Neighbours, a string of earworm 80s chart hits, Joseph, followed by drug addiction and a very public fall from grace. It’s the popular version of the Jason Donovan story, but there’s far more to this versatile, talented actor, musician and presenter who openly shares his warts-and-all story with an honesty that is rarely found in the celebrity world.
It’s this openness which is at the heart of his plans this autumn, when he takes to the road with his Jason Donovan & His Amazing Midlife Crisis Tour, to share the highs and lows – along with the outrageous outtakes – of a 40-year performing career.
The nationwide 34-date tour’s title is a deliberate play on the technicolour role which helped to sear him in our collective conscience as a national treasure. “It’s a bit of fun and an oxymoron in some ways,” laughs Jason. “Joseph represents purity, youth and loveliness, and maybe I’m none of those, but it’s not important in the scheme of things.
“I don’t usually get to talk a lot when I’m performing on stage, but I’m known for my chat and I’ve never had an opportunity to explore that side of things before. I think people are genuinely interested to know the story of the five crazy years of stardom that I experienced, followed by a completely different type of crazy, and how I got my life together again.
“I always enjoy a good project leading up to Christmas, and although I haven’t thought too much about the show’s content yet, I’ve seen some pretty interesting things during my career, so there’s plenty to talk about.
“I’m performing at small venues and that’s an interesting experience in itself. It’ll be an opportunity for people to ask me questions, a bit like being interviewed or being at a seminar, and there’ll also be a few acoustic tracks along the way too.
“I turn 50 next year and it’s a great moment to look back and reflect on my life so far. It’s also a bit of therapy for me and I’m going to be very honest about the good times, bad times and fun times…”
Honesty is undoubtedly one of Jason’s endearing traits, and while he says he feels lucky to have had such an amazing career, he says most people don’t realise such a schedule comes at a cost.
“I’m often away for eight weeks at a time, and that obviously impacts both me and my family, but I’m not complaining and I know how fortunate I am to be in the position which I am.”
Indeed, the national-treasure mantle which has been attached to him after four decades in show business is something he says he values and appreciates. “When you have a successful show like Neighbours, people make an emotional connection to the characters they see on screen, and I followed this with a move into music with hit songs which, for many, were associated with their first love affair, teenage years or early adulthood. It’s a meaningful connection which shows such as the X Factor try to capitalise on each year.”
Perhaps a precursor to today’s talent-spotting TV shows, Jason’s own musical career was nurtured by pop moguls Stock Aitken Waterman, and between 1988–1991 he charted 16 hit singles and achieved 30 million record sales – commercial success which silenced the critics of actors-turned musicians.
Although just 20 when pop stardom hit, Jason had already been acting for almost a decade, having made his first appearance on Australian series Skyways in 1980, and joining the Neighbours cast six years later. Although he had the support of his actor father Terence Donovan, he made his own success after being told by Terence not to expect to be chauffeured to auditions.
It’s a philosophy he’s always followed and he doesn’t believe in fate. “I don’t believe in luck,” says Jason. “You make your own path and I’ve definitely made decisions in my life which have impacted what followed. I think acting has always been closest to my heart and in a way I was seduced by music at a very early age. I fell in love with pop music but I didn’t anticipate being in musicals, although on paper it’s probably a logical development.
“It was time to stop my crazy period, I was going to be a dad. I’m not proud of what was going on in my life in the 90s, but I’m a strong person and I made a decision to change.”
“Maybe I should have taken more off-the-cuff projects, and they were on the table at the time, which would have taken me further in the film industry. But I always say to people, ‘The good news is I’m Jason Donovan. The bad news is I’m Jason Donovan,’ and getting directors to see beyond the loincloth of Joseph and look at you differently is a challenge.
“However, if I hadn’t gone into musicals, I wouldn’t have met my wife and had my family, and there’s more to life than my career.”
It was meeting his wife, Angela Malloch, a stage manager on The Rocky Horror Show, that pulled Jason back from the depths of drug addiction, when she found out she was expecting the couple’s first child, Jemma, now 16. A son, Zac, 15, and second daughter, Molly, 5, complete the Donovan family.
“It was a wake-up call,” says Jason. “It was time to stop my crazy period, I was going to be a dad. I’m not proud of what was going on in my life in the 90s, but I’m a strong person and I made a decision to change.”
“No-one else can do it but you, and not everyone has the strength, but with addiction there has to be a desire to want to change. Some people don’t have to go that far to hit the lowest point and see it, but we need to recognise human beings are vulnerable and it’s OK – everyone deserves a second chance.”
Today, Jason is in great mental and physical health and juicing plays a part in staying on top of a hectic schedule. “I’ve always believed physical fitness is important,” he says, “and I’m always on the go. I’ve learnt that you can experience a natural high through good exercise and nutrition, and I make sure I have a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
“I’ve juiced for five years on a massive scale and it’s part of my daily life. Australia has a strong juicing culture and it’s logical really. Separately the ingredients aren’t sexy, but juicing makes it possible to digest all those vegetables and fruit in one go, and the philosophy is simple really.
“It doesn’t matter when, but it’s a juice a day for me and it has to be green – my days of getting pineapple and mango are gone! For me it’s broccoli, lime, and it has to have ginger. In fact, it doesn’t even have to taste good, I just know it’s doing good things.”
Having seen Jason Vale on The Sunday Show, it was showbiz pal Gary Barlow who suggested Jason join him and the Juice Master for a week at Juicy Oasis last year. “It was a fantastic week and Jason’s a brilliant guy – we have a great name together!” laughs Jason.
“I felt so clean after spending a week at Juicy Oasis, living on nothing but pure, fresh juice. It doesn’t have to be light either, and when you add an avocado or a banana, juice fills you up and gives you so much energy.
“It’s beautiful and at the end of the week at Juicy Oasis I was playing tennis and I felt like I was 21 again, I was playing so well, it was incredible. I would definitely go back and, although I’ve got to convince my wife a week on juice is enjoyable, it was my idea of heaven.
“I’m Australian and we are an incredibly active nation. Whether we’re walking or on the beach, we love being outdoors and have a strong desire to be fit and well. We tend to burrow in Britain during the winter months, but I was brought up with an outdoor philosophy by my dad.”
Life is busy for Jason, who has always been open to taking on new projects over the years. Having appeared on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Strictly Come Dancing – finishing third in both shows – he now presents a regular All 80s Show on Heart Radio. This summer he will perform at a series of festivals, before that midlife tour…
“I love to work and play hard. If I’ve had a busy week, there’s nothing better than Sunday lunch with family and friends, a glass of something and great food – to me it’s the perfect moment.” As dreams go, it will most definitely do.