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Livin' the country life; Ian 'H' Watkins will be on familiar ground when he stars in new line-dancing musical Rhinestone Mondays in Cardiff this week, as he tells Dave Owens.

Byline: Dave Owens

WHEN producers of a new musical were looking for a camp performer with an ability to line dance, there was only one person to turn to.

Welsh singer and actor Ian 'H' Watkins ticked all the boxes.

The man from Steps is one of the stars of Rhinestone Mondays - a feelgood comedy set in the cut-throat world of line dancing clubs.

The musical sees Ian playing the character of Duncan, who he describes as "a Shania Twain wannabee".

"He's a little bit deluded and very camp, which as you can imagine is a bit of a stretch for me to play," he chirps, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

It's a world the former Steps star is more than used to, thanks to his mum - who ran a line dancing club in Ian's home village of Cwm Parc in the Rhondda.

"My mother was a line dancing teacher," he reveals. "It was around the time we did 5, 6, 7, 8 which was a Steps single that featured line dancing in the video, and my mum helped choreograph it. It was the big craze in the village.

"I also remember the first Children in Need performance we did which was a line dance-a-thon.

"There was some record that was broken via line dancing that you can imagine I'm very proud of."

The show, which opens at the New Theatre tonight, is fuelled by a classic country soundtrack.

"We've got Rhinestone Cowboy, Crazy, Stand By Your Man, all those kind of country and western classics," he enthuses, with all the chirpy bonhomie we've come to expect from the performer.

"I'll be flying my Tammy Wynette flag. She was cool, especially when she teamed up with KLF for the song Justified And Ancient. I remember that when I was growing up."

He's at pains to point out, however, that the over-riding musical theme in his Valleys home during his childhood wasn't country music but heavy metal.

"My dad loved stuff like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden," he laughs. "You can imagine how pleased he was when Steps got together!" Ian stars in Rhinestone Mondays, which has been touring the country since August, with Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders), singer and actress Lyn Paul, as well as his former Steps' colleague Faye Tozer - someone he has been seeing a lot of lately since news broke that the famed pop group had reformed.

"Me and Faye have remained friends since our original Steps days," he says. "It will be the first time Faye and I have been on stage together since 2001."

As for Steps, he is very much in touch with the rest of the band - Lee, Lisa and Claire - due to the pop outfit being reunited recently for the TV show Steps Reunion on Sky Living. It followed the band as they attempted to put their acrimonious split behind them and decide if they wanted to work on new material.

The singer, who has carved a successful West End career since Steps split, is now confident the band could experience the same huge success that saw them score hit after hit in the late '90s.

"There hasn't been anything like us for a long time, but pop is still out there," says Ian.

"Nobody really realises it's been 10 years since we split up, which is good, because it means people haven't forgotten us and our music hasn't dated. "There's definitely a place for pop, it's just a question of whether we can fit into the jigsaw. I wouldn't want to force it on anyone, and it's up to the public to make that decision," he continues.

"That's where a lot of bands fail I think, when they expect people to adore them again. If there's demand, I'd consider it."

Ian reckons that given the all-pervading doom and gloom of the global economic crisis, Steps' perma-grinned brand of happy, smiley pop is needed more than ever.

"Times have changed, but we are in a recession and Steps' music was very light-hearted and fun, so there could be a place for that in today's society.

"What else is interesting is that there aren't any boy-girl pop groups out there at the moment, so there's definitely a gap."

* Rhinestone Mondays runs at the New Theatre, Cardiff, from tonight until Saturday. Tickets priced pounds 8.50-pounds 24.50 are available from the box office on 029 2087 8889 or via www.newtheatrecardiff.

co.uk CLICK ON Watch a preview of Rhinestone Mondays WalesOnline.co.uk /rhinestone

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Rhinestone Mondays cast: Sophie (Lyn Paul), Annie (Faye Tozer), Duncan (Ian ''H'' Watkins), Brian (Shaun Williamson)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 4, 2011
Words:771
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