From Wolverhampton to the West End – from ‘˜The Rat Pack‘ to Emmerdale’s ‘˜Woolpack’. ‘It’s been quite a journey!’ laughs Richard Shelton a twinkle in his blue eyes.
Born the son of a Wolverhampton self-made builder’s merchant, Richard’s early ambitions to act, sing and dance were quashed by an overbearing father – a real life Billy Elliot story.
A temporary spell in the hotels industry to placate his father turned into a 13 years career which saw Richard rise to the top and travel the world in style, met his idols including Ella Fitzgerald and became very friendly with movie star Sir John Mills. He often flew on Concorde and lunch in Paris and Madrid were a regular diary date. He also spent a 2-year stint in the Middle East where he negotiated the staff visit to Bahrain of US Vice President George Bush and packed in acting, hosting a radio chat show and reading the news on the radio and TV whilst out there.
But not forgetting his earlier ambitions Richard helped set up London’s Bridewell Theatre in Fleet Street, which was formerly a disused swimming pool, and acted in their first shows. An agent spotted him, took him on and a new career was born.
The new Brit Crooner is born…
After his first professional acting job, a UK tour of Agatha Christies ‘˜A Murder Is Announced‘ found himself unemployed for the first time in his life. It was a shock, especially having swapped the company Golf GTI for a bicycle. But after much perseverance and effort, roles started to come in and he got his West End break in ‘˜Scrooge the Musical‘ starring as Young Ebenezer Scrooge alongside Tony Newley who played Old Scrooge and who had been a crooner in his youth, another avenue Richard was keen to develop.
Richard kept persevering and appearances in plays, the UK’s top soap EastEnders, films and the TV commercials followed but again, Richard was aware there was something else on the cards for him. So he took a diversion and concentrated on developing a singing career as the new ‘˜Brit Crooner‘.
Not knowing anyone in the music business, he set about forming a band, recording a demo CD and getting gigs. ‘My previous career was actually enormously useful. I approached this with a logical mind and made a business plan, listing my objectives and strategies. I think of it as the drama school of life.’
Richard gets swinging
Significant successes followed with performances at London’s world famous jazz club Ronnie Scotts and The Jazz Café and live performances on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4 ‘˜Loose Ends‘. Richard’s first experience as a recording artist came when he made an album of 80′s classics in Jazz called ‘˜Retro Spectrum‘.
In the Autumn of 2003, Richard recreated his ‘˜Best Actor in a Leading Role’ nominated performance (Manchester Evening News) at the Whitehall Theatre in London’s West End as Frank Sinatra in the award winning play Rat Pack Confidential. National reviews include, ‘Shelton is quite simply phenomenal’ (BBC Nottingham), ‘Marvellously played by Richard Shelton, sings the hits with style and captures Sinatra’s domineering personality’ (Charles Spencer – Daily Telegraph), ‘A splendidly tough yet laid back performance’ (Benedict Nightingale, The Times) ‘Capture’s perfectly Sinatra’s string pulling menace’ (Michael Billington, The Guardian) ‘A stand-out performance’ (Alan Hulme, Manchester Evening News).
Richard’s first major film appearance was as the crooner in ‘˜I Capture the Castle’ where he met Pete Long. It was a fortuitous meeting and together they set about outlining ideas for an album of swing music with a twist. ‘We wanted to capture the essence of great swing sounds with a modern twist which is where the idea for including Top Cat came from. It’s a glorious sound delivered with fun’.
Serendipity lent a hand when Peter Swann contacted Richard to discuss opening his new jazz and swing clun ‘˜The Sands Venue’ in Gainsborough with a Rat Pack show. The meeting led to Peter and Richard discussing ideas for the album and capturing on the resurgence of popularity for big-band sounds.
The indisputable leader of the gang
In January 2005 Richard recorded his latest album TOP CAT in London’s premier studio, Abbey Road, with a 65-piece orchestra. The album comprises 6 original songs in the style of the great swing classics and 9 standards. ‘It was exhilarating recording my new album TOP CAT at Abbey Road studios’ says Richard. ‘I was particularly excited about hearing my five original songs for the first time with the orchestra because you realize how completely fresh and uncompromising they are. They work really well alongside the well known songs which have been given some new and beautiful treatments including the swinging ‘Top Cat‘ and ‘My Lean Baby‘ to the moody ‘Moon River‘ and bossa-nova ‘Bring Me Sunshine‘. Singing big-band swing and jazz-influenced work is as natural to me as breathing’.
In April 2005, Richard created the character Dr Adam Forsythe in the UK’s top Soap ‘˜Emmerdale‘ where he enjoyed playing a charming yet murderous character. ‘Joining the cast of Emmerdale was a real honour and I loved working alongside Lorraine Chase who became my wife.’
Read more about Richard’s role in Emmerdale.
Richard sang for VOGUE magazine in Beijing in October 2007 and is currently appearing as Harry Bright on the international tour of Mamma Mia!