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'He's Hitler with a blond quiff!' He's gone from X Factor wannabe to classical crossover star. Now, as he gets set to take to the Cardiff stage in We Will Rock You, Rhydian Robert talks to Nathan Bevan about playing the villain, Simon Cowell and his radical new musical direction.

Byline: Simon Cowell

RHYDIAN Roberts has a dilemma - toupe or nor toupe? The platinum blond belter from Senneybridge is about to star in the touring version of Queen and Ben Elton's smash West End musical We Will Rock You as the evil police chief Khashoggi, the follically flamboyant villain whose hairdo is much like the singer's own.

"He's this big white quiff going on, which is probably one of the main reasons they approached me to play him in the first place," laughs the classically-trained 28-year-old baritone.

And while that should cut down the amount of time spent in make-up each night, it still presents him with a quandary.

"I don't know, dude," smiles Roberts.

"That look needs a hell of a lot of blow drying and all that heat can spell bad news for the old thatch. So now they've offered me a hair-piece to wear and I'm just weighing up my options." Set in an Orwellian future some 300 years Roberts from now, We Will Rock You tells of a world where all music has become electronically homogenised, with live rock music played on real instruments outlawed.

Think Footloose meets 1984 - the planet being governed by the sinister, totalitarian Globalsoft Corporation for whom Khashoggi is the attack dog - arresting and eliminating any dissenters in his path.

"He's your classic bad guy, but he's got some wicked songs to sing too," says Roberts, a lifelong Queen fan who gets the chance to shine onstage with one of the late Freddie Mercury's most vocally demanding tunes, Seven Seas Of Rhye.

"Khashoggi can either be played quite large, a panto-type figure, or with an element of gravitas about him and Ben Elton, who flew over from Australia for the castings, knew exactly how he wanted me to do it.

"He's a funny bloke Ben, but he's dead serious when it comes to this show. As are Brian May and Roger Taylor, which is understandable as it's their baby up there.

"So I decided to play Khashoggi as a real character, very much like Hitler.

"He's calculating and manipulative, although the twist is he actually gets a bit of a thrill out of listening to loud music himself when no-one's looking. "He likes to rock out privately but just ends up looking really sad and un-hip in his futuristic sharp suit," adds Roberts, who admitted that the audition process for the role was even tougher than on The X Factor, the hit ITV1 reality show which beamed his idiosyncratic style into the nation's homes for the first time in 2007.

"I walked into the theatre in London and there were about 25 people on the panel just sitting there staring at me," he winces.

"The cast of the touring production, the management, even the members of Queen themselves, I'd never seen so many people at one of these things.

"I was in awe of Brian and Roger and desperately wanted to impress them - to be honest with you, I really enjoyed it."

What, no attack of nerves? Not even a twinge? "No, I'm a confident guy because I know exactly what I'm doing when it comes to performing, the same as when you get into a taxi and trust the driver knows what he's doing," he says.

"But, hey, I'm only human like everyone else and, of course, I get insecure about things going wrong.

"Just like the time me and Katherine Jenkins flew out to Crete to do a very highly-paid corporate function.

"Beautiful hotel, private do, security galore, lot of work gone into it, lot of preparation," he adds.

"But out I walked and nothing, not a sound. None of the equipment worked."

So what did you do? "I'd been booked for 25 minutes as the warm-up for Katherine so what could I do? I just went out and chatted to them, told a few jokes, answered the occasional question about Simon Cowell," he laughs.

Ok then, here's another - how come you walked away from the showbiz svengali's Syco record label last year? "I think I served my time with him and it just felt like the right to do," he says matter-of-factually.

"We talked, he saw my point of view and we're still in touch today. Basically, I wanted to be a priority when it came to my record label, and when you're on the same roster as someone like Susan Boyle who's sold 11 million records then you're not going to get that.

"So I signed to (small independent label) Conehead Records because they're lovely, enthusiastic people who are behind me and my new album 100 per cent."

Ah yes, the new album. I hear it's going to come as quite a surprise to fans of your previous output.

"It will, it's a New Wave pop record," Roberts reveals "I don't really see myself as a classical singer anymore and I got the idea for this after hearing an old cassette tape of my brother's which had bands on it like Blancmange, The Lover Speaks and White & Torch, which a lot of people might not remember.

"When I heard it and got really excited and thought, 'I could put my stamp on that'."

He hopes to emulate the recent '80s-raising chart success of artists like Hurts and La Roux.

"It's going to give me the chance to show off a bit more of the showman everyone got to see on The X Factor, and I think it's what I really needed to do. People will be shocked but I hope it won't lose me any fans," says Roberts.

"In terms of career moves it's a definite reinvention.

"But," he pauses, smiling.

"It's still me." ? We Will Rock You opens at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff tonight and runs until April 17. The box office number is 029 2063 6464 CLICK ON Hear Nathan''s interview with Rhydian in full at WalesOnline.co.uk /multimedia

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 18, 2011
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