SIMON Webbe doesn't recall going to a pantomime as a child. "I think I was too busy playing football. I was always outdoors," he says.

Now, treading the boards in Aladdin at the Alhambra, he sees firsthand the way youngsters are caught up in the wonder of panto. "They get totally into it, it's great to see that," says Simon. "Theatre should be part of any child's life, and panto is a great way of introducing it to them.

"To be part of that experience - a kid looking up, saying, 'That's what I want to do' - is a privilege. My inspiration was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Simon stars as Aladdin, opposite Alhambra panto stalwart Billy Pearce as Wishee Washee and Christopher Biggins as Widow Twankee. "It's my second panto, I'm learning a lot from these two. They're the masters," says Simon. "The hardest thing is comedy. It's up to us to get across what's on the page to the audience, and make them laugh. It's important that we tell the story, even if we mess up a bit along the way - which is what people expect in panto. Billy cracks me up.

"There's nothing else like panto. It's so British, that cheeky Carry On humour. It fascinates me."

Now a musical theatre star, who has appeared in the West End, and an accomplished solo artist, with a double platinum debut album to his name, Simon has come a long way since hitting the Noughties music scene with boy band Blue.

In 1999, teenagers Lee Ryan and Antony Costa auditioned for a boy band on ITV's This Morning. The band didn't take off but the pair remained friends and in 2001, as Lee's flatmate, Simon became the fourth member of a group Lee was forming with Antony and his mate, Duncan James.

Blue sold more than 10 million records internationally and over three million albums in the UK, with hits including All Rise, Fly By and One Love, and recorded with Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

Between 2005 and 2009 the band took a break, and Simon launched a solo career, releasing debut album Sanctuary and singles Lay Your Hands and No Worries. In 2011 Blue re-grouped, representing the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest.

"Going solo was hard to adjust to, I was used to being with the boys on stage, and to be honest I never really liked my voice," smiles Simon. "But when you're performing the muscle memory kicks in. It's nice to do the solo stuff, but Blue never split up and I enjoy spending time with the guys too. We support each other, I thought Lee did well on Strictly this year. It's harder for male contestants, especially in ballroom when they have to lead."

Simon was a hit on Strictly in 2014, reaching the final as the runner-up. More recently he's taken to the stage, in Stiles and Drewe's multi award-winning musical Three Little Pigs, and Sister Act, alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Sheila Hancock.

His third album, Smile, was inspired by his new wife, Ayshen. The couple got married this year, shattering the dreams of devoted Blue fans. "I'm very happy, it's been quite a year," says Simon. "I loved writing Smile. I grew up on Michael Jackson, I'm very soul and R&B, but I love that big orchestral sound.

"I enjoy the visual side of making music too. My daughter, Alanah, is my choreographer and we incorporate her moves into the videos."

This winter he's happy dancing on the Alhambra stage, inspiring youngsters and making 'em laugh.

  • Aladdin runs at the Alhambra until Sunday, January 20. For tickets call (01274) 432000.