Interview: John Barrowman, actor and singer

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IT'S a muggy summer's afternoon - but it looks like his recent stint on Desperate Housewives has rubbed off on John Barrowman. As he strides purposefully into a suite of a London boutique hotel - running late after a meeting at the BBC - his clean-cut look is very Wisteria Lane; a preppy crease-free shirt tucked into crisp chinos, immaculate deck shoes and not a flick of gelled-hair out of place.

There's a bead of perspiration on his forehead which he dabs away, but otherwise Barrowman gives off the air of being box fresh and good-to-go. Clearly a man confident in his own skin (there's more than a hint of the Ken-doll about his striking good looks) his forthright and opinionated manner makes a diverting change from bland celebrities who often become mealy-mouthed when in interview mode.

"Have I ever been the shy retiring type?" he ponders. "Never. Not since the day I was born," he replies, triumphantly. "When I came out of my mother the doctor had to slap me to get me to shut up. At school the teachers let me get away with murder because I was able to talk my way out of anything."

It's at the mention of his much-publicised turn on Desperate Housewives that Barrowman's eyes truly sparkle with excitement. Cast by Torchwood fan Marc Cherry, the show's creator and executive producer, he enjoyed a six-episode stint as Patrick Logan, the evil ex-boyfriend of newcomer neighbour Angie Bolen (Drea De Matteo).

"The first day I set foot on Wisteria Lane I remembered when I was that little boy who'd moved from Glasgow at nine years old and was taken on a vacation to Universal Studios in California. I was driven around what would become Wisteria Lane, which was then the road where they filmed The Munsters and various Doris Day movies, all the same houses are still there. And so for me as an adult to stand on that street knowing that I was there as a boy, dreaming that one day I would be involved in this business, well that was a really weird sensation.

"The ladies were all very nice but I got along mostly with Eva Longoria - maybe it's because she has a good ethnic background so she's got the same saucy sense of humour as I do. My humour and my work ethic definitely come from my Scottish side, and I have to say the sense of humour doesn't really translate when I'm in America. But Eva got me," says Barrowman, 43, who has also been in talks about a potential guest appearance in teen comedy-drama, Glee."I said I'd love to be involved in the show in the future and it turned out the casting guy's wife was a huge fan of mine. But when I have those meetings I don't come away expecting anything. If they call and want me to be involved then I'll be glad, but I'm not sat here panicking because they haven't. I've got other things to occupy my mind, my plate is pretty full.

"The big difference for me with Desperate Housewives was that I was the guest star whereas I'm used to having the weight of the show on my shoulders. So it was nice to kind of sit back for a change and let them be the ones to worry about that. It was all very exciting though and whereas some actors say they can't bear to watch themselves on TV, I'm the opposite. I love watching myself. When I saw it in America with my friends, we had cocktails and vodka tonics and they all applauded when I walked on screen..."

BBC Scotland's HQ in Pacific Quay may be a long way from Wisteria Lane, but it's where Barrowman is currently based filming the second series of BBC1's Tonight's the Night - a fun-for-all-the-family wish-fulfilment show: think Jim'll Fix It with a few sparkly show tunes thrown in for good measure. It's one of a number of high-profile shows (including The Weakest Link, Imagine and Eggheads) coming to Scotland as part of the BBC's commitment to production outside of London.

"To take this show up there and to create a lot of work for people in Glasgow, well it's a really cool thing to be able to do. Have you seen the facilities at BBC Scotland? They are state-of-the-art, they really are. I'd already filmed a TV show there before so when they gave us the option of where we wanted to go, Scotland was definitely a good choice.

"Whenever I'm in Glasgow I go and stand outside the front of the house I grew up in, which is in Mount Vernon. This time I met the little girl who lives in the house with her family now and she said: 'I have your old bedroom'. It was up for sale a little while back and if I could've afforded it I would've bought it. Maybe if it comes up for sale again I'll get it another time.

"When I went back to do my concert tour last year I recorded the DVD in Glasgow and I actually kind of lost it at the end because I got really emotional. As a Scotsman there's something special about going back to your roots."

He'll be Glasgow-bound for a second time at Christmas when he leads the cast of an all-singing all-dancing new 3D production of Aladdin at the SECC. There aren't many performers who can segue from Eva Longoria to The Krankies (his panto co-stars) but Barrowman is proud of his all-round-entertainer status.

