Cymru Culture

Celebrity/Society Features

Interview with Stifyn Parri

(December 01, 2011)

Interview with Stifyn Parri 

In what he describes as a perfect childhood, Stifyn Parri grew up in the 1960s and 70s in Rhosllannerchrugog, known locally as Rhos. A former coal mining community near Wrexham of nearly 10,000 people, Rhosllannerchrugog is often described as the biggest village in Wales. Over 40% of the villagers are Welsh speakers, and Stifyn was brought up bilingually.

Stifyn left Rhos in 1982 for the bright lights of London. Nearly 30 years later, he is back in Rhos again as the Executive Producer and presenter of the S4C series Seren Nadolig Rhos (the villagers are the stars of the series), which is on our screens until its finale on Christmas Day. Stifyn will be producing a pantomime staring Rhos' villagers, to play at Y Stiwt; built as Plas Mwynwyr in 1926 and paid for, despite their poor wages, through donations by the village's miners. Following years of decline, Plas Mwynwyr, the miner's institute, closed in 1977. The council nearly demolished the building, but following local fundraising it was saved and it re-opened in October 1999. All proceeds from Seren Nadolig Rhos' ticket sales will go back into funds for Y Stiwt, allowing them to develop a brand new community and rehearsal room.

Stifyn spoke to us about … well, absolutely loads of things. From life in London, to coming back home (wherever that is) and all points in between. As for Seren Nadolig Rhos, you can watch it yourself each week – at 8:25pm, on S4C, Tuesdays …

 

Stifyn Parri

 

CC ... The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in the City of London, must have been quite a culture shock. Did you suffer with much hiraeth, or didn't you have the time?

SP ... It was a huge culture shock to me. I went from being a big fish in my sea in Rhos, to being a tadpole in the ocean. I had very little money and had to live so far outside London, I would get up very early in the morning, not returning until late at night, so I hardly ever saw the light of day, which made me feel like I was a pit pony. I lived in London for twelve years in all. At first, I suffered terribly from hiraeth. I put a huge map of Wales on my wall. I remember looking at it one day and just bursting into tears.

 

CC ... The ground-breaking soap Brookside, in which you played Christopher Duncan (1986-1988), now seems almost a lifetime ago. What is its legacy, both culturally and personally?

SP ... It was certainly ground-breaking. It was the first show to open the door to people of different accents on primetime television instead of those with RP [BBC Received Pronunciation]. It was nice to hear Liverpudlian accents on TV, and I think it paved the way to allow people like Huw Edwards to read the news and Alex Jones to appear on The One Show. It also allowed Welsh actors the opportunity to work the other side of Offa's Dyke, if they wanted. Although at the time, I was accused of selling out and of letting down the Welsh speaking community. I worked on Brookside solidly for two years, during which time I made good friends. Its personal legacy is that they still are good friends.

 

CC ... Few actors are chosen to star in such an iconic production as Les Miserables. Looking back on that period, during which you played the role of Marius for two years at the Palace Theatre in the West End of London, was it as special at the time as it sounds now?

SP ... It was special. It was the best part to have in any musical in the West End at that time. And the most difficult role too. It was a personal ambition to play that role. Although it was lots of hard work … I think its memory is better than the reality of it at the time - having to go through eight shows each week, was really, really hard work.

 

CC ... Which of your other roles have you most enjoyed?

SP ... Presenting for Channel 4 and for S4C; playing Dylan Thomas in A Child's Christmas in Wales; and playing opposite Deborah Kerr in The Corn is Green at the Old Vic, London (1985) – Deborah Kerr called me her "little corn boy", even though I wasn't that little. I also enjoyed playing one of the leads in Metropolis (Piccadilly Theatre, London, 1989). I'd gone from Brookside, straight to Les Mis, then straight to Metropolis, which starred the amazing Brian Blessed. But my best role, the one I've most enjoyed, is as Creative Producer.

 

CC ... You've lived in several very different places, including Rhosllannerchrugog and London of course, but also Cardiff and Llanddeusant. Do you call any one place 'home', or is that rather a fluid concept?

