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For someone who has starred in the West End as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and as the iconic Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, including the 25th anniversary spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall and at The Royal Variety Show, as well as creating the role of the Phantom in Love Never Dies, Ramin Karimloo doesn’t look like your average Olivier-nominated musical theatre superstar.

With an arm full of tattoos - everything from trees to angels to poetry - a trilby straight from Shoreditch and a huge on-trend jumper he bagged from a fashion shoot, he looks more like someone from Red Hot Chilli Peppers that you never noticed before. Except you would have noticed him: the man is stunning, with looks somewhere between Latin matinee idol and ruggedly handsome Brando-esque actor.

And if he doesn’t look like a musical theatre star then that’s just as it should be. Musical theatre stars don’t usually have their own bluegrass bands, idolize ‘proper’ actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Robert DeNiro, write their own songs or play the guitar, something he learned between matinees and evening performances of Phantom of the Opera, when it wasn’t worth taking the make-up off only to put it on again. He also plays banjo and piano, but claims not to be a musician.

‘All I know about musical theatre is what I’ve done. I’ve never even seen films like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music,’ laughs Ramin, whose own story is worthy of the more outlandish plot lines of some of his back catalogue of hit shows. His parents fled Iran (which is where that exotic name comes from) to escape the madness at the outbreak of revolution, landing first in Italy and then in Canada, where Ramin grew up. At the age of 12, having been taken - reluctantly! - with friends to see a performance of Phantom of the Opera, he made a rather reckless bet with his best mate that he would one day play the Phantom. And be the youngest ever man to do so.

With no background in performance - “I always wanted to act, but we never had the money for classes” - it looked like a bit of a long shot. But if there’s one thing you learn quite quickly when you meet Ramin is, if he wants it, you shouldn’t bet against him getting it. He continually sets seemingly impossible targets for himself, along with target dates, and so far, he says, has always hit the spot.

Running away to learn his craft on cruise ships, having sung a Billy Joel song at his audition, he met an early challenge when the star of the show he was in told him he would never make it without training. “I hate when people say there’s only one way to do something,” he explains. “Because there’s not”.

On arriving in London and enrolling in performance classes, his teacher was impressed enough with his rocky vibe to offer to bring an agent to see him. The agent turned out to be Michael Garrett. “That was my one bit of luck,” says Ramin now.

From there Ramin got a reputation for hard work on everything up to and including Shakespeare before moving on to a touring production of Sunset Boulevard. His role as the youngest ever Phantom was about to become reality. But just because he has achieved, exceeded even, his goals, that doesn’t mean Ramin doesn’t have bigger goals to replace them. Which is where his debut album comes in.

“I have a huge love for country and bluegrass, I love rock ‘n’ roll and I love what I’m doing, so it was how to balance all that,” he says of what was going on his head when he was approached by a major label to make an album. “I didn’t want to be just a theatre star putting out an album. It was only when they started talking about writing and bringing in other writers that I got interested. I wanted to have lived the songs. I wanted an album that was like a diary.”

With influences as diverse as The Tragically Hip, Johnny Cash and Mumford and Sons, a straightforward West End leading man album of covers was never really on the cards. “I wanted to marry that rocky sound with things that people know me more for,” he says.

And that’s the album Ramin, produced by Tom Nichols, who has worked with world-class vocalists from Celine Dion to Hayley Westenra. It’s a diary entry from one of the world’s great vocal talents that includes not only his own compositions but covers of Bryan Adams and Muse songs and his own take on the mighty Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera.

Already thinking about ideas for his next album and with a film to shoot next year, he’s certainly not one for hanging around.

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