Stage and screen actor Julian Ovenden is poised to become a huge recording star. The charismatic actor is already well known from playing many leading roles in high profile Television shows on both sides of the Atlantic. He has conquered both the West End and Broadway and is about to see his career explode with the release of his debut album.
Two spine-tingling, show-stopping performances at the 2010 Proms, singing Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein, won him not only standing ovations, inspired viewers to write to the BBC in their thousands and garnered him rave reviews across the board, but won him a recording contract with Decca.
Marc Wilkinson, Managing Director of Decca Records says, “Julian’s timeless, velvety voice, effortless presentation and great British music pedigree place him at the forefront of a new generation of classic British male singing stars.”
Released in April, IF YOU STAY is a beautiful collection of songs that takes the listener back to the golden era of 1960’s London. There are epic, sweeping romantic tracks such as It Hurts To Say Goodbye, as well as heartbreakingly intimate songs: If You Go Away and When She Loved Me, which both feature just Julian at the piano. There is a stunning new version of The Last Waltz.
It is the album that Julian has always wanted to make: “It’s classic, grown-up pop music,” he says. “I’ve always loved singers like Matt Monro, Andy Williams and Tom Jones, that big lush sound. Proper music with romance, drama and passion. Songs that tell a story.”
It will be a revelation to those who know him only from his TV roles. It seems almost unfair that such a gifted actor should possess another huge talent, a tenor voice that has won him rapturous reviews: “His lovely voice is a joy” (Evening Standard), “Tenor lead of his generation” (Financial Times), “Superb wonderfully rich voice” (Daily Telegraph), “Ridiculously talented… gorgeously charismatic” (The Independent), “Beyond praise…Cary Grant with high notes…a matinee idol throwback” (The New York Times).
Born in Sheffield, the son of Canon John Ovenden who is now chaplain to the Queen – Julian was musically gifted, and at seven won a scholarship to St Paul’s Cathedral School. “I loved it,“ he says. “I was singing two hours a day, seven days a week.”
When his voice broke, he won a music scholarship to Eton: “I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, I came from a fairly no-frills kind of background. It was a bit of a culture shock, some people arrived by helicopter. I had a room next to the Crown Prince of Kuwait, who at 17 had six wives. Not that they were there! He had to leave half way through the year to fight the war.”
Another music scholarship gave him a place at Oxford: “Music made my life, it has been my ticket. It’s given me my education,” says Julian, who plays excellent piano, trumpet and trombone. It was at Oxford that that he decided to pursue an acting career, and before his year at London’s Webber Douglas Academy ended, he had already landed a role with the RSC.
The lead role in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse followed, and his television career took off with Foyle’s War. “But eventually I felt I was being pushed into that kind of well-spoken costume drama area, being typecast. I’m proud of my upbringing, but I’ve always felt I’ve had to fight that perception that I’m posh,”
So seven years ago he decided to try his luck in LA. “I thought it would be a breeze, but it was so tough. I lived all over the place – on sofas, in people’s pool houses…” Living the bachelor life, he had a series of disreputable cars, one of which got him arrested: “I was taken down to Hollywood police station. It was so showbiz, on the walls were mug shots of Nick Nolte and Alec Baldwin. Signed.”
His career took off, and now flourishes on both sides of the Atlantic, a rare achievement: “It’s funny, I thought my English accent might get me parts,” he says. “But I haven’t used one in years. Instead it’s American, or Scots, even.”
His exceptional musical ability has remained constant. While starring with Nathan Lane in Butley on Broadway, Nathan persuaded him to do a concert in New York. “I invited a few producers along,” says Julian. “The next morning there was an envelope for me at the stage door, with a note from one saying, ‘I had no idea you could sing. I think we should do a musical together.”
Julian met English opera star Kate Royal eight years ago in a pub, but they didn’t get together until some years later, and she invited him to the South of France, where she was working for a season. “I’d just learned to ride a motor bike, and I drove the whole way down three weeks after I passed my test, 800 odd miles in one day. We had a wonderful two months, fancy free and romantic.”
Their son Johnny was born in 2009, and they married the following December.
Their daughter Audrey was born in November 2011, and Julian, despite dealing with sleep deprivation like most parents, is enjoying fatherhood.
Julian loves a challenge, and making the album has provided just that: “I’ve really enjoyed taking these songs and making them mine,” he says. “I wanted them to sound masculine. I am a sensitive person too but there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of testosterone!”
He adds, “I’ve loved it, and am very proud of it, I’m happy with it. I hope people who hear it are too.”