Love Island’s Caroline Flack Proves She’s Crazy For You

Caroline Flack knows all about troubled romances after her 8-week stint presenting Love Island, the most watched and talked about show of the summer. The source of many a heated watercooler conversation, the show is all about relationships going wrong, or right. So it is fitting that she makes her theatrical debut playing Irene, a woman whose love life is also bumpy, in hit musical ‘CRAZY FOR YOU’.

“She’s strong. She knows what she wants. But there’s a vulnerability,” Flack tells me as we chat during rehearsals. “She gets hurt the whole way through, but she’s brilliantly defiant. She stays strong and doesn’t give up. She’s naughty as well. There’s definitely bits of Irene that are quite like me.”

CRAZY FOR YOU’, which tours the UK from August 2017 to May 2018, is a joyful, romantic musical comedy packed with fantastic Gershwin songs. It’s the story of Bobby, a banker who longs to be a stage star. When he’s forced to foreclose on a failing theatre, he falls for the owner’s daughter who would want nothing to do with him if she knew who he was. Irene is the woman he leaves behind.

“It’s feel good and fun,” says Flack. “It’s a show the whole family can enjoy, but it’s got a very cool vibe to it too. It’s one of those shows where you will have a smile on your face the whole way through. I know, because I’ve seen the rehearsals. I think audiences will be blown away by the talent of the cast.”

That cast, which includes ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ winner Tom Chambers and West End star Charlotte Wakefield, are indeed supremely talented. While the ‘triple threat’ performer – singer, dancer, actor – is considered the holy grail of musical theatre, ‘CRAZY FOR YOU’, stars are quadruple threats. They also play their own instruments. “I’ve never been so in awe of a cast before,” Flack gushes.

Strictly Come Dancing Favourites Caroline Flack and Tom Chambers star in national tour of Crazy for You

CRAZY FOR YOU’, is a reunion of sorts for Flack and Chambers. Both won the BBC’s flagship Saturday evening dance competition and starred together when show’s live version toured the country.

When Flack talks about the ‘Casualty’ and ‘Holby City’ star, who built his stage reputation leading the casts of ‘Top Hat’ and ‘White Christmas’, she does so in terms that make him feel like a big brother. He looked after her, he supported her when she was nervous. He is, in fact, the ideal person to have around as you make your professional theatre debut.

It was her time on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in 2014, and the live tour, that reignited her ambition to perform on stage. It was an ambition she had held since childhood. When, as a teenager, she discovered that performing could be a career, she set her heart on it and studied for three years at Bodywork Company in Cambridge. “It’s the only real qualification I have,” she laughs.

Her ambition to perform on stage morphed into a presenting career when she started being offered jobs. From co-presenting Channel 4’s celebrity sports show ‘The Games’ in 2005, she moved to ‘Gladiators’, Saturday morning kids show ‘TMI’, ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Now!’ and ‘The Xtra Factor’. They’re projects she clearly loved, but that eagerness to get back to the theatre was always lurking. Quite simply, she says, “I love the stage.”

“It wasn’t just a case of wanting to be on stage, it was wanting to be on stage but doing the right thing,” she explains. So why was this Watermill Theatre production of Crazy For You the show that brought her back to the theatre? The answer is that playing Irene gives her the opportunity to get to grips with a character rather than worrying about leading an entire show singlehandedly. It’s the chance to relearn her craft and refresh her memory of theatrical performance. And, in a show packed with glorious songs like I Got Rhythm and They Can’t Take That Away From Me, she has a fantastic solo number. “As soon as I head Naughty Baby,” she enthuses, “I thought ‘Yes, this is great.’”

Choreographer Nathan M Wright has created a new routine specifically for Flack. It’s still being finalised as we chat, so she can’t give too much away, but she does say it “plays to her strengths,” and uses a piano and rope. “It’s saucy and suggestive, but not too naughty,” she laughs.

Handily, for an actor about to set off on a tour around the country, she’s a fan of the nomadic life. “I’m a traveller at heart,” she grins. “There is so much more to the UK than London and I don’t get to see it enough, so I’m massively excited. There’s some really amazing venues around the UK, and to play them will be hugely exciting.”

Push her a little harder on where she’s most excited about visiting, though, and the ‘born traveller’ outlook fades, just a touch. “Norwich,” she says. “It’s my home town.” It’s not that she’s looking for home comforts, but that performing for an audience filled with family and friends will be a special occasion. “We’re planning some fun dinners afterwards,” she laughs.

She’s also looking forward to the show’s northern dates. The tour will head to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool before Flack departs in December. “I think there’s something in me that should have been northern,” she giggles. “It’s very friendly up in the north. With the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ tour, the more northern you got, the more excitable the crowds were.”

I wonder whether, having worked on both ‘Strictly’ and ‘X Factor’, Flack has sought dance or vocal advice from any of those shows’ experts. “All my experts are standing in front of me in this production,” she replies. “I only have to ask them.”

She needs no extra advice on dealing with pre-show anxiety either. While she may not have performed in a musical before, competing in Strictly, both on TV and our tour, tested her courage. She’s an old hand at live TV too. “The nerves never kick in until just before you start,” she explains. “An hour before, they suddenly hit.” They come with a “good sickie feeling,” she says. “I have a little mantra I say to myself. It’s never changed. I say that in my head and then I get on with it.”

With Strictly, her success revolved around just two people. When she’s presenting, it’s often just Flack “on a sofa, chatting to someone”. With ‘CRAZY FOR YOU’, “you’ve got 30 people all working together.” And she is relishing the team ethos that comes with being part of a musical production.

The cast are even talking about getting her involved in the music side of the show. “Everyone says’ that they’re going to teach me something by the end of the tour. I am aiming for the drums.”

So don’t be surprised if, by a later tour date, you see Flack with drumstick in hand, proving herself not just a bona fide musical theatre star, but a quadruple threat too.

Crazy For You plays at Birmingham Hippodrome from the 24-28th October. For tickets visit birminghamhippodrome.com