Everybody’s Talking About Jamie inspiration Jamie Campbell: ‘I first knew about it when I heard someone had auditioned to play my mum’
The inspiration for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the pop musical that opens in London’s West End next week, is 22-year-old Jamie Campbell, whose youthful ambition to become a drag queen was the subject of a TV documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 in 2011. Since then he has moved to London from his native County Durham to study fashion while also performing as his drag alter ego, Fifi la True. He talks to Nick Smurthwaite
When did you first start wearing dresses?
My mum has pictures of me dressed in her clothes when I was four years old. I was inspired by Kylie Minogue and Lily Savage when I was little. My mum says I used to dance around the room in her dressing gown. Nobody was bothered. It was just who I was.
Did the kids at school make fun of you?
I did school plays in primary school, playing girls and wearing dresses and nobody batted an eyelid. But once I’d got to secondary school, things changed. It never got physical, but there were always verbal insults, like “faggot”, “perv”, “bums against the wall”, that kind of schoolboy stuff. I remember a time when I couldn’t even walk home from school or down the street without someone shouting something vile at me. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive mother at home who taught me to value my differences and not let the bullies get to me. Obviously there were occasions when it did.
How did the TV documentary come about?
I wanted to go to the end of school prom wearing a dress. Then I could come out to everyone at once and say to people, “This is who I am, whether you like it or not.” But I was nervous and I thought I would feel safer if I had a TV crew with me. So I Googled “how to make a documentary”, wrote out my idea for it and then emailed it to all the TV documentary companies that came up in the search. One of them, Firecracker, contacted me, and said that it was a very well written pitch, like a film script. Jenny Popplewell, the director, came to my home in County Durham and we made the film.
What was the public reaction to the documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16?
I was expecting the reaction to be really bad but the positive response was overwhelming. So many people expressed support on social media. I was glad so many people found it inspiring and were able to take away something from watching it.
When did you find out a musical based on the documentary was being planned?
Jenny Popplewell told me these people wanted to write a musical based on my story, was that okay? I mean, who wouldn’t allow a musical to be created about them? Then I didn’t hear any more about it for a long time, until someone said a friend of theirs had been for an audition to play my mum in a musical, and I realised it was still happening. It wasn’t until I saw some press for the Sheffield production that I knew the show had actually materialised. That was when I was brought in by the team to listen to the songs and see what they’d been up to for the past three years.
How closely does the narrative parallel your own story?
One of the first things that the creative team made sure I was aware of was that the Jamie they had created wasn’t me, although I was the inspiration for him. Hence the name change from Jamie Campbell to Jamie New. They didn’t want to limit themselves creatively by always worrying “what would the real Jamie do?” I was surprised at how closely the made-up stuff resonates with what actually happened. It’s quite weird seeing somebody being me, or sort of me, on stage. John McCrea is amazing as Jamie, he’s a really great actor with a fantastic voice and a natural talent for twirling around in high heels.
Do you think the musical will help your career?
I hope so. Opening in London is a really big deal. Everybody’s talking about it. I am working with the producer, Nica Burns, on publicising the show. I am older now and have a clearer idea of myself. I am very interested in making more TV and would love to do some presenting. I’ve always made my own clothes and I am launching a style vlog shortly. I’d also love to have the opportunity to go into schools and talk about my story and maybe help kids like me who feel different.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is previewing at London’s Apollo Theatre before opening on November 22