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Ashley Roberts Interview
From Pussycat Doll to Strictly Star, the UK based American tries her hands at Waitressing … in the hit musical Waitress!
First published in the July/August edition of The American magazine
Ashley, hello! What is it like making your West End debut? Is London your home now?
I’m very excited about it! Yeah, I live in London. I’ve lived here for 6 years off and on but this is definitely home right now.
Where are you from in the States?
I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. I lived there up until 2001 and then I moved to Los Angeles for several years. I still have a home in LA, but I rent it out because I’m over here more now!
Is it true you have Welsh ancestry?
That is a rumor, because I guess Roberts is a Welsh name! We did a DNA test, actually. There was English, Irish, Swedish, a bit of Spanish. But I don’t have actual clarification on the Welsh! [laughs].
Did you move to LA from Phoenix because you were getting into show business?
Yes, I was dancing, doing Hip-Hop and something we called Lyrical dance back then - now it’s called Contemporary - and Jazz. I loved it so much I wanted to try my luck at the entertainment industry. I had graduated High School when I was 18 in 2000 and I would have moved then but I didn’t have any money, so I worked three jobs. I was a hostess at a restaurant and I was an MC at bar mitzvahs and I worked at my dance studio, teaching dance class. I saved up 1000 dollars cash and I packed a U-Haul and I left! [laughs] It was quite courageous when I look back now, but I loved it. I ate Top Ramen everyday which was like 10 for one dollar and that was breakfast, lunch and dinner [laughs]. I just kept at it until things started happening.
That’s such an ‘American dream’ story! You had some showbiz in the family through your dad - he was a drummer?
My dad was a drummer and percussionist, and he had a recording studio. He dated Mama Cass’s sister and he was kinda in the scene. It’s funny, I was watching Rocketman and Elton goes to Mama Cass’ house. I was like Oh my God, that’s crazy, my dad would have been there at that time!
It sounds like Mama Cass had a kind of salon in those days, all the musicians used to gather and meet each other through her.
[laughs] Yeah, we could say it’s a ‘salon’... I don’t know what was actually going on there! But it was a great place for everybody to hang out.
So you got to LA and you were doing your dancing, but how did things progress from there?
My first ever job was a back-up dancer for Aaron Carter, Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys’ brother. I was like ‘Oh my God I’m getting paid to do this thing that I like to do, this is cool’. Then a really good friend of mine told me ‘There’s this thing called Pussycat Dolls and it’s cool, all these really awesome female dancers’ and he said I should audition. Robin Antin, who started the Dolls, was having an audition and I went in. I was 19, really young, and I started singing and dancing in the Dolls in 2002. It was just a fun thing, a cool little underground thing to do, it wasn’t the pop group that everybody is familiar with. Then in 2003 we were signed and things really went up another level. As you know we had ‘Don’t Cha’ and Busta Rhymes was on that, that was pretty awesome.
Things really took off really quickly?
Yeah, it was zero to a hundred once we signed our recording contract. Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records, was quite the man on top and he just made things happen. We had a good team behind us, a good machine.
For eight years you were at 100 miles per hour, non-stop. Did you enjoy it?
I did, I mean you get thrown into the mix and nobody can really prepare you for what that’s like, you have to go through your own experience. But luckily I had the girls with me. There were extreme highs, like being on stage and people knowing the words to your songs and winning MTV movie awards and being nominated for Grammys, but also the tough times of being on the road and not seeing your family and feeling like you’re missing out, sometimes, on life. Then again, we were getting paid to do what we all wanted to do. It was quite an adventure. It was definitely full of life lessons, fun times, tough times ...a little of everything. Life! [laughs]
You left in 2010. Why - and why then?
We were feeling tired. We were working really, really hard for eight years straight and it was just one of those things where we collectively knew it was coming to an end. It was just time to do something different, to re-check in with myself, figure out what makes ya happy and feel good. When you get into the business it’s easy to forget why you got in it in the first place, which is the passion for the arts and the creativity. I think it was time to go on a ‘me’ adventure.
What was the first thing you did after you left?
I sat down and I was like ‘What the hell just happened, that was a crazy whirlwind!‘ [laughs] Then I started seeking out life tools. I started doing yoga and learning meditation, I went and saw a guru, Amma and did some workshops with her, to touch base with myself and get reconnected with myself. And then I started doing stuff in the entertainment industry, but outside of the music industry. I started doing comedy, acting classes, and I did a few drama classes. Different stuff to exercise the creative, artistic muscle but in a different kind of way, which was fun.
You were a dancer and a professional singer, now you’re a songwriter and an actress - you’re doing comic acting on TV. Do you have a favorite?
Oh gosh, that’s a good question. I do still love dancing. Strictly was amazing because it reminded me how much I love to perform. [Ashley was runner up on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2018.] That’s why I’m doing the West End now, it’s really at the soul of me. I love to perform to music, and the acting side of it, but what’s so great is that this role I play in Waitress is at the comedy end, so I feel like I’m ticking a lot of boxes right now.
You could do that anywhere, why did you choose the UK?
The Brits just scooped me up. After I did the Jungle, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, in 2012, I felt so much love from the UK. I met some really great people and had so many opportunities here. I love LA, I love the lifestyle, but I prefer my community and my work over here in the UK.
What do you like most and least about living in Britain?
I’m going to do the stereotypical thing, but it’s the truth – the weather. [laughs] Like sometimes when it’s that solid grey for two weeks and you just think ‘Where is the sun?!’ That is definitely challenging, especially coming from Phoenix, Arizona where it’s sunny all the time. But I don’t know if I can specify one thing, it’s just everything London has gifted me. It’s given me a world I didn’t even know that I was going to have, or existed, or wanted. I look around and I’m like ‘this is awesome!’
You’ve done a lot of TV shows where you actually have to have particular skills and talents, and you were a judge on Dancing On Ice. You seem like the kind of person that throws yourself into things.
I do, yeah. If I sign up for something then I’m like ‘Alright let’s do this!’ I try to do my best. Even though I feel the fear, I like to be challenged, to muscle through and learn something and grow.
You certainly did that on Strictly where you got the highest score including five perfect tens?
Did I? [laughs]. Well even at a young age I wanted life to be an adventure and to experience many different things. In my 37 years of being on this planet, I’ve worn a lot of hats and had a lot of different kinds of experiences and I’m grateful for them.
You’re in Waitress in London’s West End for the summer. How did you get involved in the show?
David, the casting director had come to Strictly and asked if I’d ever want to do musical theater. Funnily enough I was already thinking about it, although it was never really on my radar growing up. But on Strictly, it was so cool to come up with all these different characters for each style of dance. I missed performing, and I thought it would be really cool to do a show where I got to act, sing and dance. David reached out to me about Waitress at the perfect time. I went to see it and it’s an amazing show, such a good script and Sara Bareilles did such a great job on the music. I went in and I sang, I acted, I did a few scenes and did the whole audition process.
You’re obviously enjoying it. Do you want to do more musicals? It seems to use a perfect blend of all your skills.
We’ll see how this goes, one step at a time. I’m enjoying the moment right now. We’ll see what happens next.
Finally, what’s the best thing about being Ashley Roberts?
Oh my goodness. Just the adventure of the life that I’ve already had and beginning now. It’s just constantly a really cool rollercoaster ride where you don’t know what’s going to be next and I dig that.
You can see Ashley on stage in musical Waitress at The Adelphi Theatre, The Strand, London WC2R 0NS. Go to waitressthemusical.co.uk for times and tickets.