SP ... Each one is home. I still refer to Rhos as home wherever I am. People who know me understand I will always have more than one home. I'm lucky enough to have my office in my three storey house in Cardiff, so I don't need to commute from home to work. And I try to stay at my barn in Llanddeusant at weekends, but really, my home is in the car. I live in my car as I travel from one home to another.

 

CC ... What led you to establish Mr Producer? Back in 2001, did you envisage it would expand to include so many different facets of the entertainment industry?

SP ... I'm told that at my first day of school, aged three, I asked the headmistress if I could organise a play! She said to my mother "if that boy doesn't become a producer I'll eat my hat". I had always thought she'd been wrong and that only acting was for me. But I noticed that the last ones to be involved in a production are the actors and thought I'd rather be making those calls than waiting for them. In 2000, a fortune teller said to me that I would start something I had been rehearsing for all my life; I started Mr Producer the following spring. I like to think of it as fate. Mr Producer has evolved into a company which includes creative events, public relations and a talent agency. It is the only company in Wales to do all three. In this job each role has elements of performing. And PR and creative events brings it all together.

 

CC ... As a creative events organiser, Mr Producer has been involved in some of Wales' best moments. Of which ones are you proudest?

SP ... I'm proudest of the Wales Millennium Centre opening weekend (26, 27 and 28 November 2004). It had so many different elements: a private dinner for 350 people - in a building that had never even had an egg boiled in it; honouring five people for services to Wales - a concert paying tribute to Shirley Bassey, Alun Hoddinott, Gwyneth Jones and Siân Phillips, and a posthumous award to Richard Burton; an outdoor firework display; a 10,000 strong community choir; and a royal gala opening. The whole thing took a year and a half to organise.

 

Stifyn Parri at HUGO BOSSHugo Boss opening, Cardiff with (clockwise from left) Rhodri Owen, Sarra Elgan, Stifyn Parri, Tim Rhys-Evans, Jamie Roberts and Bonnie Tyler

 

CC ... So many 'A list' celebrities were involved in the 'Welcome to Wales' Ryder Cup 2010 Concert, you must have been spoilt for choice. Guess it's not everyone who has the chance to organise an event that just about everyone wants to be involved in …

SP ... The key was it being such an important, world famous event. I was really excited by the challenge, taking control of how the main event panned out. It was my next best career highlight. The opening event for the 2010 Ryder Cup took over two years to organise. The Ryder Cup is one of the world's greatest sporting events and, for a few days in late September 2010, the world focussed on Wales. The 'Welcome to Wales' gala concert at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, featured some of the biggest names in Welsh music and entertainment, and had an audience of 13,000. Catherine Zeta Jones opened the concert, which was headlined by Shirley Bassey and Katherine Jenkins. Many other artists took part, including Tom Jones (via satelite and the big screen), Ioan Gruffudd, Only Men Aloud, the Lost Prophets and a 2,000 voice choir. We also hosted a pre-concert VIP dinner for 1,500 people. To many people the opening concert was the “highlight of the 2010 Ryder Cup”. It was great to be involved in one of Wales', one of the world's, most important gigs. And the exciting thing is to have earned the gravitas, having worked for so many years to gain that respect from the industry.  

I also enjoy organising shop openings: we've done the John Lewis and Hugo Boss openings in Cardiff, for example. And for S4C we've launched their birthdays and special events such as the launch of the children's service Cyw.

I'm also rather proud of our celebrity PR work for sports people and celebrities.

 

CC ... Tell us about SWS (Social, Welsh 'n' Sexy) - how it was born and what was its cause of death. [Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Ed.]

