Sunderland crooner, Shaun Foster Conley makes it big on TV's Benidorm
PUBLISHED: 18:28 07 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:09 20 February 2013
Hit TV comedy Benidorm's newest star is upcoming Wearside singer Shaun Foster Conley, playing himself. Michael Hamilton caught up with North East contingent
If ever a show defined the old adage about art imitating life then its Benidorm. And Sunderland singer Shaun Foster Conley should know - he has been a resident singer there for ten years before getting his big telly break.
Shaun, who features in four episodes of the new run, says: Benidorm is like a mini little England with all the Brits on holiday. Thats why the TV show is such a hit. It captures it exactly. Its a really popular show and the recognition just keeps getting better and better for me.
Its nice when people stop you in the street - that comes with the territory, but I havent changed. Im still the same person I used to be.
The 38-year-old father of two explains: Derren wrote me in to the show as myself. He had been to see me perform out there - I didnt know it at the time - and he fell in love with my voice, particularly an Al Martino song that I do called Here in My Heart.
He wrote a whole storyline around me when Madge thinks Im Tom Jones singing at Neptunes Bar.
But the death of Geoffrey Hutchings, 71, who played Madges husband and dour businessman Mel, threw the whole show into chaos last July - just as they were about to start filming. For Derren it meant rewriting almost the entire series on the hoof.
Shaun says: It was a massive shock to everyone. All the stars of the show were at his funeral. Geoff became a friend. He always had time for me being the new boy. I didnt realise what a respected actor he was until they played this montage of stuff from his career, at his funeral.
Shaun was also delighted to be on the same bill as Geordie acting stars Tim and Denise.
Ive met Tim on many occasions although I actually missed him on set when he played Lesley. Ive met Denise too. They seemed to know about me because of my singing and they were proud of the fact that Im from the North East too. They are great ambassadors for the region.
As well as striking up friendships with Sheila and Geoffrey, Shaun also became pals with Johnny Vegas - who played Geoff Maltby in the third series and ended up on a bizarre blind date with tranny Lesley.
I actually met Johnny years ago when he came out to Benidorm on holiday and I was playing the clubs. He was a bit wayward in those days. I had a few words with him about his behaviour and we became good friends, says Shaun.
Johnny says: Shaun has a fantastic voice. He will be very successful. Hes a big talent with a big voice.
In the show Shaun belts out hits from Tom Jones including Sex Bomb, and like the Welsh singing legend he admits he too has had knickers thrown at him on stage while doing his cabaret act out in the Spanish resort.
Its all a far cry from his early days as an apprentice serving his time as a plater at Austin and Pickersgill shipyard in the Eighties. He would sing in the tanks because he liked the deep echo it gave his voice.
I thought I was on my own but there were always welders behind me throwing hammers at me and telling me to shut me up, he recalls.
I never envisaged doing this for a living. I went to Red House Comprehensive and I wasnt really into singing at school. I did a bit of drama at school but I wasnt very good at it - I forgot my lines and made a mess of it.
I wanted to be a footballer. My dream was to play for Sunderland. I played for Sunderland schoolboys but I didnt make the grade to play professionally.
But music has always been in his blood. Dad Peter was lead singer with Sixties group The Apaches and he grew up listening to country and western music and Elvis.
Shaun who lives in Fence Houses, near Houghton-le-Spring with partner Angela and daughter Robyn,14, and son Fraser,10, says his great sadness is that his parents arent around to see his TV success.
Mum Kathleen died in 1999, aged 51, and dad Peter, two years ago, after suffering from kidney failure.
My dad was in hospital when I was filming and I flew back for a week. He put a brave face on it and lied to me about how serious it was because he knew I wouldnt have gone back if I had known the truth. He told the family not to tell me the worst.
I really miss him. He was my rock and a real character in the town. I have dedicated a lot to their memory and theyll be looking down on me up there proud of what Ive achieved.
The sun continues to shine on ITVs hit Spanish sitcom Benidorm. Award-winning creator and writer Derren Litten celebrates Brits abroad in this sun, sea and mobility scooters saga.
The intoxicating mix of loud characters, cleverly observed humour and brilliant storylines has already won it two National Television Awards with this series clocking up eight million regular viewers.
Tim Healy, who appeared in the third series in a cameo role as the loveable Geordie transvestite Lesley, is now a regular cast member, alongside popular perky pensioner Madge (Sheila Reid) with her daughter Janice (Siobhan Finneran) and son-in-law Mick (Steve Pemberton).
The legendary Middlesbrough Swingers Association couple Donald (Kenny Ireland) and Jacqueline (Janine Duvitski) are also back at the all-inclusive value-for-money resort.
Lesleys antics serving drinks on roller skates around the pool bar at the fictitious Solana Hotel and belting out Lady Gagas Poker Face in drag at the Neptunes bar nightspot have had fans - including Tims sons Matthew, 21, and Louis, 10 - in stitches.
And for this series Tims wife Denise Welch, muscled in on the action to secure a part as Scary Mary, a tattooed mini-skirted crime queen.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Tim, 59, said: Denise was reading the scripts with me and loved it so much Derren wrote her a part as well. Her character was originally going to be a bloke and Derren rewrote it for her. We had a lot of fun doing it together.
Were painting a real slice of life. If you spend any time out there you will see these characters on mobility scooters. And there are more transvestites in Benidorm than anywhere else in Europe.
There are lots of ways to play a transvestite. The thing about Lesley is everything about him is wrong apart from his heart. Hes a great bloke and a great dad - hes just dressed in womens clothes.
Ive tried to incorporate some of my heroes in Lesley. Theres the Tommy Cooper laugh in there and Ive drawn from Les Dawson.
Theres also a hint of Dick Emerys drag queen act in his bow-legged waddle.
For this series Lesley also has his teenage son Liam (Adam Gillen) in tow, who takes a shine to new girl Natalie (Kathryn Drysdale).
Tim says: I had so many laughs. Im dressed up in a wonderful costume and I look just like Lady Gaga, but with the body and the head of an old bloke.
I had a body double on the roller-skates for the first week until I cracked it. Theres a few out-takes where I totally lost control and went crashing into Steve (Pemberton) with a tray of drinks and it took us about half an hour to stop laughing. I could skate all right, it was the stopping that proved to be a problem.
Loose Women star Denise, 52, who also had a fantastic run in Dancing on Ice before finally being voted off in March, said: I loved being in Benidorm. Scary Mary is so different to anyone else Ive ever played.