Cumbria Life interview ...

Cumbria Life Magazine Nov 1992

Andrew Robley is a former Carlisle chef who has discovered the recipe for success. Within just a few years, the 29 year old city lad has blended together a combination of ingredients which have whisked him from the kitchens of a Carlisle hotel onto stages throughout the world.
Andrew's talents as a singer, actor and dancer have taken him from leading roles with Carlisle Musical Society, to pantomime with former Blue Peter presenter, Peter Duncan, in one of Britain's major regional theatres in Dartford. So now, instead of slaving over a hot stove, Andrew treads the boards under the dazzle of stage lights, each step hopefully taking him closer to achieving his ambition to star in a West End situation comedy.
"In the words of the song music is my first love," explained Andrew. And it appears that it always has been. His singing talent was discovered at the age of seven by his teacher, Muriel Robinson, when Andrew was a pupil at Belah Primary School, Carlisle.
"I always loved singing and never liked sport or anything like that and the other boys never understood this -until I got time off school to go and sing and then they realised there must be something in it", he says.
Andrew was also encouraged to sing when he went to Newman, his secondary school, and at the age of 12 he became a chorister in Carlisle Cathedral, which involved attending practices or services every day, earning him £1.75 a month -money being docked if he was caught misbehaving. Apart from singing for Princess Anne and later meeting her, Andrew's other claim to fame, at the time, was that he was the only known Catholic member of the Cathedral choir and when this was discovered he was asked if he'd like to take communion the Catholic way. It was also at this time he made his television debut singing hymns in a Border Television series.
By the age of 16 Andrew's voice had broken and he was singing tenor with Carlisle Musical Society, taking the lead roles in productions such as Carousel, Oklahoma and Brigadoon, which he modestly reckons he was given because of the shortage of young men in the society. He was also a member of Guys and Gals, a local singing group and appeared in Border TV pantomimes. During the day Andrew was training to be a chef at the Crown and Mitre Hotel -a combination which earned him the title of' Singing Chef' in the local press for several years.
But determined to further his singing career , Andrew started entering local talent competitions encouraged by his singing teacher and friend, Janice Bird.
"I remember winning a Radio Carlisle talent show and was so excited I got all mixed up and called Joan Freshwater, the announcer, Joan Tapwater. -I later apologised," Andrew laughed.
Andrew's break into the world of showbiz came when he was accepted as a Blue Coat at Pontins, in Blackpool. But he soon began to wonder if he'd made the right decision to go professional.
"It was a big decision to leave the place where I'd lived all my life and leave my friends and I wondered if I'd be able to cope," he says. "I wondered even more after my first three days of dancing rehearsals -I could hardly walk after all the exercise!"

Long days at Pontins, working often from 8am to 2am, were followed by Andrew's first venture onto the sea, with Fred Olsen Lines, as one of the entertainment staff on a cruise ship bound for the Canary Islands. Unfortunately Andrew's maiden voyage was one of discord as a wave hit the ship on its return to England and Andrew was flung off the stage, hit the nearby piano, which then fell on top of him and injured his legs.
But determined to master life on the ocean wave, he decided to do the next cruise back to the Canaries, but before the ship got out of the English Channel it was hit by a huge freak wave which caused flooding.
"By this time," he added. "I was on two sticks after my accident, so I hobbled along and grabbed my most precious possessions -200 fags, a box of matches, my photograph album and my camel coat -because I thought if I was going, I'd go in style. However the ship managed to make it back to Plymouth."
Fortunately life at sea improved and Andrew enjoyed three seasons 'aboard' before joining the Cascade Revue in the West Cliff Theatre, Clacton, in 1986, where he met producer, Francis Golightly, and musical director and company manager, Roy Cloughton. He has now done six summer seasons with them.
But although he'd then been in showbiz for a number of years, Andrew was surprised to find he was again put through his paces. "I had to learn to walk on and off stage correctly, along with theatre technique and how to dress properly -I have a clean cut image, which I try to keep even when dressing casually," he explained.
Andrew reckons he's been lucky as he's never been out of work since he turned professional. A good ear for music and the ability to learn lines quickly have been key factors in his success. He earned a standing ovation when he took over the lead from Sydney Devine, with only half an hour's notice, when in a Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime in Scotland.

"I must have been the only Jack who killed the giant without going near him. The giant was on stilts and because I wasn't sure of his movements, I kept well away from him because I was frightened I would knock him off them," Andrew laughed.
But Andrew openly admits all his performances haven't been so successful.
"I often forget lines," he says, "and I remember once being asked to sing 'The Holy City' but I only knew two lines so I just made the rest of the words up as I went along. Amazingly, nobody noticed, or if they did they didn't say anything."
Andrew now lives in Colchester and as he mainly works in theatres in East Anglia he's attracted many admirers, of all ages, who travel around the area to see his performances. He gets about a dozen letters each week from fans, which he tries to reply to personally.
Although Andrew has appeared with many famous celebrities such as Peter Duncan and Hope and Keen, he still has painful memories of his Ayr performance with Rod Hull and the dreaded Emu. As he explained: "That bird's beak gets more places than it should -I've still got the bruises from two years ago."
But is life in showbiz as glamorous as it appears?
"Yes, it is glamorous," Andrew decided, "but a great deal of hard work goes into making it look glamorous. However, I've never regretted making the move into the business and it's nice to do something you like to earn a living.
"I usually have to learn panto within a week and rehearsals can run from 10am- 6pm every day in various places such as church halls and community centres. You don't achieve stardom overnight, you have to work at it. For example, I could 'pig out' every day, but I have to watch my diet -I couldn't go on stage to perform with dancers looking like Tessie O'Shea," he said, after just consuming Cumbrian steak pie with all the trimmings.
"I've found most people in the theatre are nice. I'm not a pushy person, but have found I've had to assert myself on occasion. To get on in showbiz you have to make people aware of your talents."
Andrew is grateful for his voice, which he reckons he takes too much for granted. His favourite shows are musicals, but he has appeared regularly on television in BBC's Hi- De-Hi, commercials, training films and will be in 'Ello 'Ello and Lovejoy over the Christmas period, when he will also be Principle Boy in pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

Helene Nicholson

 

 

 

 

 

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