In these days of X-Factor and the era of 15 minutes of fame, any young, up-and-coming performer should take a look at Joe Longthorne.
It’s one thing to have a brief flirtation with celebrity – it’s another thing entirely to be a success in showbusiness for almost 40 years.
Longthorne is still packing in audiences around the country, and has 74 shows booked in before the end of this year.
There are preliminary talks about an hour-long ‘An Audience With’ special, and he is hoping to celebrate his 60th birthday next May with a show at the London Palladium. He is also in the early stages of recording a brand new album.
As he chats about it all with good humour and modesty at his home in Layton, it is easy to forget Joe is a bit of a hero off the stage, as well as on it.
He was diagnosed with lymphoma at the end of the 80s, an illness which eventually degenerated into leukaemia. Joe needed a bone marrow transplant in 2006, and describes that period of his life as “utterly horrendous”.
He talks about it now because he knows so many others are affected by cancer.
“If you’ve been through it, and you have experienced what it is like, then you want to be able to help others,” he said.
“It was a horrible time, but awareness is the most powerful and important thing. I was ill and it wasn’t nice but you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it as best you can.”
It will take more than serious illness though, to stop a born performer like Joe getting up on stage.
Since his illness he has made only one concession. “I’ve bought a motorhome, which means I can drive to a gig the day before and stay over.
“That means I can relax and make sure I’ve got all my strength and energy for the show, instead of having to rush there a bit last minute and go straight on stage,” he explained.
Longthorne is synonymous with Blackpool, but he was, in fact, born in Hull, on May 31, 1955.
His parents were performers and he followed in their footsteps, landing a part in a Yorkshire TV show at the age of 14.
His career properly took off in 1981 when he appeared on London Weekend Television’s Search For A Star, and his success on the show led to appearances at the Palladium and a month-long season at London’s Talk Of The Town.
Joe, who moved to Blackpool during the 90s, has since headlined venues across the world, had his own TV show, released three platinum albums, and appeared on several Royal Variety Performances.
Throw into that an MBE in 2012, and overcoming health issues, and it is clear this is a man who deserves the utmost respect.
“It has been terrific when I look back on my career, and I suppose I could retire if I wanted to,” he said.
“But I love performing. I love that connection you get with an audience.
“It’s like a football player and the crowd, that buzz they get. It’s the same for a performer.
“I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do until I get on stage. Then I face the audience, hear them, and when that contact happens, off I go. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
For those who haven’t seen him in action, Joe is a terrific singer, who writes his own songs and performs covers.
He’s also well known for his impressions, and his rendition of Dame Shirley Bassey has to be seen to be believed.
He has dates lined up throughout Europe and Australia over the course of the year, but has made sure his many local fans get a chance to see him too by lining up a number of Sunday night gigs at Viva.
“That’s important to me, because I love Blackpool and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said.
“I did my first ever show at the Layton Institute back in the 70s, and the following year I was at North Pier with Roy Walker.
“The family of my partner, Jamie, have been in Blackpool for five generations, and it is one of those places that just feels exciting.
“It has this great melting pot of characters from all over the world, the local people are wonderful and great to talk to, and I just love it.”
He’s not just saying it, he means it.
Joe talks at length about the area, including one entertaining rant about the stupidity of the council placing a bench in the middle of a busy road in Layton (“I’m going to organise a picnic and we can all sit there and breathe in the diesel fumes!”).
He also tells a good story too about when the letter arrived two years ago telling him he was getting an MBE.
He said: “Jamie opened it and told me. I thought he’d got it wrong and it was HMP, from Her Majesty’s Prisons”.
Joe says he has few regrets, though he does admit he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want more TV exposure.
“It must be 25 years since I last appeared properly on TV, and by properly I mean other than just singing the odd song,” he said.
“That does annoy me a bit, because I still feel I have plenty to offer – I’m still packing places out all over the country.”
Joe is doing various one-night shows at Viva throughout the summer, and will follow his show on August 24 with a Midnight Charity Matinee, to raise money for local good causes.
His first show at Viva is on Sunday, May 25.
Further details and tickets at www.vivablackpool.com