The Journal

Swing and jazz singer Gary Williams has rubbed shoulders with royalty, is a regular entertainer at celebrity events and is rapidly becoming a well-known guest on BBC Radio 2. Emma Mathias finds out more about the Immingham-born man with Sinatra style and Rat Pack panache ...

Originally from Immingham, but nowadays residing in trendy Islington, Gary Williams continues to work hard to achieve the level of success he has enjoyed in recent years.

A late starter in the business, joining Grimsby's Stage One at the grand old age of 19 years, Gary immediately shone in shows such as Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma!, feeling that performing was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

And he was good at it, too.

Gary said: "Grimsby is still a very special place for me. When I was younger, I couldn't wait to get out, but now I feel a nice, warm feeling when I return to do shows.

"Some of the people who come to see me perform locally have been in the audience since my Stage One days. I am so grateful for that ongoing support; it is always really lovely to see them."

Gary had many happy years at Stage One, though he realised fairly early on that there could be money in this singing lark!

He said: "I started touring the Working Men's Clubs, found an agent and performed in some of the region's pubs. It was hard work and I was always driving home late, but I loved every minute of it."

Gary's big break was meeting Paul Gregory, a Hull restaurant owner, who asked him to sing at his venue. Paul found suitable jazz musicians and the group went on to wow the diners as they ate and drank.

Inspired and excited at Gary's talent, Paul hired the Hull City Hall and the BBC Big Band. Ordinarily, the band wouldn't have performed with an unknown singer, but Paul stipulated that the condition of hiring them was for Gary to sing at the event.

Gary said: "Two weeks later, BBC Pebble Mill called me and asked me to go on the programme, where I met broadcaster David Jacobs. He was a big supporter of my career and we toured the UK together, he as the narrator and I sang as Sinatra.

"Since then, I have performed with some of the best bands in the world, including the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Halle Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

"I have also performed at Ronnie Scott's club, in London, which is always a great experience."

And Gary is no stranger to celebrities, having met many household names over the years.

"I happened to sing at Gloria Hunniford's birthday party, years ago, and she asked me if I would come back to sing at an event in support of the Caron Keating Foundation (Caron, Gloria's daughter, died of cancer in 2004)," he said.

"I still sing at all of the family parties and even went on Gloria's show, where I met Burt Bacharach and Donny Osmond. It was a bit nerve-wracking singing next to Burt but it was a great experience!" Gary is also one of the few people in the UK who can boast a performance at an important Buckingham Palace event.

He told us: "It was a dinner to thank people who had supported the Prince's Trust. Famous faces included Michael Caine, Nancy Regan and Donald Trump!

"I was a bit nervous, but it was quite fabulous and the palace was amazing.

"Unfortunately, on the way in, I didn't get the memo that said I needed to go to the back door of the palace. I turned up at the front gate, you know, the one where all the tourists stand, near The Mall?

"Well, I went over to a guard and told him I was performing there. Fortunately, he let me in and was eventually led to a room that looked as though it needed a rope across to stop people going in!

"It was a room with a balcony, overlooking The Mall, just like the balcony The Queen waves from.

"It took me all of my strength not to open the doors and give a royal wave to the crowds outside. It was so difficult!"

Gary's recording career progressed over the years, with his first album cut at the famous Abbey Road studio, where the likes of The Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald recorded in years gone by.

And a career performing on the cruise ships has been quite lucrative for the swing and jazz star, one which Gary very much enjoys and continues to this day, when he has time to slot it into his very busy schedule.

Another big break for Gary was in 2004, when he bagged the part of Frank Sinatra in the West End Show 'The Rat Pack'. The show was a great success and another performance which confirmed Gary's Sinatra-like stage persona for the years to come.

And what of the future?

Gary said: "I feel as though I have achieved my ambitions as a singer and I am happy doing more of the same thing in the future. I am doing what I do best and I am still stimulated by it.

"I have podcasts which people can listen to, via my website, and I have been a guest on a few BBC Radio 2 shows in recent months, including Terry Wogan's show, hosted by Richard Madeley.

"I was also commissioned by Radio 2 to write and host The Art Of The Crooner, a show which explored the voices of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Matt Monro.

"I would love to have my own radio show; it has been an ambition of mine for years. I am guest presenting on Jazz FM soon and hope that this may lead to bigger things. I have some things in the pipeline but, at this stage, it's still a bit of a secret!"

As for his music, style and charisma, Gary is extremely well placed for the foreseeable future, as the country sees a massive resurgence in vintage clothing and music.

He finished: "I wasn't at all cool at school. I was the geeky kid who listened to weird music."

Now who's laughing?