It’s going to be a cracker of a Christmas at Cadogan Hall on Saturday 19 December when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nick Davies, will be joined by two huge stars of TV and the West End stage: singers Anna-Jane Casey and Graham Bickley. They’ll be performing a festive concert of Christmas songs, duets and sing-alongs under the RPO Christmas tree as part of the Orchestra’s hugely popular Christmas Cracker concerts.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Graham says enthusiastically. “We’ll be singing a wonderful Christmas selection. Classics such as When a Child is Born and Mary’s Boy Child, moving into Winter Wonderland, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm and Let it Snow. I’ll be doing some fab duets with Anna-Jane, too, including Baby, It’s Cold Outside.
“The Orchestra get to play their own festive pieces, too, but the audience won’t just be sitting there – they’ll be having a good sing-along as well. It’ll be a Christmas evening to remember.”
Graham’s name may be familiar to you from Bread, the smash-hit TV comedy series in which he played Joey Boswell. However, opera lovers may also recognise his surname as being shared by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley.
“She’s my sister,” the singer tells me proudly, between rehearsals for five different concerts he’ll be giving over the festive period. “Singing’s the family business!”
Graham got the singing bug from his father, the Deputy Head of a primary school, who was also a passionate member of the local am-dram group, and leader of the church choir.
Even before his teens, Graham knew he wanted to be on the stage and, fortunately for us, his parents encouraged it. At the age of eighteen, he joined the Liverpool Theatre School. “It was a fantastic place,” he says. “I never finished the course, though; I was working in the theatre almost from the day I joined.”
Graham learned his trade doing the summer seasons and pantos before moving to London in 1981 and getting more work in the West End. In 1989, he got his big break in Carla Lane’s hit TV comedy, Bread. “It was a fantastic series and great fun to make,” he says.
Graham made a triumphant return to the West End stage in 1992, and has been busy ever since in productions ranging from Les Misérables to Guys and Dolls and On the Town. He’s performed with some of the world’s biggest orchestras and starred in gala concerts dedicated to musical greats as diverse as Nelson Riddle and Stephen Sondheim. In 2010, he even found time to tour the UK with Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag in the hit show Steppin’ Out.
Reflecting on those years, his proudest moment was, he says, being nominated for an Olivier for his role in Ragtime in 2003.
Today, Graham is busier than ever, and just like previous years, Christmas promises to be his busiest time. “Between Boxing Day and New Year, I’ll be doing musical theatre,” he says. “From when I was young and in my father’s choir to being a professional, Christmas has always been busy – but I love it.”
However, on one day only, his stage outfit will be hanging in the wardrobe. “Christmas Day is family day,” he says. “Everyone will be around: my sister’s family and my mother.”
Perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, they’ll be in the audience, too, at Cadogan Hall as Graham and Anna-Jane welcome in Christmas with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Written by John Evans
Graham Bickley performs in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christmas Cracker concerts on Saturday 19 December 2015 (3.00pm and 7.30pm) at Cadogan Hall, London.