IT'S been more than six years since Ray Quinn, then just 18 years old, came second in The X Factor final to Leona Lewis. But unlike many of those who've been through the Simon Cowell school of fame, Ray has been working solidly and been in great demand ever since.
Although he never made it as a recording artist, he has made the world of musical theatre his own and has been going from hit show to hit show for the past several years.
Go! catches up with Ray as he travels between theatres on the national tour of Jim Cartwright's hit musical The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. He plays Billy, a shy electrician’s assistant’, alongside Beverley Callard as Mari and newcomer Jess Robinson in the challenging role of Little Voice.
Much has changed over the last couple of years for the cheeky Liverpudlian. He's only 24 but he's now married with a young son.
You've been a busy man lately
"Yeah. I did a tour of Little Voice last year and then I did pantomime over Christmas and now I've gone back into Little Voice for another 20 weeks. So I'm crazy busy. And I've got married and had a baby last year. It's all happening!"
How are you finding having a young baby and touring?
"Do you know what? My wife is fantastic. She's so good with it all, she's very patient. It's not easy and it is hard work but you've got to do what you've got to do. He's happy so long as he's with his mum and dad. It's great to have them with me – it's a real blessing that my missus is in the same industry as me, so she's very understanding."
So this is the second tour of Little Voice for you?
"Yeah, we did 16 weeks last year and that was all it was supposed to be. But because of the popularity of it, we got the call to put it on again this year for 20 weeks."
Tell us a bit about your character
"I play Billy. He's a young, happy-go-lucky kind of guy but he's very shy – although he's very determined. I wouldn't say he was nasty but he very much fights for what he believes in. He helps Little Voice to come out of her shell."
The play came before the film (a hit in 1998, starring Jane Horrocks, Julie Walters and Michael Caine) but the film is far better known. How do the two versions differ?
"I think the stage version's better! Jim Cartwright, who wrote the play, for the first time ever is directing it. So it's his baby and it's really nice to see his side of it.
"It differs in that the audience is a lot more involved when you're watching it in a play. The action is actually taking part in front of you. You have to become completely engaged with it. You're in the show.
"Plus Jim Cartwright, a genius director, has added a new beginning as you walk into the theatre. The audience will walk into a 1970s Working Men's Bingo Hall in Wigan. You have characters in among the audience handing out bingo tickets from the moment you come in.
"So you can't help but get involved in it; you get to play bingo in the interval! It's a very atmospheric show."And it's obviously been going down well with audiences.
"It really has. We've had nothing but fantastic reviews and Beverley Callard is absolutely superb. All credit to her as a person as she's been through a rough time recently,(she had well-publicised money and health problems, leading to her exit from Coronation Street) but also as an actress – she's just sensational."
We hear Jess Robinson is a newcomer to the stage
"She's very much up-and-coming. She's had a lot of experience but I think this is her first major job as a leading lady. She does a fantastic job of Little Voice and it isn't easy. She's a very outgoing girl in real life but she play Little Voice as painfully shy.
"And the voices she does – the divas she imitates – she is incredible. When I heard her rehearsing at first I thought it was a CD. I thought they were cheating and it was an actual recording of the original artist."
That's quite a specific talent. Not many people could pull off Little Voice's famous imitations of Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland.
"Absolutely. She told me she came across it by accident. When she was a kid she used to take the mick out of her mum and dad, really well. They suggested other famous people for her to try out and she's got really good at it. When she heard about the audition she thought she'd give it a go and managed to get the job."
Is musical theatre it for you now or is there any more music to come from you?
"Well actually I've just had a rehearsal for an ice-skating show I'm involved in too. (Ray also won a series of Dancing On Ice in 2009.) It's called Celebrities On Ice and it's on the 27th of January in Peterborough."
Did you keep up your ice dancing then after the competition?
"No! I haven't done any ice-skating for two years. And it was the first and only rehearsal the other day and then I'm in the show on the 27th.
"Also I'm writing my own stuff at the moment, and co-producing with a friend of mine. So who knows what's around the corner? In this game you never know. You just keep optimistic and see what happens.
"I've been lucky enough to have had solid work for the last seven years and I've had about four weeks off each year, so I'm happy."
How do you feel about The X Factor now?
"It feels like a long time ago now. I still watch it but it's so different now. When I was on it you just auditioned in a room in front of Simon Cowell, Sharon and Louis. Now you stand in an arena in front of 30,000 people.
"In a room with those three people was bad enough for me, without thousands of people booing you before you've even started."
And you were famous for your love of swing music. Is it still your passion?
"Very much so, yeah. Swing music has influenced my life and they're the songs that inspired me when I was young to do this sort of thing for a living. This is all I know and I'll do it till the day I die."
Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells. Monday February 4 to Saturday February 9. Performances at 7.30pm nightly and 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets from £22.50 from 01892 530613 or www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk
By Caroline Read, Kent & Sussex Courier