Words: Simon Button; picture: Nicky Johnston / Camera Press
She’s the undisputed queen of the West End musical, a feted visitor to Broadway, possessor of a truly awesome singing voice, not to mention the naughtiest of giggles, and a deliciously down-to-earth superstar whose Sunday lunchtime show on BBC Radio 2 has been delighting musical theatre lovers for the past 17 years.
"I’ve been working in the theatre now for, my goodness, over 50 years, and I think I’ve spent the majority of my life amongst the LGBTQ+ community. The most amazing thing about our industry is that it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not judged.
"I long for the day when every industry or business allows everyone to say, 'This is who I am' and that they are accepted on that basis. I’m very proud to be an 'honorary gay' and to be able to spread that message."
Hers is a truly illustrious showbiz career: she sang 'Memory' before Streisand, faced off against Barbara Dickson on 'I Know Him So Well', and was Evita way before Madonna. But what did she think of the Material Girl in the 1996 film?
"I didn’t go to the cinema to see it because I was on Broadway at the time and it would have been a bit of a busman’s holiday," Elaine tells us. "But I’ve seen bits and bobs of it since and I thought she did well."
The star calls Evita - which launched in the West End in 1978 with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice - a career highlight. "I probably wouldn’t be talking to you now had I not done Evita [...]," she says, "because it changed the course of my entire life. Playing Edith Piaf was also something that stood out because it was a wonderful acting role; it was really a play with music.
"Then there’s Sunset Boulevard, because that was the one that eventually, after all those years, took me to Broadway. I’d waited so long to get there and by the time I did, audiences knew of me through cast albums and stuff, so the reception I received was phenomenal. And Chess, of course, because even though it had, if you’ll forgive the pun, a chequered history, it gave me a number-one single and I think it was one of the best scores of the ’80s."
Decades later, she reached another professional milestone: in 2014, her stage debut as London's G-A-Y...
"I always thought, they don’t wanna hear musical theatre songs of heartbreak and drama at 2am in a nightclub," remembers Paige. "I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was jam-packed solid. Jeremy Joseph had built this raised balcony on the stage for me to sing 'Don’t Cry For Me Argentina', and the crowd went absolutely wild. It was one of the best receptions I’ve ever received."
Until tonight, that is!
The Attitude Awards issue is out now.