My name is Noel Sullivan. If you regularly go to your local theatre then my name might be vaguely familiar. To everyone else my surname is better known as "from Hear'Say". Yes, I was the army-clad Welsh boy who loved to phone his mum, dancing at the back of the pretty girls at the turn of the Millennium. We were a mixed bag of talent thrown together in full view of an unsuspecting Saturday night prime time audience. Long before the days of phone votes and Cowell, we were the first made-for-TV band since The Monkees - oh, and S Slub 7.
Anyway. When the band inevitably imploded we all went our separate ways - ice skating, Corrie, the jungle, the voice etc to varying degrees of success. My fate was musical theatre. It was a genre I had always had a keen interest and had trained in as a teen. It has been an extremely difficult and competitive industry to make headway in but after fourteen years of slog, I seem to making some progress.
Currently I'm leading the UK premier tour cast of Rock of Ages. A cheesy, jukebox, rock-fest, comedy, set in the late 80s featuring all the classics from Foreigner to Bon Jovi. It's brilliant. They've been dancing in the aisles from Aberdeen to Brighton and this weekend as we wrap up the tour at the New Wimbledon Theatre, I have my eye on a different kind of rock. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
On 30 November me and a small troupe of actors (three to be precise) will fly to Africa to trek the highest freestanding mountain in the world. My partners in crime for this adventure are Daniel Fletcher and Lauren Samuels. Dan plays Denis Dupree in Rock of Ages. Originally from Australia, he has been with the show for a few years and prior to that extensively toured Europe as one of the infamous Blues Brothers. Lauren was a finalist on Over the Rainbow. She didn't win the part of Dorothy but walked straight off the telly and into her first West end role as Sandy in Grease, where we met. A few years later we were reunited in the Queen epic We Will Rock You, which Dan had also performed in Down Under. They're brilliant, funny people and we have a great time together. Having worked with them and seeing them maintain a level of endurance for eight shows a week year in, year out, makes me pretty confident that we have the tenacity needed for this bonkers challenge.
The idea for the trek was born from two sources. Charity and the need for adventure. When I was a kid my beautiful Mum lost two babies. In 1986 my brother, Dominic, died aged just six months old from cot death, or SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome) as it's now known, and my little sister, Alicia, died aged just nine days as a result of complications relating to her prematurity at birth.
As you can imagine this was a devastating time in my young mum's life and not just for her, for all of us. For years we've talked about them, referring to them as our angels and the pain of that loss has never really gone or faded. They are missed. I often imagine what it would be like to share the highs and lows of my life with them and find myself envious of friends who moan about silly little sibling rivalries. I have always wanted to find a way to honour their memory and this trek will do just that. I spoke to Mum and she said at the time, support, research and resources were limited for her so we discussed which charities would be most suitable. For Dominic, The Lullaby Trust (formally FSIDS) and for Alicia, Bliss. Both are lesser known charities that do wonderful work and research and support families and babies in time of immense struggle and heartache. Perfect.
The adventure part is something that has been simmering for a while. Theatre wise, I have been touring non stop for seven years, week to week in a different city. People assume it's a glamorous gig, the crowds, the ovations. The reality of commercial theatre is far from that. People say "Oooh, what hotel are you staying in?" "Where's the tour bus?" It's a show, and the disconnect from reality ends when the curtain comes down not just for the audience but also for the performer. Sorting your travel from city to city and accommodation for the standard £216 a week is quite the feat. We rely on theatre-friendly folk to provide us with "digs" and, as grateful as I am to be performing at this level, the relentless moving and not knowing where you'll be laying your head from week to week can take its toll.
It's time for a break, an adventure. Time to trek up a mountain and feel tiny and insignificant. Time to lay under the stars and watch the sun set and rise. The everyday beautiful things that we take for granted because we're eyes down, focused on career, money and the next big opportunity. Time to refresh the brain and get some fresh perspective.
We've been training. Hard. And already found ourselves in some sticky situations in the Brecon Beacons, the Peak District, the Cairngorms and Snowdonia. Every trip has been a massive learning experience. On our first hike, the three of us decided on a trip up Pen y Van, the tallest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park. We were in my home town of Cardiff on tour so it seemed like the perfect option.
Having been shopping for some rain macs and backpacks (there's a song there...), we set off on a clear sky day. As we reached the heads of the valleys it started clouding over and by the time we reached our starting point at Storey Arms, it was shitting it down. Not a light drizzle, torrential. Now, at this point, I should make you aware that the only thing we had waterproof wise were jackets. I was in jeans, Lauren, leggings and Dan in cargo pants. Idiots. About 10 mins into the walk we were like drowned rats with boots full of water and freezing. But with a stoic attitude we cracked on.
An hour or so in we found ourselves in the clouds, thunder clouds that were also hailing on us. If you're the type of person who reads weather well and respects the raw power of nature then you probably would have turned around, gone to the burger van in the lay-by, had a cuppa and gone home. Nope. Not us. On we marched. Lauren squealed as the hail lashed her legs, a tragically hilarious sound that still makes me chuckle when I think about it. Twice, she nearly got blown off the mountain as the wind caught her backpack cover threatening to turn her into one of those little army parachute toys I had growing up, so we closed the gap so we were all in arm's reach. When we got there, we took a video at the summit (we're documenting the whole thing) and Dan said to camera, "We've figured out we have no gear and no idea". He couldn't have summed it up better.
We travelled home to Cardiff in our wet pants and made a vow that we would never be so under prepared again. It's worked. It hasn't stopped us from getting into other such scrapes but most importantly didn't put us off the task at hand.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I look forward to sharing some more of our stories with you. If you want to help us raise some cash then you can visit this link...