athan, Jay, Max, Tom and Siva during their heyday in 2012
It’s nine months since Tom Parker of boyband The Wanted died aged 33 after a heroic 18-month battle with brain cancer. Inside My Head – the documentary he made about his stage four glioblastoma as he raised money for cancer research – was nominated for a gong at last month’s National Television Awards. Aside from his incredible stoicism and bravery, the programme highlighted the moving, magical bond between Tom and his four fellow band members.
So it was fitting bandmate Jay McGuiness – Strictly Come Dancing’s 2015 winner – and the other Wanted boys attended the ceremony along with Tom’s widow Kelsey, 30, and his parents.
“It was a fantastic night,” Jay says today. “We zipped down that red carpet with Tom’s voice in our ears and it was almost like old times.” Almost but not quite.
Although Jay and the other Wanted stars knew Tom was terminally ill, losing one of their number is something they are still processing. This is why Jay has turned to his friend, Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh, for support.
He and Kimberley, 40, starred together in the musicals Big and Sleepless, based on the film Sleepless in Seattle.
Like Jay and The Wanted boys, Kimberley and the Girls Aloud women lost a bandmate to cancer when Sarah Harding died aged 39 in September last year.
This shared experience has clearly created a deep and unique bond between the two.
“I’ve been talking a lot to Kimberley and am inspired by how Girls Aloud are dealing with things in reference to losing Sarah,” says the 32-year-old. “They’re trying to do positive things in Sarah’s memory and I think that’s really wonderful. In the New Year, the boys and I are going to spend some time together and plan on doing the same kind of positive stuff.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to do yet – it’s not a reunion and we’re not planning to write new material – we’re just going to work together and see what happens.”
Jay McGuiness and Kimberley Walsh in Sleepless
Spending time with the other Wanted men – Max George, 34, Nathan Sykes, 29, and 33-year-old Siva Kaneswaran – in Tom’s absence must be something of a bittersweet experience, I suggest. “It’s actually very comforting being around each other because we all feel a similar way and have the same memories of Tom,” says Jay. “We talk about him and we laugh. Of course, we miss him and always will. Every single memory of him is priceless. He was always there for me, without fail. Always turning up, always looking out, always setting me straight.” Just as TheWanted men are able to provide comfort to each other, Jay says they are also trying to be a support to Kelsey.
“We’re like Kelsey’s big brothers. She often came out on the road with us when we were touring and so we all spent a lot of time together and got to know each other well.”
Jay, who as a teenager attended Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama in his home city of Nottingham, joined The Wanted in 2009 after googling “auditions”.
Two came up – one for a circus, the other for the band. He went to both auditions and was picked for the band.
“I think this is a bit better than joining the circus,” he said at the time. The pop group became household names thanks to their catchy hits including Glad You Came, Chasing the Sun, Walks like Rihanna and All Time Low.
After performing together and touring for four years, the band went on hiatus. The next thing Jay did was Strictly Come Dancing which, in turn, funnelled him back to his musical theatre roots.
As we speak, he is in rehearsals for the ultimate festive musical – White Christmas – which is touring the UK at selected venues from November 12 until New Year’s Eve.
Jay’s playing Bob Wallace, better known as the Bing Crosby role.
“Yes, I’m Bing!” he laughs, “and I’m loving every single second of it. We’ve just rehearsed that scene where they’re on the train and singing about snow.
“It’s iconic. But then pretty much every scene in White Christmas is.
“Everyone knows all the songs – they’re total classics. Being in this show puts me in such a good mood because it’s a really happy, feel-good production and it’s great coming into work each day. Everyone’s really chipper, there’s Jingle Bells playing in the background… what’s not to like?”
The 1954 American musical film, set in 1944, also starred Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney and remains a staple of seasonal viewing. Working with showbiz royalty Lorna Luft, 69 – younger daughter of Judy Garland – who plays housekeeper MarthaWatson is another plus.
“I’ve never met anyone like her,” Jay reveals.
“She’s totally Hollywood and recounts the craziest stories within minutes of meeting her. But she’s very down-to-earth with it. She likes doing the EuroMillions lottery!”
Starring in this tour of White Christmas means that Jay will only enjoy one full day of his personal Christmas and he intends to make the most of it.
As soon as the curtain goes down on the Christmas Eve matinee performance at the Liverpool Empire, he’ll be hoofing it back to Nottingham, some 110 miles away, to spend time with his family.
Jay McGuiness and Kimberley Walsh in Big
Then it’s back to Liverpool on Boxing Day morning for another performance.
To say Jay loves Christmas is an understatement. “In my book, you’re not human if you don’t,” he laughs. “I’m one of five – four boys and my little sister who’s the youngest. We all get together at my mum’s place in Nottingham and I also visit my dad.
“On Christmas Eve my brothers and I go out and then on Christmas morning I get woken up by the nieces and nephews. I have to say, I don’t help much with the food preparation and cooking – that’s my mum’s, sister’s and twin brother’s territory.
“I don’t have meat as I’m a vegetarian so the rest of them sit there tucking into pork or beef – nobody likes turkey – while I have all the veg and my Linda McCartney sausages.
“There’s nothing I’m specifically after Christmas present-wise except perhaps more time to spend with friends and family. Only I can sort that out, though.”
Meanwhile, Jay can barely find the time to watch Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night – and won’t be able to watch the show go out live at all onceWhite Christmas opens.
It may be seven years since he and professional partner Aliona Vilani lifted the Glitterball trophy but he remains a huge fan.
“I always will be,” he smiles. “I have such happy recollections of my time on Strictly. Every time I watch it, the memories come flooding back.
The nerves, the excitement, the adrenaline. Part of the reason I like to watch is so that I can reminisce. I haven’t managed to catch the show live many times over this series but I always watch on catch-up.”
Jay in White Christmas with Jessica Daley, Monique Young and Dan Burton
So, who does he think will join the exclusive Strictly champions club and lift the trophy this year? “Hamza Yassin,” he replies without hesitation of the
Sudanese-born wildlife cameraman and children’s TV presenter.
“I noticed him at the beginning. He’s really, really good. Naturally good. Yeah, my money’s on him.”
Speaking of Strictly champions, wouldn’t it be a great idea to bring back winners from previous series and have them compete against each other – a kind of champion of champions special.
“I’d be up for that,” agrees Jay. “But with one condition. It’s a bit cheeky but I’d want to choose the professional I’d be paired with. It’s so important you get someone you have a connection with.
“I mean, you’re with that person practically all week as you learn the new dances – it’s not just Saturdays – so it’s important you get on. I got on very well with Aliona and I think that came across when we won Strictly.”
But Aliona, 38, left after their win so if there were to be a Strictly champion of champions series who would he choose?
“It would definitely have been Oti Mabuse, but obviously she’s left, too, now.”
He pauses, then laughs: “Let’s just see if it comes off first, then I’ll watch some reruns, make my choice and get back to you.”
For more information, visit whitechristmasthemusical.co.uk/uk-tour