How Sullivan was brought to heel by drag-queen stage role

Noel Sullivan and The Gumbys, from Priscilla-Queen of the Desert. (Blackpool's Opera House 5th-10th August 2013).
Noel Sullivan and The Gumbys, from Priscilla-Queen of the Desert. (Blackpool's Opera House 5th-10th August 2013).
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Former Hear’Say pop star Noel Sullivan has spent 10 years in musical theatre but nothing prepared him for dancing in foot-high wedge heels and a headdress made from flip flops.

Noel is starring in the hit musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is in Sheffield next week.

He plays an Australian drag queen whose life is shaken up when his ex-wife calls to say she wants him to bring a show to Alice Springs – and tells him they also have a young son that she wants him to meet.

Terrified at whether the boy will accept him, he takes along two other outrageous drag queens – across the desert in a bus called Priscilla.

The role was played by Lord of the Rings and Matrix star Hugo Weaving in the hit film. Noel, who shares the role on the tour with Jason Donovan, said: “It’s great to play that character. He’s at the heart and soul of the story.”

He joked: “It was a camp enough story on its own but it has the most incredible disco soundtrack wrapped round it. It also has the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen.

“For the first 20 minutes, the audience’s jaws are on the floor. It’s not an average trip to the theatre.”

There are more than 500 costumes in the whole show and Noel does nine quick changes in the first half alone. He said: “It’s kind of like a racing car pulling into the pits. There’s four people pulling your wigs off and putting your pants on. Modesty is not something you have on this show.”

Noel, who has spent the past 10 years doing musical theatre including lead roles in Grease, Fame and We Will Rock You, added: “This show is probably one of the more ‘out there’ ones I’ve done. It’s tested me to a new point, even just from a costume perspective.

“I’ve definitely never worn things like that. I wear a pair of wedge heels that are about a foot high and a huge headdress made of flip flops. I’m up on a bar dancing round with people with pool cues.”

Noel joined the show later than the rest of the cast and had only 10 days to learn it – and how to cope with those shoes. He said: “You don’t have time to assess what it’s like. If you don’t pick it up quickly you’re going to be in trouble.”

The show’s soundtrack was familiar to Noel. He said: “I was brought up on soul music. My mum’s a proper soul queen, who loves artists like Luther Vandross and Alexander O’Neal, so I was familiar with all the songs.”

Noel’s mum has seen the show and said there were moments when she was crying her eyes out and others when she couldn’t breathe for laughing. Of course, she loved the music.

On the subject of his own music, Noel has been asked to take part in a reunion of Hear’Say but firmly rules out the idea.

He said: “I just couldn’t imagine going back to something like that now.

“I want to keep on the track I’m on and I don’t really want to look back. The others are doing fab things as well. I don’t think we could get them together.

“We were a band that was put together for the TV show Popstars and we burned quickly and burned out. That was very damaging for us all.”

He added: “It would be a bit naff as well. You need greatest hits for a show, not a greatest hit (Pure and Simple). That would be a crappy reunion show, over in three and a half minutes!”

However, he does describe Hear’Say as “an amazing, life-changing experience and a massive career boost.”

He is also pleased to be returning to Sheffield: “That was where we first recorded with Hear’Say at Elliot Kennedy’s Steelworks studio. That was one of my first brushes with a pop-writing guru.”

n Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday. Box office: call 0114 249 6000 or go to