"I'm really passionate about pantomime because it is often the first introduction for a child to theatre and if that child has a great experience at a pantomime they will continue to come year after year. If anyone turns their nose up at me doing it, well they can go and stuff themselves basically. I'm in the entertainment business and it's my job to entertain people whether it be panto, TV, film or music."

From an early age he was showing his performer potential, trilling into a baking-spoon pretend microphone on the counter of his mother's record shop.

"I was actually about four or five. After school I'd get on the bus and I would stop by my gran's dry-cleaning store in Shettleston and she'd give me some money for sweets and then I'd walk from there to the record store. Inside, I'd step up on the counter and start singing all the top-ten hits."

When he was nine years old the Barrowman clan were relocated by Caterpillar Inc from Glasgow to Aurora, Illinois, but it wasn't until he was back in London in 1989 while studying Shakespeare at university, that he attended an open audition and won a starring role opposite Elaine Paige, in Cole Porter's Anything Goes. Twenty one years later his West End and Broadway successes include Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Chicago and La Cage Aux Folles: "Eight shows a week is gruelling in a musical and TV actors haven't a clue how easy they have it until they try these things out for themselves."

After all those years treading the boards it was his role in Doctor Who as sexually ambiguous hero Captain Jack that made him a household name and led to Torchwood, his own spin-off series which returns for a fourth run later this year, written especially for him by executive producer Russell T Davies.

"It did bite me in the ass a little bit when Doctor Who first exploded and people would ask what I had done before this. I'd have to put my hand on my forehead and think: 'Just be gentle', because it was fair enough - a lot of people hadn't seen the stuff I'd done in the theatre."

Home these days is on the Welsh coast where he lives with his partner Scott, an architect: "It's in a lovely quiet cul-de-sac and my back garden goes down onto the beach." They met when a mutual friend brought Scott to see him in a play at the Chichester Theatre: "During the first seven minutes of the show, I was stark naked, so he could see the goods before he bought as it were. The moment he came into the dressing room and we were introduced, I knew he was the one." Barrowman smiles wistfully and then confesses he was surprised by the interest in his love life when primetime TV fame came calling.

"I knew since I was eight years old that I was different. I didn't know what it was then. But at the moment when I saw a magazine and saw a man and a woman together and I looked at the man and I felt the tingle, I knew exactly what it was.

"Everybody in the theatre industry had known I was gay for years. Then I remember doing an interview once and mentioning that I was gay and the interviewer was really surprised and said: 'But you've never mentioned it before'.And I said: 'Did I really have to? For goodness sake, I'm in my thirties, I live with another man and have done for years, I have two well-groomed English cocker spaniels and I do musical theatre. How blatant do you need me to spell it out for you?' "

Barrowman also reached the final audition stages for the part of Will in Will & Grace only to be told he was too straight. So what's his take on the recent furore in the US over a Newsweek article that suggested gay actors struggle to play straight?

"I think it is an absolutely ridiculous statement because most of the characters I have played are straight characters. And I find what he's saying ironic because there are lots of people in Hollywood who are actually gay and they're playing the role of a heterosexual in the public eye every day and getting away with it," he says, shak ing his head and reaching for his glass of iced-water.

The sometime reality show judge and TV presenter pleads guilty to being a "brazen workaholic" and admits the laid-back approach doesn't come naturally:

"My other half always says I'm a nightmare when I have too much time on my hands, because I don't know what to do with myself and get antsy. I find it very hard when I go on holiday, even sitting by the pool I find very difficult, because I can only manage so much of it before I have to do some kind of physical activity. But we went to the Caribbean recently and for once I found it easier to relax and Scott looked at me at one point and went: 'Are you okay?' I was like: 'What?' And he said: 'You're not saying anything - you are totally freaking me out!' He'd never heard me be so quiet - and to be honest, I don't think I had either!"

Thanks to St James's Hotel and Club, Park Place, Mayfair for hosting The Scotsman's John Barrowman interview and shoot. This elegant luxury London townhouse hotel is located in a quiet cul-de-sac, near the shops and restaurants of Jermyn Street, and the West End's nightlife. Tel: 0207 316 1600, www.stjamesclubandhotel.co.uk From 215 per room per night