Why Jay McGuiness wanted to jump into the paranormal thrills of 2:22 A Ghost Story

Jay McGuiness’s Ben in a clinch with Vera Chok’s Lauren in 2:22 A Ghost Story

WHEN Jay McGuiness, boy band singer, songwriter, Strictly champion, musical theatre actor and fantasy novelist, saw 2:22 A Ghost Story, he knew what he wanted to do next.

“I turned to my manager [Damien Sanders] and said, ‘I’ve got to do that’,” recalls The Wanted vocalist, who is now touring in Danny Robins’s supernatural thriller. Next stop York, visiting the Grand Opera House from April 30 to May 4.  

“Damien is a very convincing Cockney fella! He called up the casting agent, and after a successful reading, they said, ‘in you go’ – and then I had to wait five months for the new cast to start. It was like waiting for Christmas to come around!

“We had four weeks of rehearsals, which is more than enough for a play. We had time to get to know each other, whereas with musicals, you’re being whisked from one room to another, with lots of irons in the fire, dancing, doing your lines, trying on costumes.”

Newark-born Jay’s career in musicals had led indirectly to his participation in 2:22 A Ghost Story. “I saw the play because I did a musical with Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh: BIG! The Musical, based on the Tom Hanks film. We went to see Cheryl [Cole, from Girls Aloud], who was in the show.”

Was it scary? “I jumped out of my skin!” says Jay, 33. Next week you can find out why when he plays Ben alongside Vera Chok as Lauren, Fiona Wadeas Jenny and George Rainsfordas Sam in the show’s seventh cast.

Written by the award-winning Danny Robins, creator of the BBC podcast The Battersea Poltergeist, and directed by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr, 2:22 is billed as “an adrenaline-filled night where secrets emerge and ghosts may, or may not, appear” as Robins asks: “What do you believe? And do you dare discover the truth?”

Tensions rising in the kitchen: Jay McGuinness’s Ben with Vera Chok’s Lauren, left, and Fiona Wade’s Jenny in Danny Robins’s 2:22 A Ghost Story

“I continue to be blown away by the success of this play,” says Danny. “It demonstrates a huge appetite and curiosity for all things paranormal. This fabulous seventh cast for the 2024 leg of the tour will bring their own energy to these characters, telling the story anew for audiences across the UK.

“It’s always exciting to see the play come to life again in this way. It’s such a fun night out, and if chills give you thrills, you’re in for a treat.”

In 2:22, Jenny believes her new home is haunted, claiming she hears something every night at the same time, but her husband Sam is not having any of it. They argue with their first dinner guests, old friend Lauren and new partner Ben. 

Can the dead really walk again? Belief and scepticism clash, but something feels strange and frightening, and that something is drawing closer, so they decide to stay up…until 2:22 in the morning… and then they will know. “I tend not to be awake at that time,” says Jay.

He met his fellow cast members at the start of rehearsals, “but I knew of them,” he says. “When you start, it’s like the first day of school, getting the jitters out of the way. It’s natural that after five years of being in a band, suddenly auditioning again was a big adjustment, thinking, ‘how have I got myself into this situation again?’! But once you try to make someone jump or laugh, it’s fun.”

Ben is Jay’s first role in a play rather than a musical, having appeared in Rip It Up, BIG! and Sleepless, a second show rooted in a Tom Hanks film. “I’ve absolutely loved it, especially being able to focus on the script, which facilitated us getting to know each other and find out everyone’s opinions on each character. It was like being back at drama school,” he says.

“Then getting out in front of an audience each night, when you have to make sure they’re laughing at the right moment, jumping at the right moment.”

No smoke without fire: Jay McGuiness lighting up in 2:22 – A Ghost Story. Picture: Johan Persson

Robins’s play is built around tensions brought on by class differences. “You can feel the different reactions in different theatres around the country!” says Jay, who wiull be on the road from January to June. “I’m playing a working-class man who feels out of place at this dinner party, somewhere fancy in London, where most of the houses are newly gentrified, so he puts his foot in it with ill-judged comments, and the way he talks to women is very old-school Cockney.

