Pasquale will never be Just Joe to his fans
PARACHUTING into the jungle for I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here can change your career. In Joe Pasquale’s case, it changed his life.
The comedian, gameshow host and actor - who won the show back in 2004 - boxes regularly, has his pilot’s licence and this autumn is starting a geology degree through the Open University.
“Over the past six years I’ve changed completely,” he says, admitting to being a big fan of self-help books as we chat about his visit to Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion.
“My favourite is Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, which I found really useful. Even if I get doubts, every now and then I take it out and have a look at the bits I’ve highlighted.
“As you get older you realise the only thing stopping you doing anything is yourself. You’ve got to try new stuff.”
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He puts this new ethos down to two things - not wanting to turn into his dad and not caring what people think of him as much as he used to.
“He’s got a mobile phone and can barely turn it on, he keeps sending me blank texts or pictures of up his nose,” he laughs. “Ultimately you have to find yourself, who you are. It takes a lot of time, but when you start throwing those inhibitions away it can open the world up - nobody else will do it for you.
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“I still go boxing four times a week and I’ve now taken up running and am planning on taking part in next year’s marathon. I’m currently running ten miles three or four times a week, building up to 18 miles a week. I also go to the gym to work out with the pro-boxers.”
Joe finds boxing great for teaching you how to deal with your aggression, just letting it go and then stopping; but he admits to not being the most aggressive person in the ring.
“If I’m sparring with someone at the gym I find myself apologising to people, even though you shouldn’t say ‘sorry’ in a boxing ring!”
He’also started painting again for the first time since he was young, when you paint for fun and don’t really care what other people think of the end result.
“As you get older, doubt creeps in and it takes a lot of guts to draw and paint and not care what other people think,” he says. “I am painting mainly landscapes and portraits, but I always feel a bit guilty about it and feel as though I should be doing other things. The thing with my hobbies is that I would happily swap professions if I could and be an artist, pilot or geologist.”
Which brings us to the degree.
“When I was a teenager I wanted to be a geologist and was really into it, but life had other things planned for me and I got run over when I was 13. I should’ve been doing my Duke of Edinburgh’s course and had plans to go to university and be a geologist, but I lost a year’s school and was in hospital for about six months,” he remembers.
“I missed the year when you chose your options and never caught up again and got known as a bit of a div at school and was in the remedial class. What I’ve realised over the past few years through the acting I’ve done is that I can learn a script in a day, so I can’t be that thick!
“So I thought that if I could do that, I could take exams, no matter when it was. I’ve always had a bit of a hankering for it and kept my hand in. I said to my youngest daughter, who’s 15, the other day, that I wished I was her age and was taking exams at school.”
While he may be known for his high pitched voice, it’s clear the man behind it is deep thinker.
“I pack books to take on tour with me; I’m reading a book by Deepak Chopra at the moment,” says Joe, who has been an avid reader since taking his English O Level.
“The book that changed my life about wanting to read was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, then Lord Of The Flies. As a teenager, they had an impact on me of how enjoyable a book can be and I carried on reading.
“A while back, my manager bought me The Alchemist by Paul Cohelo and I was hooked. That was the thing that got me through the jungle.
“I mentioned the book to a few friends and said it had changed my life and a mate of mine, Bradley Walsh, asked me what I was reading, so I gave him a copy and said it was about a bloke who didn’t know what he wanted, so he went on a journey and the whole story is revealed in the last paragraph.
“I told him to ring me when he’d finished it, so about two weeks later, about 2am, he rang and said ‘Squeaky - what the **** was all that about?’.”
He’s not, however, a fan of the internet.
“It’s the world’s worst invention! I have someone on Facebook pretending to be me. They say they’ll do stuff and go to parties and of course, it’s not me. So we got in touch with the Facebook people and said ‘It’s not me’ and they said I had to prove it wasn’t!
“So you don’t have to prove that it’s you to go on there, but you do to get taken off. They said you had to take a photo of yourself and send it in, go through all this rigmarole, to get taken off. But let’s face it, who would want to pretend to be me?”
For somebody who’s jumped out of a plane for a television show and been mortared while in a helicopter in Iraq, some would still say the bravest thing he’s done was give up his day job to become a comic.
He says he realised early on that he wasn’t cut out for a nine to five lifestyle.
“I wasn’t the comic at school but when I left, well, you re-invent yourself, so when I left college there was a whole new group of people who didn’t know what I was like when I was at school so you can be whatever you want to be.
“I changed when I started work, which is when I suppose I started being funny. One of my first jobs was at Smithfield meat market with all these chunky East End geezers all taking the mick out of each other and I was a nine-and-a-half stone weakling and had to keep up by making them laugh while carting carcasses about.”
He thought about becoming an actor but couldn’t afford to go to drama school so ended up as a Greencoat at Warners Holiday camp in Corton, near Lowestoft, eventually becoming operations manager.
