"Showbiz was my Plan B": Aston Merrygold talks about Footloose, JLS and Glasgow

'Showbiz was my Plan B': JLS star Aston Merrygold is coming to Glasgow
'Showbiz was my Plan B': JLS star Aston Merrygold is coming to Glasgow

ASTON Merrygold - one-quarter of hit boy band JLS, a solo star in his own right, a Strictly favourite and a multi-talented singer, dancer, actor and TV talent show judge – never planned to make showbiz his career.

“I wanted to be a footballer,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I liked dancing and singing, don’t get me wrong. But sport was my thing growing up.

“I never took the whole performing thing seriously. It was always just a Plan B.”

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Aston, who is coming to Glasgow next week in Footloose: The Musical, was a talented player, representing England in the European Youth Games when he was at secondary school. An injury in his foot put paid to his professional career aspirations, however, so he turned to performing instead.

READ MORE: Glasgow panto legend Johnny McKnight talks about his new theatre role

It was through auditions that he met Marvin Humes, who persuaded him to join JLS. Before their big break on The X Factor in 2008 - the boys (Oritsé Williams and JB Gill complete the line-up) came second to Alexandra Burke in the final – they were already well on their way to a chart-topping career, having won Best Unsigned Act at the Urban Music Awards.

The rest is pop history – JLS went on to have a string of hit singles, including Beat Again and the timeless Everybody In Love; they released five albums and picked up MOBO and Brit Awards along the way, selling millions of records and filling countless arenas. In 2009, they visited Glasgow for the MOBOs.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Fans were devastated when the band split in 2013, although a reunion in 2020 caused much joy. More JLS music and gigs could be on the cards, too, says Aston, albeit a little cagily.

“Yeah, well we are all doing our own individual things at the minute, some TV and radio projects, theatre, spending time with family,” he says. “We do talk to each other every day and there are always plans bubbling away behind the scenes.”

READ MORE: Glasgow teen thrown out of private school became top Scots actor

He adds, firmly, putting a definite end to any further questions about JLS: “The fans will be told first though. They’ll be told directly.”

Aston has enjoyed a successful solo career since 2013, releasing his platinum-selling debut single Get Stupid to great acclaim. He became a judge on the Sky 1 talent show, Got to Dance, and was unmasked as Robin in the semi-finals of last year’s series of the Masked Singer UK. (He went on to appear as a panellist on the Masked Singer Live tour across the UK.)

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

He is currently starring in Footloose, a sizzling stage musical version of the hit film, which starred Kevin Bacon.

It’s the story of a Chicago teenager (Bacon) who comes to live in a small town where dancing and drinking have been banned by the local minister (Darren Day) and it is packed with classic 80s hits such as Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and, of course, the unforgettable title track. Aston plays Willard, the young boy Ren teaches to dance.

“I know from touring with JLS that the further north you go, the louder it gets,” smiles Aston. “So I’m really looking forward to Glasgow.

“This is a great role to play – Willard is pretty shy and reserved at first, but he really goes on a ‘journey’ and by the end he is much more confident.”

Anyone who watched Aston’s sparkling performances with professional partner Janette Manrara on Strictly Come Dancing in 2017 – he was voted out in week seven in a shock elimination, having been one of the frontrunners for the title – will understand why it was a stretch for him to play someone who could not dance.

“One of the first notes I got from the director was – can you dance a little bit worse?” grins Aston. “I was too on the beat. It was a nice compliment but I’m also, like, come on, do the job properly..it’s a weird thing to try and do, dance badly. But it was fun and I liked the challenge.”

As well as making his Footloose debut, Aston is also planning his wedding to partner Sarah and juggling life as a busy dad. (The couple have two sons, Grayson, four, and two-year-Macaulay.)

“The boys really love their music,” he says. “They are much more into dance and singing and performing than I ever was at that age. They’re really natural, too. It’s pretty scary.”

Recently, Aston joined the cast of CBBC's comedy drama, Almost Never, about a boy band trying to make it against the odds.

“It was great to do that, being on that incredible set with so many brilliant actors definitely gave me the chance to sharpen my acting tools and it was a lot of fun,” he says. “I’m very blessed to be able to do so many different things.”

Not bad for a Plan B, he agrees.

“For sure,” he grins. “I’m lucky to be able to call this work.”

Footloose: The Musical is at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow from Monday, August 1 until Saturday, August 6.