“It’s good that people in places like Norwich really connected with him, whereas it was a very different response in Cambridge.”

Jay is enjoying the collective thrill of a fright night at the theatre. “There’s something very exciting about it that’s different from something that’s introspective. It’s raw, and there’s plenty to chew on about class, ghosts and believing in the supernatural,” he says. “There’s fun to be had in hearing people around you screaming or laughing.”

Jay, who loves the ghost walks in Edinburgh, has plenty more to choose from on his return to York for the first time since The Wanted ambled down Shambles on their reunion two years ago. “I remember that shop with all the ‘ghosts’ in the window and the queue outside,”  he says.

2:22 A Ghost Story spooks Grand Opera House, York, from April 30 to May 4, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday; 3pm, Friday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

The poster for 2:22 A Ghost Story, on tour at Grand Opera House, York

Ghostly goings-on at the Grand Opera House, York

IN “Europe’s most haunted city”, 2:22 A Ghost Story will be playing at the Grand Opera House, a theatre and former corn exchange with its own paranormal stories.

When asked about the ghostly goings-on in the Cumberland Street building, Paranormal Research York follows up its visit to the theatre by saying: “Our team encountered a variety of supernatural experiences. The Grand Opera House continues to intrigue and captivate with its haunting mysteries, each time we investigate.”

Laura McMillan, the Opera House’s theatre director, says: “With over 100 years of history, the Grand Opera House certainly has a few spooky tales to tell that make us the perfect host for 2:22 A Ghost Story. 

“York is known worldwide for its ghost stories and I know that audiences are going to love being on the edge of their seats with 2:22 as they experience a night of adrenaline-filled entertainment.”

Jay McGuiness: the back story

Jay McGuiness: Singer, songwriter, actor, 2015 Strictly Come Dancing champion and fantasy novelist. Picture: Seamus Ryan

Born: Newark, Nottinghamshire, July 24 1990.

Training: Attended “normal Catholic secondary school” in Mansfield. Started Tuesday afternoon dance classes at Charlotte Hamilton’s Dance School at 13 when “voice had started squeaking at that point!” Later attended Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama in Nottingham.

Best known for: Member of boy band The Wanted. Debut single All Time Low topped UK charts in 2010, as did Glad You Came in 2011. Further Top Five singles with Heart Vacancy, Gold Forever, Lightning, Chasing The Sun, I Found You and Walk Like Rihanna and Top Ten hits with We Own The Night and Show Me Love (America).

Band re-formed in 2021, releasing greatest hits album Most Wanted and embarking on 12-date UK arena tour in Spring 202.

TV success: After taking break from The Wanted, he won Glitterball trophy with Russian-Kazakh professional dancer Aliona Vilani on 2015 series of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing. Jive routine to You Never Can Tell and Misirlou, from Pulp Fiction, amased eight million hits on YouTube. Voted Strictly’s Best Ever Dance by BBC viewers in December 2020

Musicals: Starred in lead role of Josh Baskin in musical version of Tom Hanks’s movie Big! in Dublin in 2016. Reprised role in West End at Dominion Theatre, London, in 2019. Took West End lead role of Sam in Sleepless, A Musical Romance at Troubadour theatre, London, based on Tom Hanks’s movie Sleepless In Seattle, in 2020. 

More theatre work: Rip It Up, 1960s’ song-and-dance show at Garrick Theatre; London, lead role of Bob Wallace in touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in 2022.

Television work: Won celebrity version of Channel 4 show, Hunted, raising money for Stand Up To Cancer. Won weekly battle to take champion’s trophy in Richard Osman’s House Of Games. Presented regular features for BBC’s The One Show, fronting films on topics such as music education in schools and veganism.

Book: Debut fantasy novel for young adults, Blood Flowers, a story of love, witchcraft, betrayal and murder, published worldwide by Scholastic on January 8 2024.

The cover artwork for Jay McGuiness’s debut novel Blood Flowers