve the award with him. I’m on the phone every night or facetiming, checking that their homework is done and the book bags are packed.”

Tickets cost £31.50-£39.

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