New boys in tune to put on a fresh show
It was a sad and rather quiet day when they went away, but 4 Poofs And A Piano are back with a new line-up and a show that promises to be Bigger, Louder, Harder, Longer.
But what became of the fabulous four after the Jonathan Ross Show? Only one original member, Big Dave Wickenden, remains.
And while he's shimmering and splendid and an icon to plus-size gay men everywhere, four whole poofs and a piano he ain't.
"Oh, it was a blood bath and all very un-amicable," he explains. "We'd been together for 12 years, but the thing is, we had very different ambitions as artists. For them it was time to leave it and move on. I was left with the choice of it all folding or continuing with it, and I loved it so much, I decided to go on.
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"You would never believe how hard it was to find three gay guys who could sing show tunes though," he laughs. "I'm still looking."
Joking aside, Dave "casually" started observing all his friends and acquaintances for signs of jazz hands or harmonising to Lady Gaga songs and potential Poofs popped out all over.
First up was Graeme Clark. "We did panto together in the early 90s, back in the days when I was a dancer," says Dave. "Graeme's the fabulously jaded one, the one with all the quips and one-liners."
Then there was the "brilliant, gorgeous, younger and more talented", Ian Lilley.
"I'd seen Ian perform a few years ago during the Edinburgh Festival and three different people recommended him to me. He's known as the diva."
And finally, for a limited time only, they'll be joined by the legendary Bobby Crush whose fingers are so fast and light that he could vajazzle a ferret while playing Rachmaninov.
"Bobby and I met at a Jane McDonald concert," he laughs. "We just got talking. He's a really fun person and has been a breath of fresh air. He's brought a lot of professionalism to the act and written three songs for this show."
As you would imagine, all the guys bring new skills and qualities to the performance; but Dave wanted to keep the overall ethos of the Poofs, so you can expect the same camp, high-octane naughtiness, among musical parodies, comedy sketches, dance, daftness and banter.
"It is very much that show. We're a brand. But I did make one slight change – we're The New 4 Poofs and a Piano. I wanted to recognise the difference and not make people feel ripped off if they weren't aware of the line-up."
The name came about quite organically, says Dave. Struggling to come up with a tag, a friend suggested they went back-to-basics. "What are you?" he said.
"We're four poofs and a piano," Dave replied. And voilà.
"In the early days, some people took offence," he remembers. "They thought 'Poofs' had been imposed on us by Jonathan Ross and saw it as derogatory.
"The tide has turned since then. Catherine Tate and Little Britain pushed boundaries further than we ever did. But if we've contributed to detoxifying the word and giving it a meaning which, at its worst is silly, and at best people have an affection for, then that's brilliant."
Of course, Dave didn't need to revive the Poofs. His CV of 17 years is crammed with success.
"I was a dancer," he says. "But I stumbled into the business. I took a gap year, moved to Paris and got a job at the Moulin Rouge – as a waiter.
"On my first night, I saw all these incredibly beautiful women and men on stage and my jaw dropped. 'That's what I want to do,' I thought. So I trained in Paris."
Dave actually had a place to study English and French law at Kings College, Cambridge.
"I came back for one term and missed Paris so desperately. The place was a lot more to me than just somewhere to brush up on my French. I discovered myself, particularly in terms of my sexual identity. It was such a great time in my life."
He did get to study, too, and did a degree in French and Spanish and a Masters in social and political theory at Birkbeck, London, while rehearsing and recording the Jonathan Ross show.
During the past few years, while the Poofs have been resting, Dave has taken his one-man show to Edinburgh and sang in a play alongside Sadie Frost, among other things.
"It was all great fun," he says, "but I'm a creature of habit. It's why I want to carry on with this for now."
The title, by the way, is a play on the Daft Punk song. "Each one of us takes on a word. Bobby is bigger. I know I am still pretty chubby, but next to Bobby I'm fine," he laughs.
"Graeme is harder. He'll be bringing a bit of butch to the occasion – please no-one sue us. And as 'the diva', Ian is louder.
"I'm longer because, well, because it was the only one left."
The New Four Poofs and a Piano play The Y Theatre, Leicester, on April 11. For tickets, call 0116 2557066 or visit: