Man of the moment: Alexander Hanson is set to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair

The little known actor will play Stephen Ward, the society osteopath at the heart of the Profumo affair. It's strange becoming a star at 52, he tells Louise Jury

Alexander Hanson is used to flying under the radar. He is an Olivier-nominated actor and singer who was in the original cast of We Will Rock You, saved the day by stepping in to The Sound of Music last-minute and wowed Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Yet he is scarcely a household name.

Instead, it is his wife who everyone recognises. Samantha Bond, with whom he has two grown-up children, has always been the more famous half of the couple, as Miss Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan's James Bond and now part of the Downton Abbey set as Lady Rosamund.

If the contrast dents his ego just occasionally, he's too grounded to be bugged and comparative anonymity suits him. "I quite like being under the radar," he says.

"There are times when I think, if I were a bit more famous, life could be easier in terms of work because producers want bums on seats and they're going to get bums on seats if they get a name, if you have had that series on telly."

But it amuses him that his evident talent throws theatre bosses a googly. "I quite enjoy the producer's dilemma: 'We should really get so and so– but sadly he can't sing.'" And he has seen enough of fame close-up to identify the dangers. "Once you become famous, you can't become unfamous," he says, adding: "You can become a failure."

Yet he is now preparing to step out of the shadows big-time as the star of Stephen Ward, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster about the society osteopath/alleged pimp at the heart of the Sixties Profumo scandal.

Hanson was playing Pontius Pilate on the last arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar when Lloyd Webber invited him to work on his planned new show with lyricist Don Black and Christopher Hampton, who has written the book. "I was completely blindsided. I was flattered and thrilled and excited."

He admires Lloyd Webber. "He's done exceptionally well and the Brits don't like that much. He's brilliant at writing commercial music." Almost without thinking, he quotes a line from Noël Coward's Private Lives – "The strange potency of cheap music" – and then quickly makes clear that isn't meant to be rude, explaining: "The way it gets under the skin annoys some people."

But he admits he tried to play things "exceptionally cool" over the invitation, not least because involvement in the development of a musical certainly does not mean an actor gets to star in the end result. "They pick your brains and then get Hugh Jackman or John Barrowman or Michael Ball – who are all fantastic," he says. "It wasn't a given." But it was this time. With Stephen Ward, Lloyd Webber has admitted wanting to write a show with an older man, not young women, at its heart. And as the title makes clear, it makes Ward "the motor of the piece".

Hanson's research for the role revealed Ward was an osteopath so brilliant his osteopathy manual is still in use. But he is remembered as the man who introduced Tory minister John Profumo to showgirl Christine Keeler. When Profumo lied about their affair, the politician was forced from office in a chain of events that eventually brought down Harold Macmillan's government too.

Charged with living off immoral earnings and – in Lloyd Webber's view – scapegoated by the establishment for the embarrassment caused, Ward took an overdose of pills and was in a coma when found guilty. Three days later he died.

Hanson is trying to find the characteristics they share to play him. Watching the actor – all smiles and openness and twinkly eyes, despite the spartan surroundings of a downstairs theatre dressing room – I suggest charm seems the most obvious. Perhaps, too, a youthful man's enjoyment of young company.

"He always had a bevy of young girls and he loved young girls, though not necessarily to have sex with," Hanson agrees. "He just loved having them around. He loved the chaos of them." And of course, pretty young girls proved part of Ward's ticket to success in high society where he mingled with aristocrats, film stars and power-brokers – until the scandal hit.

Hanson says it's "lovely" to be sharing the stage with Charlotte Spencer, who plays Keeler, and Charlotte Blackledge, who is making her professional stage debut as Rice-Davies, though admits it is strange that the young cast are the same age as his 22-year-old daughter, Molly. "There's that confusing thing about being a lustful old goat and being quite paternal – thinking they need looking after," he laughs.

And curiously the show draws on childhood memories for him by recreating Murray's nightclub, the Soho joint where Keeler and Rice-Davies were working when they met Ward.

Hanson was born in Oslo – he spoke Norwegian for the first few years of his life – to a half-French, half-Norwegian mother, Ellen, who had divorced his English father very early in their relationship. She remarried a Nottingham businessman, George Akins, who was a bookmaker and ran amusement arcades, casinos and the most famous nightclub in the city, the Parkside Club. "I remember sitting in the club watching the go-go dancers," Hanson says.

His early taste of showbusiness was through his stepfather's friendship with the acclaimed actor John Neville who ran the Nottingham Playhouse and who brought stars – even including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – to the Parkside. So clubs seem very familiar. "I said to [director] Richard Eyre, I know that world," Hanson says.

Yet on leaving school, the young Hanson was prepared for a career in hotels and catering and spent a year at the Ritz in Paris as a trainee before deciding to follow his heart – and the influence of his gay Norwegian theatre-designer uncle, William Jensen, who always encouraged him when he did impressions. He got into drama school, the Guildhall, at the second attempt. "I thought, 'This probably won't work out. I can always go back to the catering.' But a job would come through just at the right time."

And he has shared his life in showbusiness with Samantha Bond whom he first saw when she was starring in Christopher Hampton's play Les Liaisons Dangereuses. "I thought she was all right," he smiles. By the time they were an item, she was playing Beatrice to the hotshot Kenneth Branagh's Benedick on stage in Much Ado About Nothing in 1988.

"And when I first moved to her flat, the phone was ringing the whole time, people wanting the talent of Sam. It was quite a lesson living with the missus to start with. It was all about her. But I fancied her rotten and I loved her."

Their two children, Molly and Tom, have long been the focus of their lives. "We needed to work but if we could do good work, that would be a bonus," he says. But now Molly is studying drama at Bristol University and Tom's at Rada, both following in their parents' footsteps, he and "Sam" are empty-nesters and a different kind of world awaits – a new potential blockbuster in the West End.

"The great thing about this game is I'm 52 and I've just got the lead in the West End. That's kind of cool," he says. And with a rare flash of ego, he adds: "It's a real thrill, a little bit of finally being first choice."

'Stephen Ward', Aldwych Theatre, London WC2 (0844 847 1712) in preview; opens 19 December

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor