Panto is best medicine for John

THOSE successful in showbiz tend to have made some serious sacrifices along the way.

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John Ramage on stage as the Emperor in Aladdin at the King's Theatre
John Ramage on stage as the Emperor in Aladdin at the King's Theatre

John Ramage however, currently starring as the Emperor in Aladdin at the King's Theatre, has gone the extra mile.

Such was his desire to make a career in acting, he walked away from a hugely successful job in health care.

And into a business in which 95% of actors are unemployed at any given time.

"I didn't make the break into acting until I was 30," says the 62 year-old with a wry smile.

"I had grown up in music as a young boy; my mother played the piano and our family were a Scottish version of the Von Trapps, always taking part in concerts and shows.

"But I chose to get a serious job, and work my way up the career ladder."

John, who lives in Edinburgh, continued in showbiz, working part time in radio or on his cabaret shows. (He needs only five hours sleep a night).

But his full time career saw him progress to become Health Medical Records Officer at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, with responsibility for six other teaching hospitals and 200 staff.

It was a job with a huge responsibility, and commensurate salary. His career however came to a crossroads.

"I loved the job but I had gone as far as I could in Scotland, and the choice open to me was to go to a teaching hospital in London. But I didn't really want to do that.

"At the same time I had this incredible curiosity about whether or not I could make it as an actor.

"It was now or never."

John walked away from health care and into a touring show with actor Alex McAvoy.

It wasn't long before John found himself sharing a stage with panto legend Stanley Baxter, appearing with the star in a 1981 production of Mother Goose.

"Stanley was fantastic to work with," said John.

"There are those who say he was a hard taskmaster, always giving notes and so on, but I never had a problem with that.

"I knew that being on the same stage with him was a fantastic opportunity. What he wanted of course was the very best for the production."

John Ramage developed the same work ethic, and went on to star in a huge variety of theatre productions, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Importance of Being Earnest to the MC in Cabaret.

It's not surprising he picked up rave reviews in the likes of the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Tutti Frutti, in which he starred as the irascible manager, Eddie Clockarty.

"I loved working with Julie Wilson Nimmo, who played Miss Toner. She was fantastic. But what made the occasion all the more fantastic was that Richard Wilson (who starred in the TV series) called me up on the opening night to wish me well."

John however doesn't believe the world of television to be his natural metiere.

"I loved working on the likes of Rab C Nesbitt and The High Life. But to be honest, I'm not so keen on television. I like to get a reaction from an audience and television doesn't offer that chance."

He adds, grinning; "There's an awful lot of hanging about in television. I like to be busy."

He certainly loves panto.

"I love panto when it's done well," he says, with a wry grin.

"The panto producers have to appreciate it's about entertainment and telling a good story. It's not all about falling about on stage. It also has to be poignant."

The veteran panto performer has taken on the Baxter role in that young performers come to him for advice.

"It's great to be able to pass on tips," he says.

Acting has been kind to John Ramage. He lives in Edinburgh's Royal Mile and has a house in France.

"I've never been on the dole a single day," he says. "But I made sure I had another business on the side.

"I get bored easily, but I know acting doesn't owe you a living. I've got a health care business as well and that financial security allows me to choose the parts I want to do."

n Aladdin, the King's Theatre, until January 12.

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