The Business of Show Business: In Conversation with Layton Williams

Bursting onto the scene in true theatrical style, Layton Williams has graced both our stage and screen and at just 23 is celebrating ten years in show business. Creating his own empire as a highly successful actor, dancer, businessman and LGBT icon, he has captured all of our hearts with his immense passion and fearless ambition.

Falling in love with performing at the age of 13, Layton made his stage debut in the iconic role of Billy Elliot in the West End. “Having 1500 people on their feet applauding, feeling the love and feeling the vibe, I remember thinking that this is what I’m going to do,” he said. Being in the business for a decade, Layton has graced the stage and screen in popular sitcoms Beautiful People and Bad Education, and productions such as Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, RENT and Hairspray.

BBC’s Beautiful People showcased young Layton as the all-singing-all-dancing expressive young kid that dreamed to be a star. “Beautiful People was a moment for me and it really helped me get out the closet in the easiest way possible,” he said. “I was at work being the biggest queen, dancing and singing it out, dressing up, and it was celebrated en masse.” Beautiful People had somewhat of a cult following and Layton still finds himself being recognised for his part in the show to this day.

“It’s funny, I was a massive geek and this was a similar concept in Beautiful People as in the show we’d constantly break out into song,” he said. “The other day, I kid you not, I was at the Evening Standard Awards and met Amber Riley. Obviously being an actor you meet people all the time and you can’t be a fangirl, but when you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it.

As I was building up my pride to go over to her she comes up to me and screams ‘ahhhhhh’ and I was turning around to see who she was screaming at until I realised it was me, and screamed right back. She was like, ‘bitch I love you’ because she recognised me from the show. We had such a major fangirl vibing moment, so basically me and Amber Riley are besties and I am waiting for that album to drop.”

“I don’t understand how people still recognise me as being this little kid but it clearly touched people’s hearts,” Layton said. Beautiful People shined a light on the people up north who aspired to move to London because that is where ‘all the beautiful people were.’ This became Layton’s real life, as he was constantly traveling between the bright lights of London with his emerging career and his hometown up north.

“I went back home to Manchester after I kickstarted this amazing career and I had to go back and try and fit in. It wasn’t cute, people were always trying to get at me and bring me down, so I headed straight back to London,” he said.

Layton constantly uses his voice and his platform to project goodness into the world. His approach to life has proved to be inspirational for many young people growing up. “Growing up, I didn’t really have any specific role models, it was more the gay people in London I was working with,” he said. “When you’re from a small town, you can feel so alone, but progressively there is becoming so much more representation on TV and in the media.”

This was projected in his iconic performance as Angel is the 10th anniversary tour of RENT. The musical tells the tale of struggling young adults in New York under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Layton describes the role of the young drag queen who dies of AIDS as a ‘career defining moment’. Angel’s carefree attitude mirrors Layton’s, and they show the world how to truly live life and not be afraid. “It almost feels as if it was written for me. I loved the transformation of getting into drag, I loved the two characters that Angel brought when you saw her as both a boy and a girl. I felt so lucky to be reimagining Angel for a new generation. It was ours and it was new.”

“To die of AIDS eight times a week is exhausting and emotional, but to go on that journey, it isn’t all about the legs or backflips. I took the audience on a journey and they fell in love with Angel,” he said. “To see a character that is so full of joy deteriorate like that, it is sad but it was a pleasure to play and important to get that message across so hopefully I did it justice.”

Layton is a huge supporter of Stonewall and has made it his new year’s resolution to take part in more of their role model visits. “If you can go into a school and make someone feel more confident, you don’t know how much that can mean to someone who feels so alone,” he said. “I have always been a supporter of them and just going to schools and talking about homophobic language and how these words can affect people. I want to do as much as possible, there is something about doing something from the heart, it doesn’t have to be about money, it doesn’t need a price tag on it, but it’s for you and for somebody else and I just want to give back and use my voice in a positive way.”

Seen as an icon in the LGBT community, Layton added: “With the whole fame thing, I don’t really think about it. But when you put yourself in a little boy’s shoes, and they turn their TV on and see me prancing around being out, fabulous, outrageous and unapologetic about everything, that can be such an armour for a kid.”

Despite currently being on a six-week break from Hairspray, it doesn’t stop for Layton. He has created a business Pros From The Shows where he has a catalogue of theatre professionals that do workshops for aspiring performers. “It is expensive to live in London, and it’s hard to keep up and pay your bills. I want to build an empire for myself, so if one job finishes I am auditioning for my next, I still have something to keep me going,” he said. “I sit at home and run my businesses as a bad bitch.” Layton beams with pride about his business, he adds: “People are out there inspiring kids under my umbrella, it is really inspiring to know that we can do that.”

Layton’s fun, vibrant energy is infectious, but his head is screwed on, and he is wise about himself and the industry. “Working as a performer I always try and be a sponge, taking everything in,” he said. “Every job I am constantly learning. Whether there are five or five thousand in the audience, you have to perform full- out. You get on stage, you do you, and you give it all you’ve got, there is nothing worse than going into things half-heartedly.”

Although it appears as if he has conquered it all, Layton’s determination is empowering, and when asking what he might do next he replied: “I love to perform, I love to teach and I love to rock the looks, so maybe fashion is something I’d like to give a go in the future.”

Layton Williams currently stars as Seaweed in the Hairspray 2018 UK Tour. Tickets and further info can be found right here.

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Photo Credit: Michael Shelford