Rob Lea interview: Meet the Freddie Mercury impersonator and star of ITV's Starstruck who is stepping into the limelight
Rob Lea has spent a decade stepping into the shoes of one of the greatest performers in history.
But now the 35-year-old is breaking out with his own sound after releasing a moving debut single that has touched the hearts of his loyal fanbase.
In Reflection, a piano-led ballad, Rob expresses the hidden thoughts he felt while struggling with depression.
“It all came spilling out,” Rob told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
"I was nervous about putting a piece out like that, especially as a first single. You’d expect something catchy.
"But I've had really touching feedback, especially from those that have lost people close to them.
“That’s really special to me."
Rob was born in Gipton to a family of performers; his dad is a cabaret singer and his Grandad played the organ across Leeds.
He said: “Some of my earliest memories are standing outside our cul-de-sac in Leeds, entertaining the neighbours with a little plastic guitar - so it must have been in me from the get go.
“But music didn’t hook me as an ambition, a career, to go after. I’ve been fighting against it for most of my life.
“I wanted to be an actor - and still do. I went to drama school and it was my burning ambition to get into screen.
“But it’s so difficult for working class lads from up north to get into the business, I quickly found that out.
“What I did have over everyone else was a great musical ability."
Rob later moved to Blackpool, where he took up violin, guitar, piano, drums and even trumpet, for which he became the lead player in Blackpool Orchestra.
He spent a year working as a performer in Benidorm and later auditioned for a Take That tribute band, before being invited to perform with a tribute act covering Queen.
“It was the best of both worlds," Rob added.
"I got to play a character, which I love doing, but I got to explore my musical side as well.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve fallen in love with songwriting and putting on shows.”
Rob set up his own Queen tribute band, Majesty, around 10 years ago and it has gone on to perform at some of the world's biggest venues, from Germany and Greece to the US.
At the height of the band's success, Rob signed a deal with a booker in the States - and then the pandemic hit.
Left with no work, Rob was struggling to make ends meet as he didn't qualify for financial help.
"It was an awful time," he said.
"I’m lucky to have a family - a wife and kids - who kept me sane. Becoming an impromptu teacher got me through it because I was occupied.
“I think everybody got through it the best way we could and we’re all striving forward now."
When Rob was at his "lowest point" in the midst of lockdown, he was approached by ITV to appear on Starstruck - which saw members of the public transform into their idols in a bid to come away with a life-changing sum of cash.
Although Rob didn't win the show, he was quickly snapped up by Nashville record label WBA.
He said: "It was a breath of fresh air, a nice distraction from what was happening and it felt like it was meant to be.
"Normally, I’d have been too busy on the road to do the show.
“It was nerve-wracking going on as someone who has been performing as Freddie for a long time. It could have gone either way.
"The best thing is that it's provided me with a platform to engage with more people."
Now ready to put his own name into the limelight, Rob is preparing to release his debut album and is utilising platforms such as TikTok - where he boasts 50,000 followers.
He added: “The message I try to give to my audiences is that the power for supporting people like myself is in their hands.
"It’s not in the hands of venues or labels - the individual can make a huge difference to the careers of self-employed musicians."
When Rob started his career, he found it difficult to break through
As an emerging artist from the North, he battled to get labels and music promoters to take notice.
"I later realised it's more about the people right in front of you," he said.
"If you can win them over, then they’ll come alone for the ride with you.
“The advice I'd give other musicians is not to focus on getting a big corporation or a label to snap you up.
“The best thing to do is look around you, look at your community, and start shaking hands and making those connections.
“If you’re doing a show, go round and meet everybody. Those people that like what you do are invaluable and will stay with you for life."
Majesty will go back on tour in September
After a "whirlwind" 10 months catching up on missed shows during lockdown, the band will play in the States before setting off to northern Europe.
Rob plans to play some of his original music and is in the process of finishing off his debut album.
He said: “There’s a mixture of uplifting rock tunes, modern pop-style tunes and some more reflective, piano-led ballads like Reflection.
“I’m really excited to put that out and I'm still discovering my sound.
"It’s born of all the influences that I’ve grown up with - the lyrical melody, interesting flavour and writing of bands like Queen, but I also grew up in the American punk revival, so that immediate, harsh, yet uplifting type of music.
“Hopefully someone out there can put a term to it that I can start using!”
Rob credits the audiences he’s performed to and the fanbase he’s garnered over the years as the motivation for getting his own music out into the world.
“I really appreciate the support," he added.
"Not only from the label in the States, but I’ve got people in the UK who are really behind me.
“That’s really refreshing. I’ve got a great team behind me and hopefully I can pull them all together and do something special.”