Jaymi Hemsley - we chat fame, coming out and campaigning for LGBTQ rights with the Union J star
Feature
Posted on 6 Dec 2018

Jaymi flies into Birmingham this Christmas to play Peter Pan at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We caught up with the Union J star to talk about fame, coming out and campaigning for LGBTQ rights...

This is your second outing as Peter Pan. What attracts you to playing the eternally young character?
I think that’s it. Being eternally young, trying to cling on to something, trying to cling on to your youth. Plus, I get to fly, which is great, but that harness really is uncomfortable!


Do you share any traits with Peter Pan?
Yes, I think I do. I can be a bit stubborn at times. I want to do well,  I’m really determined and I do like to help others, but I sometimes throw my toys out of the pram, if you know what I mean. I have this pride thing, I let my feelings get hurt and I do sometimes overreact, just like he does.


Can we expect any competition on the vocal front between yourself and Jimmy Osmond, who’s playing Captain Hook?
Are you joking! He’s Jimmy Osmond and I’d be a fool to try and compete. I’m super-excited to be performing alongside him because he’s a legend. I wasn’t about at the height of Osmond-mania, but I’ve grown up with that music as my mother loves them. When I met Jimmy at the pre-launch, he was just the nicest guy. I’m super-excited to create a relationship with him.


As well as Peter Pan, you’ve also had a stint playing Aladdin - two very good and wholesome characters. Do you ever fancy crossing over to the dark side - and if so, who would you choose to play?
As much as I like playing Peter Pan and Aladdin, I think I’d actually prefer to play a darker role because it would be so different from the real me. Sometimes you really struggle with parts that are quite close to who you are because you can’t find the line between what’s you and what’s your character. I like all Disney films, and in particular characters like Maleficent and Ursula. You never know, one day I might throw my hand in and play the wicked queen. I would definitely like to play a baddie one day.


How old were you when you decided you wanted to make a profession out of performing?
I did my first professional panto when I was eight years old, and I’ve been on stage since then. I’ve never really known anything else. I was so determined that it was going to happen for me, it was more a matter of when. I never set my sights on any other profession, so I had to really focus on this.


Which artist or band did you most listen to when growing up?
I was obsessed with Whitney. I was this chubby little gay kid bumbling his way through life trying to fit in. I had this huge ballad-like voice and I loved listening to Whitney and Celine because they were artists who my mum listened to. That’s kind of how I trained my voice; singing those big, big songs. When I was 11, I stood in front of the school assembly and belted out My Heart Will Go On. I think that was pretty courageous for someone my age.


Who’s your favourite artist at the moment?
I love Ariana. She’s a superb pop star - mixing a bit of camp with a bit of lightheartedness, and she has a great vocal range. I also really love Dua Lipa.


It’s been six years since your time on The X Factor. What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned since then?
Not to get too wrapped up in what you’re doing. We were very lucky to come from the show and walk into a record deal, but you have to be careful not to get invincibility syndrome. When everything’s going right for you, it’s easy to forget that things can, and often do, go wrong. There are going to be hard times. When those hard times happened for us, they hit really hard. That’s why you see a lot of celebrities having breakdowns and mental health issues, turning to drink and drugs, because you can have massive highs and then equally big lows. I think you have to take every day as it comes and not have an expectation about tomorrow.


Would you say that’s one of the biggest downfalls of fame?
Yes, I would say it probably is. We’re all human and it’s natural to have lows - days when you wake up and can’t be bothered, your personal life has gone wrong or you think your career is slipping away. I’ve always felt a sense of guilt, because I’m very privileged to do what I do. I’m very lucky to have made a career out of this, and to be doing what I love, so when you do have a bad day, you kind of feel guilty or ungrateful. I think that’s the biggest price of fame - you feel guilty about showing emotion because you worry someone’s going to think you’re being a bit of an idiot.


Ratings for The X Factor continue to decline. Do you think the format of the show, and similar shows, has had its day?
I wouldn’t say it’s had its day, but it might need a rejig. It’s down to how accessible things are. I don’t think the buzz around X Factor has necessary gone, but I think people are watching it more on YouTube. Maybe the show does need a revamp, but you can’t deny the level of talent it puts out.


Let’s talk Celebrity MasterChef. How was that experience?
It was without a shadow of a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was asked to do it the year before, but I said no because I didn’t cook and everyone in my family was laughing at me and saying there was no way I could do it. Also, my diary didn’t match up. When I got asked again, I said yes because I felt I needed something a little bit new and I wanted to learn. When you’re doing the same job every day, you’re not necessarily learning anymore. I wanted to learn a new craft, and I was prepared to rise to the challenge. I was excited, but it was all very stressful and I had lots of sleepless nights. My house is really minimalistic, I don’t like clutter, but I suddenly acquired about a million cookbooks and had pots and pans everywhere. It was like Delia Smith had exploded in my kitchen. I loved it, but I was glad when I could put all my stuff back in the cupboard!


Are there any other reality shows you might fancy doing?
I’m open to anything, and I love learning new skills and meeting new people. I think Strictly or Dancing On Ice would be great fun because you’d be learning a completely new skill - that was the most rewarding thing about doing MasterChef. I would’ve loved to have done something like Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity... but you just sit around and are being voted on your personality, which can be quite a daunting experience.


