Ben's ready to be a rock god

WHEN Ben ­Richards finally answers his hotel room phone an hour after his scheduled 11am interview, he has almost no need to apologise.

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Ben Richards stars as rock star Jaxx in the musical Rock Of Ages
Ben Richards stars as rock star Jaxx in the musical Rock Of Ages

After all, he has been playing a rock god the night before. And rock gods, as we know, greet the sunshine of the new day as often as vampires.

"Really sorry," he says, in slightly croaky voice. "Had a bit of a late night last night, it was one of the cast members' birthday... and well... "

Ben, who has starred in Holby City and Footballers' Wives on television, is currently starring in Rock of Ages, the touring theatre show that features some of the biggest hits of the 80s.

It's a stadium rocker of a show, with Ben and co belting out the likes of We Built This City and Don't Stop Believin'.

And of course, it's hard enough for a performer to switch off the adrenalin after a show. But near impossible after flying around on stage for two hours every night, channelling the inner Jon Bon Jovi.

"That's true," says Ben. "It's not a gentle, relaxing show. But it's great fun."

Rock of Ages, which spawned a Hollywood film of the same name starring Tom Cruise, is set on Sunset Strip in 80s LA, where Drew (former Hear'Say singer Noel Sullivan) is working in The Bourbon Room club and dreaming of being a rock star.

Drew falls for Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth), newly arrived from Kansas in search of stardom herself.

But when she misinterprets his shyness as disinterest and has a fling with leather-clad narcissistic rock god Stacee Jaxx, (Ben) the romance dies faster than you can say I Want To Know What Love Is.

The plot is however simply a vehicle for hit after hit, a chance to perform 30 rock anthems and big power ballads by the likes of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon.

"The songs are set around a fantastically tight script which has its tongue firmly in cheek," says Ben. "It's a really high-octane show."

Does that mean it demands so much more of the performer?

"What ever type of show you do you give 100%," he says. "But it is full-on rock, although the rest of the cast have a lot to do."

Ben, 42, admits to being a big fan of 80s rock music.

"I was really into Motown when I was younger, but at the same time I loved the likes of Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. And to be able to appear in a show like this is a dream."

The very tight trousers don't bother him too much.

"A lot of the time I don't wear very much at all," he says, grinning. "I'm on stage a lot in my underpants, which is why I've got to head for the gym."

Heaven forfend! The housewives of Glasgow will be covering their eyes with their fingers at the very thought of it.

"Maybe," he says grinning.

Ben, who grew up in West Sussex, studied dance from an early age and went on to appear in a range of theatre shows.

"I think my life was mapped out," he says of becoming an entertainer.

In 2004, he joined the regular cast of ITV drama Footballers' Wives and later moved on to Holby City and The Bill.

But his career has always been underpinned with theatre work such as starring in the likes of Grease as Tony Manero and playing Sky Masterson in the UK tour of Guys and Dolls in 2006.

What's he's also revealed is a real talent for playing very demanding characters, polar opposite roles such as Bill Sykes in Oliver! and Tick in the West End production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

"It was great playing Bill Sykes," he says. "I did a lot of research for it, and it was fascinating playing him because you really get into that mind set."

Did that mean he came off set kicking dogs and small children?

"No, thankfully the performance lasted only the time I was on stage," he replies, laughing.

"But what was really great about that character was being able to look in the mirror and not recognise myself."

Ben, who is dating actress Kirsty Duffy, adds: "The career idea has always been to keep changing and I'm grateful for the chance to do that."

What must have been challenging was staging his own cabaret show, An Evening With Ben Richards?

"Yes that was scary," he says. "Talking to the audience between songs was a challenge; you don't have a script to work from. But it was something I'd wanted to do for years. And thankfully, it all worked out."

Perhaps his greatest challenge was coming out and discussing his battle with bowel cancer. He was diagnosed in 2012.

"I wanted to go public about it. I wanted to say to people if it had been discovered any later I'd be dead. I wanted to make people aware. But after I did tell the story, the feedback has been incredible."

His message was if it can happen to a young man who's super fit, yet didn't go to his doctor when he saw the warning signs...

"Exactly," he says. "And if I've saved just one life then it's been all worth it."

Ben is now in remission, and meantime, he's looking forward to bringing his rock anthems such as The Final Countdown to Glasgow.

"I love Glasgow. I'm so looking forward to it," he enthuses.

"But my liver does take a battering every time I come to town."

n Rock of Ages, the King's Theatre, August 4-9.

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