BBC Three Counties Theatre Correspondent
Joseph Millson is enjoying life in Berko
Actor Joseph Millson is a resident of Berkhamsted who's taken to life in a small country town like a duck to water since he moved there from London six years ago.
"What's not to love about Berkhamsted?
"We stuck our fingers on a map, equidistant between grandparents, when we wanted to leave London five or six years ago.
"We didn't really know much about it and one drive through that High Street and we were in love," he explained.
"We thought we'd never be able to afford a house, but we eventually found one and we've been as happy as Larry there."
You may have seen him as Dr Sam Morgan in TV's Peak Practice or in East Enders as Jason James, ex fiancé of Lynne Slater. Now he's landed the plum role of Raoul in Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to Phantom of the Opera.
The action takes place in early twentieth century America, ten years after the events at the Paris Opera that end the story of 'Phantom'. So we find out what happened to the key figures in the first story: the Phantom, the hideously disfigured musical genius who lived in an underground lair below Paris and secretly coached the young opera singer Christine so she could become a great star because he loved her, Christine herself and the man to whom the Phantom loses Christine, her handsome young lover Raoul.
Raoul is now her husband and the couple arrive in New York with their ten year old son, where the famous diva has been booked to star in a spectacular show on Coney Island by a mysterious masked impresario
We're in Millson's dressing room and I'm oohing and aahing over the splendid tailor-made frock coats and billowing white shirts, set off with hand made shoes - bespoke cream lace ups - and a panama hat, all lined up in the wardrobe!
Millson is well over six feet tall with a figure he takes care of by riding a folding bike to the Berko-Euston train and cycling to the theatre the other end. With his mop of brown curly hair you can see why he was cast as Lord Byron in The Romantics - and why Beatrice would have gone for his Benedick in the RSC production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in which he starred with Tamsin Greig. And of course he's dream casting for Raoul - although as he explains this is not a Raoul fans will recognise from Phantom.
"It's been a worry for me slightly that for huge Phantom fans that from the first arrival of Raoul in the show, he's such a different person. He's become so bitter.
"As well he might for the marriage is not going well, I think it's had a cancer in it from the start. It's always been haunted by the Phantom."
Joseph's real life wife is a singer too - though happily there the similarity with his role as Raoul ends!
Mrs Millson is singer and actress Caroline Fitzgerald. She makes a great contribution to local life by running the school choir at St Mary's Primary School, where the couple's two children are pupils.
So it was Caroline who had to put Joseph right as they sat in the Berkhamsted café called Berko's Kitchen. "I said to my missus, 'I wonder which one of them is called Berko serving in this café ?' She went 'you idiot - that's Berkhamsted - it's Berko!'" At least she stopped short of calling him a berk!
In truth he's pretty hot on the diverse attractions of Berko.
"It's got the gorgeous eleventh century castle that was the Black Prince's Castle" he says knowledgeably. "Even before I lived there, I used to be intrigued by Berkhamsted. Even if the train went straight through, I'd see on one side of the train the canal and on the other side the castle. I used to think what a lovely place. It's open to the public to wander round. I fantasise about putting a Shakespeare play there. I don't think it's celebrated enough". I ask which Shakespearian hero he fancies playing - Henry V perhaps? "Yes, Henry V" he agrees laughing. I've got a very vain ambition to tick off all of them before I die. The dressing room phone rings "That's probably Spielberg calling me now!"
Recently I spoke to another contented resident of Berko, actor Adrian Scarborough, who plays Pete in the hit TV show Gavin and Stacey. He and Joseph are not just neighbours but great mates.
"We have a two-man ale-drinking team. We get together whenever we can and sup ale, or go the Rex (Berko's wonderful art deco cinema) occasionally".
I ask him which is his local. "The Rising Sun's lovely, on the canal" he says appreciatively "and The Lamb is probably where I drink most". I ask if, like Adrian, he has an allotment. "I haven't because I've got a garden with enough space for our veg - we grow a lot of veg.
Joseph stars as Raul in Love Never Dies
In fact Adrian and Joseph have not seen as much as they would like of one another lately as both are actors who are always in demand. Adrian is not quite a neighbour in London's Theatreland, playing a key role in Alan Bennett's latest hit The Habit of Art at the National Theatre, in a production that will be screened both nationwide and worldwide.
Joseph's feet hardly touch the ground. "Last summer I was doing an opera, a horror film and a sitcom all at once" he reveals.
"I was in west Wales, Uxbridge and Glyndebourne. I had to get a man and a car on the cheap to drive me in between!" The horror film has a working title Devil's Bridge and Joseph reckons it's turned out as a bit of a comedy "It's all about three Essex lads being murdered by a mad Welshman" he continues. "The sitcom is by the people who made Green Wing. It's called Campus. It's set in a red brick university and my character's a chain-smoking lech!" The pilot for the sitcom was so successful that a series of Campus comes to Channel Four later this year. He's also starring in Reunited, a new comedy series by Cold Feet writer Mike Pullen. And before he opened in Love Never Dies, Joseph starred in Michael Wynne's play, The Priory at the Royal Court Theatre, which was named Best New Comedy in the Olivier Awards.
But at the end of his busy working day there's nothing he likes better than arriving back in Berko. "I shall be just a little poetic for once" he says dreamily. "When I get home (after the theatre) the stars are out and I remember why I moved out of London I'd rather be there than anywhere else."
You can see Berkhamsted's Joseph Millson as Raoul in Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End, where it's booking until 23 October. And look out for Joseph on the small screen too later in the year when he stars in two new comedy series, Reunited and Campus.
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