Jonathan Wilkes - Panto makes my Christmas perfect

Panto star Jonathan Wilkes as Muggles at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Panto star Jonathan Wilkes as Muggles at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent - Credit: Archant

Actor Jonathan Wilkes - starring in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - explains why it just isn’t Christmas without a panto

Jonathan Wilkes is describing his perfect Christmas. It consists, he says, of three equally important components.

The first two, his family and friends, are rather straightforward. The third component, taking a starring role treading the boards in panto at his beloved Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, is, however - compared to most people - a rather more unusual festive prerequisite.

However, this is a man who, for many years has entertained and delighted audiences in theatres up and down the country. He lists ‘making people laugh’ as his favourite pastime, and openly admits that the ill-fated pop career of his youth failed to flourish as a career because, unlike his best friend and fellow Stoke-on-Trent alumni Robbie Williams, he was simply ‘too cheesy’ for the charts, instead longing to entertain and amuse audiences on the stage.

A Christmas without a panto is, for him, ‘just not the same’ This December, he will once again return to the Regent Theatre to take the role of Muggles in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

‘Panto is one of my favourite things to do at Christmas because I just like having fun,’ says Jonathan in his unmistakable accent, unchanged by years working away from his home town. ‘I come from the old school variety of entertainment, and the best thing in the world for me is the sound of an audience laughing. Snow White is fantastic because it’s a real magical fairy tale. There’s nothing nicer than when you see the look on the kids’ faces as they see the dwarfs come out for ‘Hi-Ho’. It’s brilliant. Panto, out of everything, is the thing I look forward to most. The fact that I’m back in Stoke makes it all the more special for me as well.’

Jonathan has had starring roles in many hits, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Guys and Dolls and Grease, and has fronted several national TV shows and earned a record deal with Virgin Records which spawned a UK Top 40 hit single. He states, however, that he loves nothing more than returning to do panto in his hometown.

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‘I look forward all year to panto,’ he says with a genuine warmth. But Jonathan’s career in show business did not start out as a typical childhood dream. His original ambition was to become a footballer, having had trials for Crewe, Chester and Everton. At 16, however, all that changed.

‘When I turned sixteen, I lost heart in football. My friends were all going out and meeting girls, and I wanted to do that, too. I didn’t have the dedication needed to do football. Instead I ended up doing a BTEC in Leisure and Tourism at Fenton College, but I didn’t really want to be there.’ It was after this time thathis career in show business began to materialise.

‘It all started when I entered - an d won - the Cameron Mackintosh Young Entertainer of the Year Award in 1996, when I was 16. I’d done bits of am dram and singing since I was young, and it was my Mum who encouraged me to enter.’

This success led on to a headline show at Blackpool Pleasure Bleach, in which he was the youngest ever headliner and, moreover, one of Blackpool’s most popular entertainers at the time. Jonathan knew he had found his calling and fuelled by a new passion, moved to the bright lights of London, which led to work with the BBC and, later, to securing that elusive recording contract.

‘The thing was, though, I was a rubbish pop star,’ he says self-deprecatingly. ‘I’m not cool enough. I don’t have that pop persona thing. I want to make people laugh, not sing seriously to them!’ He secured leading roles in hit shows and played all over the country, but, he says earnestly, nowhere quite compares to Stoke-on-Trent when it comes to panto.

‘I’m not just saying it because I’m from Stoke,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve worked throughout the country and Stoke people are the most genuine and loving people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t want to do panto anywhere else at Christmas. I love my home town and I am immensely proud of where I come from.

The Jonathan Wilkes Academy, which Jonathan runs to support local talent, proves a testament to these sentiments.

‘With my Academy, I want to give local people a chance, because it’s harder to break into this industry if you’re from somewhere like Stoke. I keep asking the students, ‘Do you really want this?’, because you have to want it, you really do. It’s all about the passion.’

Passion is something Jonathan has in bucketloads, not only for his craft, but also for his audience. ‘I certainly care about them and I hope they care about me, too.’

‘Oh yes they do!’ seems a very apt response to this.

Jonathan Wilkes is appearing in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent,from Tuesday December 3rd until Sunday January 5th. Box office 0844 871 7627 or visit