Music

Jason Donovan on how Kylie inspired his pop career and Joseph opened the door to the stage

A star of screen, stage and pop charts, Jason Donovan has been entertaining millions for decades. With a new tour in the works, he joined us for The Music That Made Me

Jason Donovan smiling

Jason Donovan - star of stage, screen and pop charts. Photo: Steve Schofield

“Music,” says Jason Donovan on a video chat to The Big Issue from his plush hotel room, “is the closest us humans have to magic.” Donovan was already a soap heartthrob in Neighbours when he started weaving his own musical magic. Watching the rise of his on- and off-screen girlfriend, one Kylie Minogue, he realised he could have it all – pursuing both his love of acting and of music.

When he was taken on by Kylie’s producers – the 80s song-writing behemoths Stock Aitken Waterman – Donovan’s pop stardom was secured. The couple’s duet, Especially for You sold more than a million copies. Donovan’s debut album Ten Good Reasons went on to become the highest-selling album in the UK in 1989, with sales of over 1.5 million. He has sold more than three million records in the UK.

In the ’90s, Jason Donovan took to the stage. His 1991 lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kick-started three decades of hit musicals – from a murderous gothic turn in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to his time in drag in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Last year, he returned to The Rocky Horror Show for its 50th anniversary.

Donovan has just announced his Doin’ Fine 25 tour, which will celebrate his journey through music, theatre, TV and film. It comes 35 years after Doin’ Fine 90, the tour that captured the peak of Jason-mania in 1990. Starting in February 2025, the anniversary shows will look back to his best-loved songs from both Top of the Pops and the West End.

With Jason Donovan already in a retrospective mood, we took him back to the start, exploring his influences for The Music That Made Me.

Jason Donovan: The Music That Made Me

The Beatles Collection and a bit of Ringo on drums

My father bought me The Beatles Collection when I was very young. It’s a perfect body of work. As a child, that is really quite something to digest. Back in the U.S.S.R., I Want to Hold Your Hand, Come Together… I used to play drums to a lot of those. You know, a bit of Ringo. I always wanted to form my own band.

Everybody needs good Neighbours

My dad’s an actor and has been in musical theatre. He always used to say to me: if you can learn an instrument, you’ll never starve. So, I’ve always been a keen admirer of music. I learned piano as a kid – I’m terrible at it. I learned a bit of drums. I learned a bit of guitar. I was in the Australian Boys’ Choir.

But I didn’t really take it seriously until I was in Neighbours and I was looking for another avenue to explore my creativity. I was watching what was happening with Kylie at the time. It made record companies sit up and notice. They were looking for the next big thing and I guess, at the time, that was probably me.

New Order turn their backs on the boat shed

One of the bands I saw as a kid growing up was New Order in Melbourne. Music in Australia was based on pub rock for a long time. Bands like New Order changed the way people thought. Synthpop broke onto the scene. I loved New Order.

I met Peter Hook a couple of times. He was pretty cool. The first time was at a Rewind festival. I just went up to him and said, ‘Wow, I remember watching you as a kid.’ They just played to the wall, their backs to the audience. It was at a boat shed in Melbourne, on a place called Albert Park Lake. When I mentioned it to Peter Hook, he said, ‘Yeah, we used to do shit like that.’

Midnight Oil and Indigenous rights

Growing up with Midnight Oil changed me. The Oils’ whole mantra is very much about Australia and natural resources and Aboriginal rights. One of my favourite albums was 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, which was all about the American influence on the world. That was in the mid ’80s, so stuff like that definitely had an impact on me.

The foundations for these discussions [the campaign in Australia to ensure an Indigenous voice to parliament, which was recently defeated in a referendum] have been laid many, many years ago. ‘The time has come,’ as Peter Garrett says, ‘to say fair’s fair.’ Which is from the song Beds are Burning [Midnight Oil’s 1986 plea for justice for Indigenous Australians]. Music is a wonderful way of having a voice, to people that aren’t necessarily listening. It doesn’t have to always be political, but social comment tends to come a lot through music.

Following his father to Chicago

My dad [Terence Donovan] was in Chicago in 1980. He played Billy Flynn. I watched that a lot of times as a kid and I was in awe at his performance. It’s one of the best things I think he ever did. I subsequently did it in 2019. And I don’t think it was one of the best things I ever did, but that’s the difference between myself and my dad. I don’t know why it didn’t sit as well with me, but it took a while for me to warm into the role.

Musical theatre came to me by default, really. I never set out to be a musical theatre star, but I’m glad I have invested some time in that area, because it’s kept me in business for 30 years. It’s kept me doing what I love, and it combines the two things I enjoy, which is acting and singing.

Sweeney Todd really challenged me. Priscilla [The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert] was a cool hit for me. Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] changed my life. That was a big moment for me. I’m grateful to that moment that I had in Joseph. It opened a door of opportunity to me. Some roles have worked, and some roles haven’t. But I’m still doing it.

Tickets for Jason Donovan’s Doin’ Fine 25 tour are on sale now. Full information is available at jasondonovan.com

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