What single piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out in the industry?
Work your arse off; just work hard. This job is not what it seems. It’s not all happy days. It’s a lot of long hours - great because you’re doing what you love, but you have to work hard and be prepared mentally and physically. You can’t have the lifestyle that comes with it without putting in the hard graft. If you’re a singer or an artist, then you have to make sure you’re practising, sleeping, eating well and being the best you can be because there is always going to be someone who is better than you. You have to develop a thick skin quite early on. It’s not about being better than other people, it’s about doing the best you can do.

 
You were recently nominated in the Famous Male awards. Do you think such surveys feed the nation’s obsession with looks?
I don’t know. I’m more happy with this nomination because of what it stands for. It’s difficult, because I’ve had a bit of a rough time on occasion regarding appearance, like when I was overweight a couple of years back. I did get papped and had a horrible story written about me, saying that I’d let myself go. Obviously that’s not nice, but it gave me a kick up the bum to look at my life. I wasn’t eating healthily and I wasn’t the best I could be. Fitness is key, and I think the way you present yourself is important. You should always try to be the healthiest you can be and look after yourself. We need to do that in a way that projects a positive body image for all, but often it’s just the guys who are completely ripped or those who have ridiculous bodies and are so handsome who get covered. I can totally understand where the problem is, but as long as there’s a broad spectrum of nominees, then those awards provide a platform for all. I wasn’t overly confident a few years back, being overweight, but coming second last year gave me a massive boost.


Can you tell us a bit about your experience of coming out when you were younger?
I was quite lucky, as I didn’t necessarily have to come out. I was so sure of who I was from a very young age. We hear so many horror stories about people coming out, so you do have to champion that there are families, friends and loved ones who will cherish you for who you are and give you the support that you need. I think many people are scared because they only hear about coming-out horrors. We should let young LGBTQ+ people know that it can be okay, and that it will be okay.


As a campaigner for LGBTQ rights, which single issue do you feel most passionate about?
For me, it’s Trans. That’s my biggest passion at the moment because one of my closest friends, Jenna, is a trans woman. I have the utmost admiration and respect for those members of our community. I think as a community we do turn our backs on them. I do think there’s a lot of Trans shaming within the LGBT community by gay guys and lesbians, who tend to forget the struggle they themselves had to go through. As a community we’ve had to fight for years to get equality, and it’s the brothers and sisters of our Trans community who are facing that battle now. I think we really have to champion them as a community, and give them the love and support they need. I have to admit that I didn’t necessarily understand an awful lot about Trans until I met Jenna and her friends, but it’s been a massive eye-opener, and I think we all have to help them fight for those rights.


As someone in the public eye, how can you have a positive influence on changing perceptions?
For the last six years, as much as I’ve campaigned, I feel I haven’t used my platform and my voice enough, but I will endeavour to do more next year. I suppose being in a group has meant that I’ve had to take the other boys’ feelings into consideration, as all of my actions over the last six years have reflected on other people. Not that they don’t support me or anything like that, but my actions have had an effect on other people, and I wouldn’t like my path to be detrimental to somebody else. If I’d got into a heated debate and said a wrong thing, I wouldn’t have wanted that to reflect badly on my fellow band members. Now I’m in a position where, to some degree, I have a platform and can go out there and fight for our rights. Yes, I feel that I haven’t necessarily done enough over the past six years, so I’m looking forward to doing more.


Back to panto. How do you plan to spend your downtime while you’re in Birmingham?
Asleep. There’s no downtime in panto! I think we get one day off a week. Two of those days are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and I reckon they’re going to be a write-off. But I don’t care, because I love my job.


What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?
I don’t know because I haven’t had Christmas for the last three years. I’ve kind of forgotten what it’s all about because of working so much. I guess it’s just spending time with family and friends when I can. But as I don’t have a normal schedule, I really struggle to find time to spend with them, given their normal nine-to-five schedules. When I get home at around midnight, I’m raring to go and they’re all asleep!


You mentioned earlier that you did your first panto at the age of eight. What was that experience like?
There were a couple of reasons it was amazing. Firstly, it was the first time I was on a professional stage. Secondly, it was when I realised I was gay. There was a guy in the juvenile chorus who was 14 or 15 and who was openly gay. I just remember looking up to him and thinking, “Oh my God, that’s what I am!” That’s when I developed my first crush and realised that ‘showbusiness’ was where I fitted in - not only because I like to perform but also because it’s a place where gay people are accepted. This is a place where everyone’s welcome.


What’s your long-term goal as a performer?
Just to do as much as I can, and add as many strings to my bow as possible. I love every aspect of my career, and so to just try and do this for the rest of my life would be the best thing.


Who would you most like to collaborate with - apart from Jimmy Osmond, of course!?
That’s a really good question, I would love to sing with Leona Lewis. She’s the reason I watched The X Factor. I remember watching her when I was 16 and she was the turning point of the show. She was the first global superstar to come out of the series. So yes, I would love to sing with her.

Peter Pan shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 19 December to Sunday 27 January­. Tickets HERE

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