Brian Beacom

CAROLE King’s Tapestry album sold more than 25m copies in 1971 and made the singer songwriter an international star.

However, few understood that the lady who wrote classics such as You’ve Got A Friend and It’s Too Late never sought pop stardom.

Bronte Barbe, who stars as Carole King in the touring musical Beautiful, certainly knew little of the New Yorker before taking on the role.

But lots of research proved to be revealing.

“I was amazed Carole didn’t set out to become famous,” says Bronte, who was one of the 2010 the finalists in Over the Rainbow, the BBC’s search for a Dorothy.

“Carole wanted to be a songwriter, rather than a singer. And her life, as she saw it, would be about having a family and living in the suburbs while writing songs.

“She wanted to live a normal life. She never wanted to be big.”

Was this to do with confidence? Carole King didn’t look like the archetypal pop star?

“Yes, all of that,” says Bronte. “I don’t think she’s a timid person. But Carole didn’t want to have a massive life. She wanted the domestic life, and to write great songs and you have to admire that.”

Carole King had to convince a woman could be a songwriter. Women at the time were encouraged to teach music in schools, but not to write it.

The American also managed to thrive in a world of not only male domination but an industry in which songwriters and artists were treated like slaves.

Despite revealing a prodigious talent (King would go on to write or co-write 118 pop hits) the lady had to battle hard for recognition.

“Yes, it’s only now in the current climate where we’re reaching for gender equality we can realise Carole King is a really inspirational figure.

“She was only 16 when she sold her first song and managed to get the song recorded. And real determination pushed her on.”

Beautiful tells the story of Carole Klein, as she was, at 16, on the verge of selling her first song to record company boss Don Kirshner.

Before we know it, she’s pregnant to budding lyricist and would-be playwright Gerry Goffin.

In a whirlwind they are married, King gives birth to her first child and the duo begin to make a name for themselves as hit-makers.

Goffin and King would go on to write a string of hits together, the likes of Take Good Care of My Baby, Up On The Roof, One Fine Day, and Pleasant Valley Sunday.

But the marriage ran into deep difficulties.

“The show highlights Carole’s determination and the confidence she had in her writing,” says Bronte.

“But people don’t appreciate what was happening in her personal life.”

Bronte adds; “It’s an ordinary story, but at the same time it’s quite extraordinary.”

Does playing a battler such as Carole King rub off?

“I think it does. When you go on such a journey every night it makes you think about your own life in a way.”

She adds; “I think I’m confident, but I have my insecurities so I can relate to her in so many ways.

“And the last songs in the show are incredibly inspirational. When I get to that point on the show it’s so overpowering.”

Like the American superstar, Cheshire-born Bronte didn’t set out to be famous.

The then teenager always loved musical theatre but didn’t see herself playing the lead, more the supporting comedy friend.

Bronte certainly didn’t imagine she’d ever play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

“I’d been offered a place at drama school and was trying to raise the funds I needed,” she recalls.

“ I was about to defer my place for a year when I saw an ad in the local paper for the Dorothy auditions.

“I didn’t want to go because I wasn’t sure it was really for me, but I was encouraged to try out for it and made it all the way to the live finals.”

After the show, Bronte landed a drama school scholarship plus funding from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s foundation which enabled her study.

Out of drama school, Bronte landed the role of Princess Fiona in Shrek.

But her professional career was a series of ups and downs.

She certainly didn’t expect to land the role of Carole King.

“I thought I’d go up for the role of Cynthia,” she says of Cynthia Weil, the lyricist who wrote the likes of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.

“But then I figured, why not try for Carole?”

She adds, smiling; “If you’d said to me back then that I’d end up playing the part of Carole King on this tour, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Bronte had a little help from her mum. When Bronte bought a record player five years ago her mum insisted she buy Tapestry.

“It’s a genius album and so relatable,” she says, “and I can’t believe I’m singing her songs.”

Bronte also learned to play piano so that her keyboard playing on stage would look authentic.

“I wanted so badly to get it right,” she says.

She adds; “Carole King is an incredible woman and it’s a real challenge to play a real woman. But there’s this little part inside of me inside that’s so proud of what I’ve achieved so far.”

*Beautiful, the King’s Theatre, February 13-17