Last year, when Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was cast in the new musical Fat Friends, plenty of theatre industry observers and insiders questioned how and why he had been selected. But he’s happy to answer their criticism.
The show is based on the hit TV comedy of the same name, from the pen of the prolific screenwriter Kay Mellor, with music by Nick Lloyd Webber.
From tomorrow night, Freddie – and his co-stars including fellow Lancastrian Jodie Prenger, X Factor winner Sam Bailey, ex-Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton and ex-Coronation Street actor Kevin Kennedy – will open their run at Blackpool Opera House.
“A lot of things I’ve done since cricket have raised eyebrows, but I don’t care,” the Preston-born former Lancashire and England cricket all-rounder said.
“Kay put her trust in me, and that put pressure on me as I wanted to repay her and address the judgements.
“I have worked so hard through rehearsals to be the best I can.
“I can’t sing like Jodie or Sam, but I can do what I can and bring what I can to the character and it seems to have gone well.
“I’ve not read reviews, but friends have made sure they told me about bad ones –Robbie Savage has been reading them on our podcast.“But the best review is seeing people up on their feet at the end of the show each night.”
Andrew, who went to Ribbleton Hall High School, had a small role for Mellor’s BBC drama Love, Lies and Records, when the writer first sounded him out about appearing on stage.
“Kay mentioned the musical, and I didn’t really know what it meant, but before I knew it I was in front of Nick Lloyd Webber - and a week later I was in.
“When I said yes, it dawned on me what I had done – that I’d be singing and acting on stage in theatres, working with one of the world’s best writers, a great musician and cast.”
In the show, Andrew plays Kevin, the fiancé of Jodie’s character Kelly, as their wedding looms in the next few weeks and she signs up to a diet club after finding her dream dress, two sizes too small.
He’s lapped up all the advice on hand from his fellow cast members.
“The first week, I was just sitting watching in awe,” Freddie said.
“Jodie is a seasoned theatre performer and knows it inside out, and working alongside her raises my game too.
“Kevin Kennedy, from day one, has chatted and offered his advice.
“The musical director has helped me so much with singing, and the tour director, I pick his brains after every scene about how to get better.
“I can understand and imagine how it seemed to those who’ve been to theatre school and looking at this fella walking into it.
“I’ve tried my best.”
The 40-year-old admits he had no ambition to tread the boards – “all I have ever really wanted to do was play cricket for Lancashire and England” – but being forced into sporting retirement at the age of 31 due to injuries, has made Andrew take different paths in life.
He’s gone on to become a popular TV personality, appearing on shows such as A League Of Their Own and presenting game show Cannonball for ITV, and presenting the award-winning podcast Flintoff, Savage and The Ping Pong Guy, alongside ex-Blackburn Rovers and Wales footballer Robbie Savage and former table tennis professional Matthew Syed.
He even designed his own range and became the face of men’s fashion brand Jacamo.
Now living in Cheshire, with wife Rachael, and children Holly, 13, Corey, 12, and Rock, 10, Freddie might not still be a Lancashire lad, but his roots in the country remain strong.
“For me growing up in Preston, Blackpool was like ‘holiday time’ – going to the Lights, the Pleasure Beach, Peabodies, the Tower – and it’s all things I’ve done with my kids,” he said.
“I’m biased, being from that part of the world, but I genuinely love Blackpool.
“It’s great that North West seaside towns are trying to attract people, and this kind of show helps the Opera House with that, which in turn gets Blackpool thriving again.
“I’ve seen some things haven’t changed since I was 10, it does need a real injection of cash.”
It was at St Annes Cricket Club that Andrew started to find his way in life, playing for them from 13 to his late teens. The Fylde is still close to his heart and he still speaks fondly of the cricket club which helped launch his career.
“That’s the thing about sport, the club’s been invaluable and it’s become even more so,” he said.
“It’s become my grandpa’s life since my gran died.
“He has his mates and goes for a coffee to see them there. It’s more important than ever now to him, and in turn to me.
“Grandpa became embedded in the club when I played there, and he’s still president there now.
“I still go and see the people I played there with.”
Let’s hope they’ll be bowled over when Freddie takes to the stage this week.