Vocal impersonator Joe Longthorne insists he wasn’t forced into showbiz, but it was certainly in his blood.
Joe, who plays Bognor’s Regis Centre on July 27 at 7.30pm, recalls: “My parents were from travelling families. My mother’s side was from the Irish, and my father was from the fairground people. You have got like two different tribes coming together. An Irish tinker would not normally marry someone from a fairground background.”
But they did and young Joe would be pushed in his pram between pubs where his parents were performing: “They used to do a lot of singing, and I would be listening.”
And clearly something rubbed off on him. By the age of five, he was in a talent competition – frogmarched there by his sister.
He continued to sing at home to his mum when she came in from work: “She would come in all hours and I used to entertain her and sing to her.”
He would pretend to be on TV, and his mum was quick to recognise his talent. But she warned him that there are millions of singers out there. She told him he ought to try a few impressions – “or what we used to call take-offs.”
And Jo did indeed take off. Within a few years, he was a regular on TV.
The big break came, though, when he was shot to fame in 1981 as a singer and an impressionist on LWT’s Search For A Star. His success led to appearances at the London Palladium and a month long run at the Talk Of The Town. His own prime time TV show followed, The Joe Longthorne Show, running from 1988-1991.
At the height of his success, however, he was struck down with lymphoma - he battled this while continuing to work. Sell-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney Opera House and the London Palladium ran side by side with mismanagement, resultant bankruptcy and a diagnosis of leukaemia.
All of which is behind him now, especially as recent success has now been crowned with the award of an MBE he– a wonderful year in which to get it, he says, when you consider it is also the Olympic year, the Jubilee year and the football year: “Well, we won’t talk too much about the football.”
Otherwise, things just continue to get better. Joe has worked in the States before, including a year in Chicago. But early next year, he sets out on his first-ever US tour.
As he says, the point is that his work is internationally digestible: “Of course they all recognise the people that I do – Sinatra, Willy Nelson, Sammy Davis Jnr, Tony Bennett, people like that.”
Tickets for Bognor on 01243 861010.