Tuesday 20 August 2019

People: Ben Richards wants to rock like it's 1988

Former 'Footballers' Wives' star Ben Richards tells Anna Coogan it's good to be back following some personal troubles in his life- cancer

ROCK GOD: Ben Richards promises to have us up off our seats and dancing in the aisles at the musical Rock of Ages
ROCK GOD: Ben Richards promises to have us up off our seats and dancing in the aisles at the musical Rock of Ages

Anna Coogan

Actor Ben Richards looks a picture of good health while on a break from preparing for a performance of the musical Rock of Ages at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.

The 42-year-old popular UK actor and former star of the hit TV show Footballers' Wives, is two years in remission from bowel cancer, and an ambassador for Bowel Cancer UK.

Today he is looking tanned and fit, and says he is also feeling fairly toned after working out for a role which has him dressed in small briefs and little else at one point on the show.

"It makes you want to work out a bit more," he says laughingly about having to strut his stuff across the stage while being in his early forties.

Ben will also be familiar to musical-goers from his days of appearing in the hit TV shows The Bill and Holby City - though appearing in musicals is what is keeping him busy these days.

And beating cancer is not the first personal battle which he has fought in the public arena - along with his former wife, Helen Richards, Ben lost four children at birth due to a rare genetic disorder.

At the time of his cancer diagnosis in 2012, his wife reportedly tweeted: 'could life be any crueller right now?' The couple split up, after 15 years of being together, not long after the actor's diagnosis with bowel cancer.

Ben has put his plans to move to Los Angeles and pursue an acting career on hold following his medical battle, and Rock of Ages is his second stage performance since his return to health.

A decline in the amount of TV work on offer to performers due to falling ad revenues in the TV industry, has made the competition for good stage roles all the tougher.

Yet when the going gets tough, it seems that Ben is the type of performer who just keeps on getting tougher.

He takes the lead in Rock of Ages, and performing the part of rock star Stacee Jaxx would test anyone's physical strength. He has to do a lot of singing and dancing in this high-energy all-rocking musical.

"It can take three or four years to get back to yourself after the surgery I've had," Ben says of the surgery he had for bowel cancer in 2012.

The surgery was followed by gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

"But I'm getting there, and I'm taking good care of myself," the actor says of getting back to work. "And I also have the support of my co-stars, which is great."

He exudes energy, and is clearly enjoying being exuberantly vigorous in the part of rocker Jaxx. Though he admits that being away from friends and family while in a show can take its toll.

There's a fun feel to this 1980s revival musical, and Jaxx's many groupies on stage means that there will be plenty of skimpily clad actresses on stage, and who wouldn't look out of place in a go-go dance show, when Rock of Ages comes to Bord Gais Energy Theatre next month.

"It's a proper party show," Richards says proudly of Rock of Ages, and yes, fans of the hit TV series Footballers' Wives - in which he played Bruno Milligan - do grab the opportunity to come up to him after the show and shake his hand.

"But it's Noel who gets the screaming crazies," he says, and sounds almost grateful that it's former Hear'Say singer Noel Sullivan, who is also in the musical, who attracts the more vocal of the fans who pack out the house at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.

Being part of the hit TV show Footballers' Wives taught Ben a thing or two about how to handle fame.

"I learned not to be a twat," he says. "At first I didn't know why people were looking at me, but I learned to be nice to people when they take the time to recognise you."

Overall, his mood is one of playful joking, even going as far as to say that he is "working to pay for a new kitchen".

Ben's singing needs little vouching for, as he has recorded songs and shot videos for both Singers Inc Vol 1 and Singers Inc Vol 2. His recording credits include original cast recordings for Grease, Hot Mikado and Radio Times.

He is a trained dancer, and his reputation for commanding a dance floor has seen him star as a judge on the second series of BBC1's Strictly Dance Fever.

He played PC Nate Roberts in The Bill, and his film credits include Chakara, Julie and the Cadillacs, and Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis.

In Rock of Ages, Ben is the guy who gets the girl, until his hard-living rocker lifestyle gains him a bad reputation, all of which is lived out with some very up-tempo 1980s songs.

"I promise you we'll have everyone up and dancing in the aisles by the time the night is over," Ben says.

Rock of Ages, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, September 15-20.

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