Terry Ronald interview
Songwriter and novelist Terry Ronald talks about growing up gay in south-east London
Jonathan Harvey loved it. So did Kylie Minogue. Kathy Lette called it 'pithy, witty and wise'. 'Becoming Nancy' certainly has its fair share of celebrity fans. The tale of a teenage boy cast as Nancy in the school production of 'Oliver!' is a touching coming-of-age novel in which our hero, David, falls for the captain of the school football team. The story is set in south-east London in the late 1970s - where author Terry Ronald grew up.
How much of the book is fact and how much is fiction?
'The crux of the story is fact. Like David Starr, I was a bit too cocky, worked part-time in a social club, received abuse at school, and met a handsome boy during the school production of 'Oliver!' Also,
like David, I had an amazing teacher who helped me through a difficult time and showed me the analogies between the homophobia I was experiencing and the kind of racism that David's best friend, Frances Bassey, is fighting in the story. There's lots of truth in the plot - tweaked for dramatic effect, of course.'
Did you ever play Nancy?
'No! The school music department told me I couldn't sing. What a fucking liberty! I went on to be a singer and recording artist so it's funny looking back. No, I was a boring old stage manager in my school's 'Oliver!' I've been playing Nancy spectacularly ever since, though.'
And did you fall in love with the captain of the football team?
'The boy I fell in love with was certainly in the football team. I distinctly remember the shorts! Maxie, the lad in the book, is quite different to the real boy, however.'
The father in the book is pretty brutal. How did your family respond?
'My mum adored it, as did my aunt. They love the fact that the characters are so obviously based on our family, if not the actions. My Aunt Rose says she wants Jesse Wallace to play her in the movie! My dad hasn't read it yet, but I wouldn't describe Eddie Starr as brutal - just a bit of a bully.
He comes good in the end, just like my real father. Once I came out he accepted me reasonably quickly, so I guess I was one of the fortunate kids in that kind of situation back then. It's been tricky writing a story where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. I certainly don't want everyone thinking that my family behaved exactly like David's do. God forbid!'
You had quite a book launch. Dannii Minogue was there, and Dermot O'Leary…
'I've been a songwriter and producer for 20 years and I've been a close friend of Dannii and her family for virtually all of that time. I've written and produced a lot of songs for her over the years and worked with Kylie too. I met Dermot in Ibiza when I was Dannii's guest judge on “The X Factor” in 2007 and I spent the whole weekend making filthy suggestions to him, poor sod. He's a lovely bloke. As a new novelist, it's been fantastic having these people step up and support me.'
What's next for you?
'I've had great fun working with William Baker on “The Hurly Burly Show”, which has just finished a run at The Garrick. We're coming back in the autumn so there's whole new show to create with him. Plus I want to start a second book : a follow up to 'Becoming Nancy'. I'm also mentoring a fantastic young pop artist called DeeDee Loves Me and I've written and co-directed a cabaret show called 'Little Belter', which is on at Madame Jojo. What I'd really love is to mix it all together and write a musical some day. Christ knows when! Somebody asked me when I found time to sleep. I sleep loads.
I just get up early.'
Terry Ronald will be reading at Polari on May 23