Leighton panto star inspired by actress Kim Cattrall

Joe Ashman and Olivia Chan appear as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine in Dunstable's Grove Theatre pantomime
Joe Ashman and Olivia Chan appear as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine in Dunstable's Grove Theatre pantomime

For someone who had his mind set on playing for Manchester United, actor Joe Ashman isn’t doing too badly in his second choice of career.

Just 22, he’s already appeared at the London Palladium in two iconic musicals – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music – and has worked with Kim Cattrall and Joseph Fiennes.

And hot on the heels of his panto success last year – he was Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk – he’s starring as Aladdin in this year’s Christmas special at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre.

Joe says: “I was in the Grove’s first pantomime, Peter Pan, 10 years ago with Brian Blessed.

“I played one of the sons, John Darling. Brian was crazy - he’d shout to himself in the wings then go on stage with a big smile.

“Panto is so fun and we do up to three shows a day, which is pretty exhausting. But everyone’s in good spirits and no two shows are ever the same.

“We all try to make each other laugh, to keep us on our toes . . . but don’t tell the producer that!”

The former Edlesborough School student says he’s delighted to be back the the Grove: “It’s such a beautiful theatre and so close to where I live in central Leighton Buzzard. It’ll be good to come home and chill out with my pet rabbit Flopsie.”
He still has first night nerves, in spite of being professional since he was 10, and claims anyone who says otherwise is lying: “It’s a crucial part of performing. Obviously you settle into a rhythmn but it’s quite fun getting that feeling.”

Joe’s love affair with the theatre started at Stagecoach in Leighton, which was then run by his mother Wendy. He graduated from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts – where he was head boy – in 2012 and has been working ever since.

But the two people who really inspired him to tread the boards are Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke and Kim Cattrall, whose wisdom and passion were instrumental in his choice of career.

Catch him while you can – the talented young star is heading for Los Angeles and a future in film.