TO some, it may seem like only yesterday when Darren Day leapt into the limelight as the lead in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But to others – and this includes the man himself – that time is long, long gone. In 20 years his life has seen its fair share of changes, and Darren is the first to admit his ship has been far from plain sailing.
Although talent got him to the top in the first place, he has been as much in the press for his off-stage life as for his theatre and screen work.
Now 45, the Essex-born actor has rediscovered that hard-work ethic that landed him leads in a string of West End roles such as Joseph, Grease and Godspell, and is taking on roles that test his versatility.
In his latest musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the all-singing all-dancing Day makes way for a more sedate character – a contest judge with confidence issues.
"It's a musical, but I don't even sing in it," says an enthusiastic Darren. "I play vice-principal Panch, who had a complete meltdown five years previously.
"It's a great show and everyone's really excited about it, but the reason I took it on is because it's a fantastic role for comedy. I'm a massive fan of comedy and always have been."
Not many readers may know this, but Darren's grandfather was a warm-up act for George Formby and a good friend of comedian Dickie Henderson. Darren spent a lot of time with the latter as a child, and the comedy rubbed off.
"I always wanted to be involved with comedy and was actually a stand-up before acting," says Darren, "but over the years it's the thing I've played the least. So it's great to get this opportunity."
One of Darren's most noticeable aspects is a down-to-earth quality which is more akin to a builder than someone who prances around in tights.
And this of course is something he is aware of – and unashamed of.
"I recently filled out a questionnaire which asked, 'How stagey are you – number one being the lowest and Elaine Paige being the highest?' I am well down the scale. Really I'm just a bloke from Essex, I don't have that thespian background. I just auditioned for parts and got them."
From one angle, it could be argued that this non-thespian background gave Darren a fearlessness which made him excel.
From another, however, he was perhaps unready for the overnight fame which beat down his door after Joseph. He was, after all, not only an actor but young, carefree and trying to have fun.
"I was never a person who wanted to be famous," says Darren. "I wanted to be an actor, and fame came with it. For the first few years the headlines were about the work I did, but then more and more they were about my life off stage. That wasn't easy for me.
"Things just happened so quickly – I'd love to go back in time, not to change things but just to savour the moments more."
Darren's experience on the fame rollercoaster is not unique. But age, and the support of his family and actress wife Stephanie Dooley, have given him a more grounded approach.
He now absorbs those moments – the roles he plays and his life in general.
"At the risk of the cliché police arresting me," says Darren, philosophically, "we are what we are because of what happened before. I have no regrets. I'm back to how I was as a 24-year-old where I'm trying out different roles and enjoying them.
"I've been doing so much lately, and that's what I need."
Yet Darren is not only enjoying his performances but receiving accolades for them too, including a nomination for Best Actor at the Off West End Awards for his part in musical The Last Session.
Spelling Bee, which won Tony Awards in America and is now ready for a British audience, sees Darren star alongside X Factor contestant Niki Evans and "as talented a bunch as (he's) ever seen before".
"The show is set in America so I had to work on my accent, but it's a great show. It's funny, but there's some really emotional stories in there. I give my own spin on Panch, who I imagine had alcohol problems. But he's a very dry, witty character."
Like Panch – and most of us – Darren Day has had problems in his time. But when it comes to acting he feels truly at peace, and needs little encouragement.
As for the accolades, he needs little more than the opinion of a certain little girl in his life.
"My seven-year-old daughter Maddy told me recently that I was her hero. Apart from paying the bills, that's all I need. I'm lucky to be working as prolifically as I am. Life is good, and I feel good too."
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is at The Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple on Friday October 11, 7.45pm. Tickets: £16 (full), £14 (concession), £12 (NDT supporter), £10 (under 25). Box office: 01271 324242, www.northdevontheatres.org.uk.