Little did Jamie and Margaret Campbell know seven years ago that their story would inspire a musical. Yet what started as one teenage boy’s simple but trailblazing ambition has turned into the huge West End hit, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
The show, which charts Jamie’s battle to go to his school prom in a frock - and Margaret’s fiercely protective, unconditional love for her son - is by turns funny and poignant, and has twice had its run in the heart of London’s theatreland extended. And now people who are unable to travel to the capital to see the award-winning musical can check it out at a local cinema - the show will be screened live at more than 500 cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 5 July.
The remarkable sequence of events that inspired the show started in 2011, when Jamie, then just 15 and having loved performing and dressing in frocks since he was a young boy, contacted a documentary company when he feared his plan for the prom was about to be derailed by his school.
The resulting film, Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, was shown on the BBC, where it was seen by theatre director Jonathan Butterell. Working with musician Dan Gillespie Sells and lyricist Tom MacRae, Jonathan created Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which started life at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in February 2017.
The extraordinary nightly standing ovations from appreciative audiences prompted award-winning West End theatre owner and producer Nica Burns to fast-track the show to London. It opened there last November.
The story, inspired by one boy’s experience, includes universal themes of love, perseverance in the face of adversity and, ultimately, acceptance. It also features cracking songs, boasts a great heart, and benefits from a very funny script.
And now it’s just been announced that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is to be made into a film by the creators of the movie Tyrannosaur, which starred Olivia Coleman, and iconic television series This Is England.
“It’s mad, it’s just snowballed,” says Jamie. “When Jonathan talked about doing a musical, I thought he meant in a community theatre, and when the show went into the West End, I thought, wow! Then it was extended and nominated for lots of awards, and now the film. It’s completely taken over our lives.”
“As far as we were concerned, the documentary was the end of it,” adds Margaret. “Jamie had achieved what he wanted, and we never thought in a million years that it would be turned into a musical, and now a film. It’s just got bigger and bigger. Every time the phone rings, something else has happened.”
Jamie and Margaret remain resolutely down to earth. Jamie is now forging a career in the creative industries in London, to where he moved four years ago, but is touched that people recognise him and ask for autographs and selfies. Margaret has no plans to leave Toronto, a former mining village near Bishop Auckland, where she works for the Samaritans. “Oh no. I’ve got too many friends and family there,” she says. “I love the bright lights, but I like to go home after. I’m a home girl, really.”
The show details some of the bullying Jamie experienced at school for being gay. Many of those who nowadays approach him for autographs and selfies tell him that the production has truly inspired them - whether to come out as gay to their parents, or to cope with being bullied themselves.
“People are so positive about the show and say that it’s really helped them,” says Jamie.
Margaret adds: “I still get quite emotional when people come up to me and say something nice about Jamie, because this is the acceptance that he should have had back then.”
But while it’s been an exciting experience for Jamie and Margaret, their lives aren’t all ‘West End glitz and glamour’. They very much want to be of help to others.
Jamie is already following in his mother’s caring footsteps by taking over the show’s Twitter feed (@JamieMusical, #AskJamie) each Friday to dispense advice to fans. And along with the show’s producers, he and Margaret have been developing an education pack to take into schools, to help youngsters with issues such as acceptance and diversity.
“I may not be the most experienced advice-giver in the world, but I try my best,” says Jamie. “I get a lot of questions about how to handle bullies at school, how not to let them get to you. I tell people that I know it’s difficult, but that if you focus on what makes you happy, you can overcome them.”
Margaret adds: “I think the most important thing to remember is that your school days don’t last forever, even though when it’s happening to you it does feel like that. You must talk to somebody. If you can’t talk to your parents, talk to the parents of a friend, or Childline or Samaritans. There is always help out there.”
Jamie and Margaret would like the live screening to open up the debate even more. “We hope it will get people talking because the show is a great starting point,” says Margaret. “It’s about being more tolerant and accepting difference. You don’t necessarily have to understand everybody’s situation, but at the same time you don’t have to be ignorant.
“It isn’t just about Jamie in a dress. It’s about believing in yourself and standing up for what you believe in, in the face of opposition. And it asks, ‘What’s normal? Who defines normal?’ We’re all normal. We shouldn’t put anyone in a box or make them dull and grey. Some people want to be in technicolour.”
Talking of colour, Jamie and Margaret have turned up for this interview in colour-coordinated outfits - something that often happens. “Maybe we’ve got a weird psychic thing going on, like twins,” jokes Margaret.
They were twinned again at various theatre awards this year, with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie winning seven coveted gongs. For one event, Jamie had bought a length of “gorgeous red fabric that I knew would look great as a frock.”
Just as they’d done when he was a boy, Margaret and her mother (who owned a curtain shop and would use the samples) made the material into a frock - but this time it was from Jamie’s design. “I made a lot of mood boards and pulled a lot of references in, like Vivienne Westwood and Christian Lacroix,” he says. “I wanted it to be classic but make a big statement. The material had this beautiful sheen. When you draped it and the light hit it, it looked fabulous.”
Margaret, meanwhile, had bought her own stunning number in complementary shades - for £5 at a charity shop. “She has an eye for a bargain, me mam,” says Jamie, laughing.
Jamie and Margaret have seen the stage show many times, and will be at one of the live screenings. “I still get emotional,” says Margaret. “Every time I say I’m not going to cry, but I always take tissues. There’s always something that will set me off. It’s our story but we’re ordinary people, so everyone can relate to it, and that’s why they get pulled in.”
“It’s a love story, really, with a happy ending,” Jamie adds, “but it’s also about empowerment, and that really resonates with audiences, whatever and whoever they are.”
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be broadcast live from the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End to more than 500 cinemas across the UK - including Cineworld’s throughout the region; Artrix in Bromsgrove; MAC, Birmingham & Lighthouse in Wolverhampton on Thursday 5 July at 7.20pm. The show is currently booking at Apollo Theatre, London until 6
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