SP ... I started going to Welsh ex-pat evenings in London, which were just tedious, boring really – like the St David's Day dinner, where people turned up in their dinner suits, wearing their war medals and talked about how Wales used to be. They were full of people like myself, but they were living in the past, whereas I prefer the present. They had a tendency to romanticise Wales, seeing the chocolate box version: singing in the hillside; lamb stew; Welsh mams in aprons and stovepipe hats; coalminers; rugby; and male voice choirs. It didn't give Wales the contemporary appeal it should have. Where was the modern Wales I knew? The dynamic, energised, innovative Wales of business, ground breaking science and cutting edge design, with its culture; tradition mixed in with the contemporary. That was the Wales I wanted to connect with. Lots of people couldn't cope with some of the old style attitudes, and left Wales. So, I decided to provide the antidote. I invited 40 friends to a party at the Groucho Club. Every one of them turned up, and SWS was born. It was a lot of hwyl, meeting up with friends every month [members included Siân Lloyd, Siân Phillips, Catherine Zeta Jones, Ioan Gruffudd, Shan Cothi, Rhys Ifans, Bonnie Tyler, Ffion Hague, Cerys Matthews and the Manic Street Preachers]. It ran for 11 years, and we opened branches in New York, Spain, even Moscow. I also started SWSbiz in Wales. All my work on SWS was voluntary, and paid employment had to take priority, not leaving enough time to carry it on. So ... SWS hasn't died, it's just resting. I still have the database. Maybe one day I'll kick it back into action. Although I would be quite happy if someone enthusiastic and more social took it on …

 

CC ... How did you meet your partner, and how long have you been together?

 

SP ... We've been together for 10 years now. As with many other long-term partners, we met by fluke. I was meant to be at a fancy dress party in Cardiff with Siân Lloyd. I wasn't drinking for some reason and, as the evening wore on, Siân was threatening to make me sing for everyone. So I sneaked away and found my way to a bar. A group of friends in the bar were all smashed, except one who was not drinking either. So we started chatting. Funny, neither of us can remember which bar it was now.

 

Codi Canu-Ennillwyr 2010Stifyn Parri and Côr Rhos a’r Cylc, winning the S4C series Codi Canu 

 

CC ... Last year's S4C series Codi Canu revealed some of your hidden talents - leading your choir to competitive success. How proud were you!?

SP ... So proud I nearly burst. That talent was not only hidden from everyone else, it was hidden from me too. I do read music, of course, but I had never led a choir before. It was a real honour to go back to Rhos and work with so many old friends and family. It was quite a journey to the final and, in the end, we won it by miles. I had a ball. I was a 48 year old man conducting a choir full of old friends and family, watching them all look up at me for direction, and seeing my mother singing, looking at me as if butter wouldn't melt in my mouth. I was so lucky.

Later, at the after show party and high on adrenaline, I took a call telling me my burglar alarm had gone off. I ran across Cardiff in my suit holding my new Codi Canu award, half expecting to hit the burglar over the head with the gong. Turned out that my two dogs had set it off. Just as well, really.

 

CC ... How often do you have the chance to return to Rhosllannerchrugog, family and Y Stiwt?

SP ... Since Codi Canu, it's been about every 3 months. But I've been commuting weekly now, since Seren Rhos Nadolig. My mam comes to stay with us in Cardiff, or at the barn in Llanddeusant. It's really nice to get back, and nice to get away too, to travel all over the country. I try to spend every weekend at the barn.

 

Stifyn Parri Seren_Rhos_S4C

 

CC ... What are your plans once the current S4C series Seren Nadolig Rhos has finished?

SP ... It isn't over yet, the series carries on until Boxing Day, and I'll be working on the show's PR for a while. Over the next week I'll be recording two different programs for the new S4C light entertainment show Noson. We are recording two specials, on Saturday and Sunday with Caryl Parry Jones and Mark Jones. They will be shown on television next year. And I'm developing a series for television this summer.

I would like to thank everyone for giving us the opportunity, to allow us, to entertain in a positive way. I couldn't wish for anything better. Since I’m so passionate about what we do, I don’t see it as a job. It's like I've done this all my life. My father died at a young age ... both in terms of his age (he was 49) and mine – I was 15. In some ways I feel I gained as much as I lost. It gave me a clearer perspective of how to spend my life. It left me with my biggest fear - that I should not to waste my allotted time, but to enjoy it. I am 49 myself now, and I'm planning how to spend my life - during the years my father never had. I've always felt his early death has left with me no fear. So, I'm thoroughly enjoying my life at the moment; my job is my hobby and my passion. When it isn't, I'll give it up. But right now, I feel like I'm a child in a playpen. I've been blessed. I have a great life.

 

CC ... Stifyn Parri, thank you.

 

© 2011 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint - All rights reserved


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