“I was a wrestling referee. Because it was me, being who I am, the old girls used to wet themselves laughing as I’d play it for laughs and wear stockings and suspenders under my tracksuit. We’d set it up with the wresters that they’d pull my trousers down and it would bring the house down!
“It went down really well and it meant that I could walk around the camp like a god, just because of that one incident with my trousers around my ankles and ladies’ underwear!”
He’s since fulfilled his acting aspirations and recently did a play with Stephen Berkoff for two nights at the New End Theatre in Hampstead.
“He’d re-written the Bible and wanted me to play David in David and Goliath, which he’d done like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It was quite sweary and I never swear on stage, so it was quite exciting just swearing in front of an audience.
“Berkoff is quite an intimidating person with a big reputation and when I was reading for him he said ‘That voice you‘re using - do you have another one?’ and I said ‘To be honest, no.’ So he asked me to play it harder and it was fine, one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Joe’s big break came in 1987 when he won the TV talent show New Faces. So what does he think of modern shows like Britain’s Got Talent?
“I think they’re a gift but it depends which way you look at it. Richard Holloway, the producer of Britain’s Got Talent, was the producer of New Faces when I did it and executive producer when I was doing The Price Is Right.
“People like Richard and Simon Cowell have discovered there are as many nutters around now as there were 20 years ago and I was one of them - and there was just as much entertainment value in watching the auditions as the actual show.
“BGT isn’t that different from New Faces or Opportunity Knocks, in that they turn it round and show you the audition process. If you put yourself up for these talent shows you know what you’re doing and everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.”
He still loves touring but hates travelling, saying it’s the latter you get paid for and the show is the icing on the cake.
“We were playing Dudley, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive from my house, but which took 11 hours and got stuck on the M25. The travelling and hotels can be a nightmare - you are up until 2am to drive to the next gig, which is always great, but the travelling there isn’t.”
The old fashioned landladies, he remembers, were also weird.
“There was one in Bristol that had a fat, mangy old dog and she used to insist on feeding you egg and bacon before you went off to a gig. The bacon was disgusting and the egg was so rubbery it was like a Superball.
“So when her back was turned, I’d put it all in a plastic bag and put it under the bed and forgot about it. Then one night I heard the dog snaffling around my bedroom, eating all the awful food - no wonder it was in such bad shape.”
Joe says comics who don’t enjoy performing need to remind themselves why they got into the business in the first place.
“The answer should never be for the money, but just for the job. Nobody ever starts doing it just for the money; I think there must be something wrong with comics for them to want to get on stage and say ‘please love me’ - what’s that need that makes you want to do that?,” he asks.
“When I started as a comic, I never thought about the money but when you get to a certain level of success you start thinking ‘how many people were in tonight?’ and thinking about paying people and money. Once you start thinking that, you have to remember why you did it - showing off, I suppose.”
His latest show - Just Joe - sees him ditch the support act to give audiences two hours of his trademark craziness.
“I’m just doing the whole thing myself. It’s quite liberating really, because regardless of how good the support act was, you always get somebody going ‘I didn’t really like them’,” he says.
“You could get somebody come out and do 40 minutes of painting the Cistine Chapel but get ‘that’s all very well but it’s not my cup of tea’. It’s quite tiring but I’m enjoying it.”
The new show also sees him delve into the world of extra sensory perception.
“I’ve always been quite intrigued by that sort of thing and the way mindreaders use it – but I really just take the mick out of it and people love it. My favourite bits of the show are always the bits with the audience,” he adds.
“To be honest it’s not something I really believe in, although when I was in the Scouts we used to go around collecting jumble and we got a lava lamp and a Ouija Board from one lot.
“Me and my mate Kevin and some others went into a church and contacted a ghost called Colin, which was a bit spooky,” he remembers. But we don’t know if it was real or just somebody pushing the board around! We quickly got rid of the board and put it back in the jumble.”
After a quarter of a century in the business, it’s the diversity of the work - he’s playing himself in a film about a serial killer bumping off daytime television hosts this September and has the panto Sleeping Beauty at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal coming up for example - that keeps him going.
“Panto is fantastic but six weeks is enough because you’re doing two shows every day and that does your head in after having two thousand kids screaming ‘it’s behind ya’,” he laughs.
“It’s a great medium and if it’s the first time kids get an experience of going to the theatre then hopefully you’ve got a theatre-goer all your life.
“As a performer, you get bolder as you get older. You don’t care what you do, as long as people think the show is good. I’ve never been one of the fashionable comics, so I’ve never gone out of fashion and that’s why I’m here after 25 years in show business,” he muses.
“I like working and I don’t have to get up every morning and do a proper job - no carting carcasses around for me!”
n Joe Pasquale is at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion tonight <August 7>,Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier on August 17 and 31,
Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre on August 28, Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre on October 1, King’s Lynn’s Corn Exchange on November 5, Harlow’s Playhouse Theatre on November 11 and Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion on November 21.