A Christmas present from his mum and dad turned out to be the gift of a career for Sheffield-born actor Matt Thorpe, who is on stage in West End hit show Jersey Boys.
Matt said he got into showbusiness “by total accident. I wanted to be a sports psychologist or a sports physio. I never danced or sang at school.
“I got some singing lessons from my parents at Christmas. You got lessons and recorded a song and a CD. I thought ‘you’re actually quite good at this’.”
Eventually, Matt decided to try for musical theatre school and went to Phil Winston’s Theatreworks in Blackpool.
He left a year early when an ex-girlfriend got a job on a P&O cruise ship and said there was a male role going.
Matt said: “I went on the off-chance and got the job.” He puts it down to being in the right place at the right time.
The cruise show experience helped him to break into the West End and he has appeared in We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, Hairspray and High School Musical.
Matt, who plays Joe Pesci, has been in Jersey Boys for five months.
Joe, who later became a Hollywood star in films such as Goodfellas, was friends with three of the Four Seasons and introduced them to the fourth.
Matt said of the role: “It’s going really well. I was with the show when it moved from the Prince Edward to the Piccadilly Theatre, which has 200 more seats.
“That was like putting a new show on, so it feels like our show because of that.”
Matt also covers for the lead role of Frankie Valli and last played him two weeks ago. He’s done it five times in total.
He said: “When I first started, there was a lot to learn. You’re on stage for the whole thing. It’s probably the biggest part in the West End today.
“It’s difficult singing in falsetto, so you’ve got to look after yourself. You’re in the theatre at 1pm to 2pm, singing for four hours and doing a run of the show in the evening.”
He said he loves Jersey Boys because “it’s got great music and a great story. Everyone knows the music in it.”
Matt, who is 28, added; “It’s surprising how much you do know when you go and watch it.
“It’s my kind of music. I love that whole 1950s to 60s rock and rock type of thing. That’s where popular music all started.
“Some of the stuff I grew up with. A lot of those songs will just last forever and ever. If a song’s good, it’ll stay around.”
Matt said that the show is full-on from the start. “The first 30 to 45 minutes of the show you’re rattling out the songs. That’s why people come back and see it again, because the songs and story are so good.
“There’s also a lot of directly addressing the audience, so they feel involved. It’s as though you’re having a conversation with them.”
He added: “Because the show is about real people, all the stories actually happened and the characters are still alive.
“It was fascinating finding out what interesting lives they had, the good times and bad times and the struggles they had to get out of where they lived.
“Their options were to join the mob, join the army or become a star. That was pretty much it then.”
Matt said he can relate that a little to his own career. “It is a struggle a lot of the time, sometimes working in jobs you don’t want to do and you’ve got to live in London.
“Sometimes, when I’ve had a bad day or I’ve been waiting for three months for a role to come up, I miss the idea of a normal life and a normal job, with evenings and weekends free.
“But then again I go on stage and I’m only working four to five hours a day. I have a great life and meet interesting people. It’s a good job.”
Matt was born in Grenoside and still has cousins there but his parents Steve and Gail moved to Northampton eight years ago.
The family also lived in Todwick and Huddersfield when he was growing up and he went to Wales High School.
Matt will be in Jersey Boys at the Piccadilly Theatre until next March.