“Amazingly average” is how Colm Wilkinson describes his life at the moment to Ryan Tubridy. “Average” is not the first word that springs to mind when most people think of the star of Les Misérables, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera, winner of multiple awards – and that’s just for starters.
Music was in Colm Wilkinson’s childhood, but he says it was never seen as a real career option. Even though both of his parents played musical instruments, his father in particular never considered music to be a real job:
“It was looked upon by my family as a hobby. He’s playing a guitar, he’s going out to America, and it was always, ‘When is he going to get a real bloody job?’”
Just before his 16th birthday, Colm left Dublin to chase his musical dreams in New York City. He says it was a “culture shock”, but an even greater mental shift was to come. Colm told Ryan it took a while for him to accept that he could make a living from music. The game-changer was his wife-to-be Deirdre, whose dad was a professional musician:
“When I went down to Deirdre’s home, it was the first time I saw a musician, a fully professional musician with a loving family and I thought, ‘you know what, people can do that!’”
A hugely successful career in musical theatre and as a solo artist ensued, but Colm says he didn’t do it alone. Speaking to Ryan today, he kept revising the percentage of credit upwards that he gives his wife of almost 50 years;
“Deirdre is an amazing woman. That’s 50% of it right there, maybe more, 60 to 70%. That back-up, you need somebody to tell you, ‘You’re doing ok, you’re doing ok. You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.’ I’m always self-doubting.”
By his own admission Colm Wilkinson is a nervous performer and always has been, since the early days:
“Opening nights: the worst, worst nightmare of all time. That’s the way I am. I’m just a nervous performer. I just happen to go through hell getting there. I enjoy the process. I enjoy getting there and singing and I’ve a great passion for singing. I say to the kids all the time, ‘Nerves are normal’.”
After 30 years in Canada, where he earned his “get lost money”, as he calls it, Colm says he always planned to come back to Ireland. He talks about his respect for young musical theatre artists in this country:
“The bar here Ryan is so high, the bar is so high.”
Colm Wilkinson is enthusiastic about developing the next generation of musicians from all across the island of Ireland. As an adjunct to a glittering career, this could be the greatest moment of them all.
You can hear more about Colm Wilkinson’s single he recorded to raise awareness of mental health issues, his relationship with his dad and why he’s NOT a perfectionist in the full interview here.
And Colm Wilkinson performs with special guests the Arís Celebration Choir, the O’Neill Sisters and Rachel Coyne on 21st of December in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
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