WHEN Gareth Gates steps onto a stage he completely transforms.

All of a sudden the stammer he has had since childhood disappears as he becomes absorbed in his performance or character. That is why a life in the limelight has always appealed to the former Pop Idol star despite having to overcome shyness and confidence issues.

Back then, Gareth’s idol was Michael Jackson and he had posters of the ‘king of pop’ all over his bedroom walls in Bradford.

“I was struggling with my speech for so long and so when I finally learnt I could sing it was my form of release and my only form of expression,” said the 32-year-old.

“So I think my love for music and singing is much deeper than just my enjoyment of it. I really depended on it as a child and growing up.”

Gareth first summoned up the courage to step on stage for a school production.

He added: “I first started to sing at the age of eight and it was because of a musical called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was this very shy boy who couldn’t speak but I went along to these auditions with my mates for a school production.

“It turned out I was able to sing and I landed the lead role. Then some 15 or 16 years later I was offered the chance to play the same role at the Adelphi Theatre.

“So from the school stage to the West End it was like coming full circle. I trained classically so it absolutely felt like the natural thing to do. It’s opened a new world of acting which is nice.

“I still battle with my stammer yet as soon as I learn a script and I’m in character and I adopt a different persona then my speech is never a problem.”

‘When I finally learnt I could sing it was my form of release and my only form of expression’

Of course, in between those two runs of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic, a certain talent show came along – one that changed the face of television and paved the way for the likes of The X Factor and The Voice.

Gareth, who went on to sell more than became a household name, pretty much overnight, when he came runner-up in the first series of ITV’s Pop Idol.

He said: “None of us really knew what was to come. It was the first of its kind well before X Factor and the like. It was the first show where the public had their vote so we all went into not really knowing what it was.

“I just enjoyed everything. I was a 17-year-old boy at the time. I was just loving life and being given an opportunity to do something I loved everyday.

“It was just fortunate it was as big as it was. For some people on the programme it was overwhelming. But my age helped because I didn’t read much into it. I just enjoyed everything that was thrown at me.

“Of course it was strange being recognised all of a sudden and being all over the papers and magazines but that was part and parcel of it I guess.”

Gareth admitted that his stammer ‘put him off’ entering Pop Idol at first.

He added: “The advert for Pop Idol all those years ago was: ‘Are you the next Robbie Williams?’

“I thought I have to be able to speak, I have to be able to converse with the crowd. I was a bit put off by that but I wasn’t going to let it hold me back from what I wanted to do.”

Now he does not let anything stop him and encourages others to chase their dreams.

Wishing Warrington’s The Voice contestants Mo Adeniran and Max Vickers well, he gave the following advice for people going through Britain’s TV talent shows.

“I think work ethic is everything,” he said.

“If you put the hard work in you’ll see the results and anybody is given that opportunity to ride high in the charts they should take hold of it, enjoy it and work as hard as they can.”

In particular, Gareth is proud to help people with speech impediments find the confidence they need

He used the McGuire Programme to manage his stammer and he is now a speech coach.

Gareth added: “I’ve done quite a lot with my life but I think one of my greatest achievements has been heightening the awareness of stammering.

“There are a lot of people out there who struggle with speech and I’ve been trying to bring it to light as much and as often as I can since Pop Idol.”

Next up for Gareth is the Easter panto Robin Hood at Parr Hall on April 6.

The performer has been in around seven Christmas pantos over the years and it is largely thanks to his daughter Missy who enjoys watching her dad in them.

But this particular production will remind Gareth of his own youth when he shares a stage with Zippy and George.

He said: “I used to watch Rainbow when I was very young so it’s bizarre but great that I’m going to be on the stage with them. It’s just good fun.”

n Robin Hood is at Parr Hall on Thursday, April 6. There are two shows at 3pm and 7pm. Visit pyramidparrhall.com or call 442345

DAVID MORGAN