How Andrew Flintoff ended up starring in Fat Friends: The Musical

Andrew Flintoff Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Andrew Flintoff Photo by Helen Maybanks. - Credit: Archant

Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is somewhere he never dreamed he’d be – treading the boards in a major musical production and he’s loving it. He spoke to Kate Houghton.

Many will have fond memories of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff working hard and playing even harder during a stellar career as England’s cricketing all-rounder.

But the term all-rounder has a different connotation as he prepares to face something potentially more terrifying that the Aussie pace attack.

Preston-born Freddie is launching his singing career this month – and not from the cockpit of a pedalo after a night of revels but on stage in Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends: The Musical.

He has been cast in the part of bridegroom Kevin who is about to marry Kelly, played by Blackpool singing star Jodie Prenger. In the weeks running up to the big day Kelly has become a bit of an all-rounder herself after piling on the pounds and when she tries on her wedding dress, well…things start to come apart at the seams. The stage show, with music by Nick Lloyd Webber, son of Sir Andrew, is based on the ITV drama about men and women fighting to lose weight at a slimmers’ club.

It’s all very different from 40-year-old Flintoff’s days as one of Lancashire’s sporting legends. However, there is a sporting connection to this radical career change.

His role as team captain on A League Of Their Own, a Sky comedy sports quiz with Jamie Rednapp, Jack Whitehall and chaired by James Corden showed him to be a hugely entertaining, articulate, competitive, self-deprecating and, above all, someone you’d like to spend a hour with enjoying a pint. Having said that, these days it would be soda water, as he’s given up the demon drink, citing age, small children and a very busy workload.

‘When A League of Their Own started in 2010, Jamie and I were quite unsure and self-conscious. But I’ve seen the directions Jack Whitehall and James Cordon’s career have taken and got a lot of confidence from that,’ says Andrew.

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‘I started having acting lessons in Manchester and then got cast in the new Kay Mellor series, Love, Lies and Records. It was a small part but when we were filming Kay asked if I’d like to try for Fat Friends. I did and I really wanted to do it, so getting the part was great.’

Mellor was quick to praise Flintoff’s talents, saying: ‘I was introduced to Freddie at one of our TV casting sessions - it was clear to me that he could leave his cricket bat behind, embody a character and understand the drama.

‘It was a no brainer… he got the part. Then, as we were talking through Fat Friends: The Musical, I wondered if Freddie could sing. I was ecstatic when Nick met him and agreed his voice was perfect for the role. I am thrilled and delighted that Freddie is able to join us.’ Nick added that the cricketer ‘immediately really impressed us in his audition.’

However, there has been a sudden realisation of what he’s let himself in for. ‘There are times when I shut my eyes and think “what are you doing?” It’s right outside my comfort zone, but that really excites me.

‘As a cricketer, I needed to feel that nervousness before I walked on – it gets the best out of me. At the moment I’m quite relaxed, but I can’t say how I’ll feel when it goes live. Strange to say, but I’ve missed it, that uncertainty and energy before a match. I perform at my best when I have that feeling and have genuinely missed it.

‘I have been on stage before, but this is very different. The biggest thing was turning up for the first day and seeing how good everyone else was. It’s brought out the competitive edge in me to be the best I can be and there’s a lesson there for everyone.’

It seems a brave step for a man who’s thrived on being very much himself in everything he’s done so far. ‘Those who know me best have not been surprised,’ he says. ‘Everyone has been very supportive. Jack and James have both done this kind of stuff and all my mates have been brilliant. All of the cast and crew have been so accepting. I’ve been feeling my way and everybody has been giving me tips and their thoughts, but the biggest thing is just to be confident in myself.’

Rehearsals are coming to a close as we talk, with the tour about to start in Leeds, before moving on to Manchester and Blackpool later this year.

‘My greatest fear is that I will open my mouth and nothing will come out!’ Freddie laughs. ‘But I’m just going to enjoy it; if you’re not going to enjoy something then what’s the point?’

Fat Friends: The Musical is at the Opera House Manchester from March 19-24 and Blackpool Opera House May 29-June 2.