Note: James’s final known performance as Billy in London was on January 7, 2006.
Debut: April 2, 2005 (London)
Total Performances as Billy: Unknown (Unreported data from the period he was Billy ) (Recorded data: 40.25 — includes 1 partial show credited @ .25)
Though James says he was into gymnastics (in fact winning several competitions), karate and football (soccer) before his love for the stage began to take over, “I have always said since I was young – well, since I was 11 or 12 – I want to go up the West End.” But unlike the boy he was to play in Billy Elliot the Musical, James said that his parents (dad was a steelworker and mum a hair dresser) have always been supportive.
If he was to fulfill his dream, he knew he would need to dance. His mum found a dance teacher, Sharon Berry at the Sharon Berry School of Theatre Dance in Sheffield, who warned him: “You’ll be the only lad in the class.” But he didn’t mind that he said. “Working with lasses is good.” It was Berry who saw the Billy recruiting advertisement and encouraged James to audition.
He will never forget standing with his mum in the rain, with “loads of lads” waiting to be auditioned. He had to do a warm-up, gymnastics, and street dancing. As he relates the story “and then someone said, ‘Put on yer ballet shoes’ and I was like – oh my God – cos I’d never done ballet before. But another boy there was really good, so I copied him.” He also sang Never Had a Dream Come True at his tryout.
And then his dream did come true. He and his mother were rushing to catch a train back to Sheffield, but before they left, director Stephen Daldry told James: “It’s not a case of if we want to see you again, it is a case of when.”
After almost a year of further auditions and then training in London and at the newly established “Billy School” in Leeds, the three boys who would play Billy in the show were chosen from the nine finalists (from the over 3000 nationwide who had auditioned). Besides James, his fellow originating Billys were George Maguire and Liam Mower. In the days ahead, before the opening of the show in previews, the three spend countless hours together and became good friends.
Once he debuted on 2-Apr-2005, because he was 15, his days in the role were already numbered. Toward the end of the year, his voice had gotten noticeably lower and some muscle was beginning to show on his previously skinny frame. He left the show “officially” on 17-Sep-2005, but was called back on occasion to fill in after that. He did his last shows in the role in January of 2006.
James and George Maguire were interviewed on the British TV program Today With Des and Mel:
Credit: Video by ufopop2000
On 26-Feb-2006, James joined his fellow originating Billys George Maguire and Liam Mower to make Laurence Olivier Award history. The trio was the first ever to receive a joint Best Actor in a Musical award for productions in the West End. They also were the youngest to ever receive an Olivier Award.
On 12-May-2006, James and George (who had left the show in December, 2005) came back to join Liam (who was still doing the show) to take turns performing in the 1st anniversary show that evening.
Life After Billy
2006 – In July 2006 James played the title role of young blind Nicholas Saunderson in the new musical No Horizon in Penistone, Northern England and was well received for his performances. In September 2006, James won a place at the dance and drama school Millennium in London.
2007 – James starred in the short film King Ponce, a film about teenage masculinity and acceptance in a group. King Ponce debuted at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. James was also featured in an episode of Super Sweet 16 UK as a dance partner for the party.
Credit: Rob Speranza
2009 – In 2009, James started working with Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage as a Swing/Understudy for the role of Jordan at the Aldwych Theatre in London.
2011 – In 2011, James joined the touring company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the role of Issachar and was first cover for Joseph. He played Joseph on several occasions.
2012 – In 2012, James performed the role of Espresso in Starlight Express in Bochum, Germany.
2014 – From August 18-22, 2014, James was in the ensemble of Evita the Musical in Slovenia.
2015 – James joined the Gypsy Queens Band, a French pop band based in Nice, in 2015, performing at private parties, and later leaving the group that same year.
2017 – In 2017 James appeared as a one off ‘The 100’ Vocal Singing Judge in the new BBC One Talent Show All Together Now. On April 15, James had his first solo UK gig singing at the Albion Inn in Hemmingfield.
2018 – This was a busy year for James. In January, he starred as a performer playing John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever at One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives. Still early in 2018, James was filmed with Ecclesfield School children in Sheffield, UK for a Billy Elliot workshop for Look North. In June, James was part of the Billy Stunt Challenge, getting involved by being part of the video and signing the petition for more government support towards the arts. He also donated to the cause, Theatres Trust. From August 20– 24, at All Saints Parish Hall in Sheffield, James put on a Billy Elliot Summer Camp; teaching children at the workshop several Billy scenes to perform in one week’s time. On October 31, James taught a masterclass called Acting Through Choreography with multi award winning (and Billy Elliot choreographer/director) Lee Proud.
2019 – From September 27 to October 22, James toured with The Ballroom Boys with Strictly Theatre Co.
On November 2 James participated in West End and Friends, raising money for children with cancer. He played the piano, sang Electricity and closed the show with From Now On with the amazing choir. On December 12, 2019 James sang the Christmas Classics live at the Brocco Christmas Party, Brocco Sheffield UK.
2020 – In May, James taught Billy Elliot and Dirty Dancing Workshops at Sheffield Performing Arts via Zoom. James participated in a June promo of a Best of Boy Bands video. He also sang live at the Albion Inn in Hemmingfield in early July. James can be booked for a gig at [email protected]
Credit: Video by accordeonist3
For more information about James, visit: