I Am What I Am

I Am What I Am

4.6 14
by John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman

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Contains a new chapter detailing John's experiences while filming Desperate Housewives, and more, and new, never-before-seen pictures from John's private collection


Anything Goes gave you the story so far, while this memoir reveals more about the man behind Captain Jack, focusing on John's unique approach to life


Contains a new chapter detailing John's experiences while filming Desperate Housewives, and more, and new, never-before-seen pictures from John's private collection


Anything Goes gave you the story so far, while this memoir reveals more about the man behind Captain Jack, focusing on John's unique approach to life and love. Intimately exploring aspects of John's current life, this personal memoir is full of exclusive anecdotes from recent and ongoing projects, all told with John's trademark charm and humor. Full of juicy tidbits from behind the scenes of Doctor Who and Torchwood, it also offers heartwarming family anecdotes and personal revelations, including John's perspective on fame and how it has affected him. With exclusive details about and opinions on talent shows, I Am What I Am allows intimate access to the multitalented man himself—an unmissable treat for any fan.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Frank and unvarnished." Out

"Gossipy, fun and endlessly entertaining." —Daily Record

"Great entertainment. Like Barrowman himself, the book is predominantly chatty and breezy, but contains occasional surprising depths."  —Dallas Voice on Anything Goes

"Told with real heart and characteristic Barrowman charm . . . this is a wonderful tale of how one boy achieved his dreams."  —Philadelphia Gay News on Anything Goes

Product Details

Michael O'Mara Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

I Am What I Am

By John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman

Michael O'Mara Books Limited

Copyright © 2010 John Barrowman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84317-513-1



* * *

'Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.'

Groucho Marx

Six of my favourite things in my house in Wales

1 A caricature depicting the Torchwood cast embracing Captain Jack and Captain John in an exuberant tangle of arms and legs (say no more).

2 The original sheet music for Cole Porter's 'I Get a Kick Out of You' (a gift from my Reno Sweeney, Sally Ann Triplett).

3 Model planes, ships and cars, and a telescope to view the stars (these are a few of Scott's favourite things, too).

4 Two goldfish that my niece, Clare, and I rescued from a friend's house and named after two of our 'pet' names for each other (Shaka and Nina).

5 My gran, Murn's, two 'Wally Dugs'.

6 A bust of Caesar and a statue of Buddha in the bathroom, plus an oversized, welded-steel statue of a male diver in a backward pike that dominates the interior courtyard.

Welcome, readers – to my home in Sully, Wales, and to my life in the spotlight. Watch out for my dogs tangling themselves at your feet: Harris, a boisterous black cocker spaniel; Charlie, a gorgeous red-haired Dogs Trust rescue spaniel; and the family's thug, Captain Jack, a rescued Jack Russell terrier from Cardiff Dogs Home. Try to avoid their frenzied doggy madness as you step into my front foyer, and consider yourselves very lucky – because, since there's so many of you, I haven't gently urged you into the foyer, switched off the lights, closed the outer door ... and left you alone to discover that a full-size black Dalek looms in the corner.

The Dalek is one of a kind, made especially for me by the Doctor Who tech guys; I requested that the Torchwood logo be tattooed beneath his menacing eye stalk. My Torchwood Dalek is one of two treasured pieces of memorabilia displayed in pride of place at the front of my home because of their importance to my success in the entertainment business.

The second piece is far less scary, but equally significant. Hanging on my interior front door – where a welcome wreath might normally be – is the SS American life preserver from Trevor Nunn's revival of Anything Goes, in which I played Billy Crocker. Anything Goes, as you may know, was the Cole Porter musical in which I made my West End debut with Elaine Paige in 1989.

Anyone can make a grand entrance promenading along this hallway towards the main part of the house; even the dogs love to skid up and down on the blond oak-wood floor. To your left is a guest bathroom that I call my 'superhero room'. It's decorated with comic-book art: a poster-sized 'Spidey Saves the Day' comic cover, and on the wall opposite this is a poster from one of the first Superman movies. The film's tag line is 'Irresistible Force' – which is an appropriate mantra for a toilet, don't you think?

Most of the art and the photographs in this hallway – and elsewhere in the house – punctuate special moments in my life or Scott's. For example, next to the bathroom door, you'll notice the framed drawings and costume swatches for one of my Dancing on Ice costumes. The best art, though, is through the far windows in front of you.

The view of the sea and the distant English coast is stunning, isn't it? After a hectic week of meetings or rehearsals or recordings or whatever, I come down this hallway, see that expanse of water – the Bristol Channel, and beyond to the Celtic Sea – and the surrounding craggy cliffs, and my entire body kicks into relax mode. One of the first things Scott and I do when we arrive home together is drop our bags at the bedroom door and step outside, where, for a few minutes, we simply stand and stare at the majesty of it all.

While sitting on my deck overlooking this spectacular view, I began exploring ideas for this second book. I re-read many of your comments about my first book, Anything Goes. I've received letters and emails from all over the world since AG's publication, and after seriously mulling them over, a few things really struck me.

One of them was this. No matter what your family experiences, you found connections with the Barrowman clan. Sisters wrote to me about their brothers; brothers wrote to me that they, too, had a bossy big sis. Mums shared the book with daughters, and then they passed it along to their sons. Gay sons gave the book to their parents, hoping for some understanding; and parents gave the book to their gay sons, saying they understood. A few of you told me you used the book as a way to mend bridges within your families, and a lot of you revealed that the book reminded you of your own family's silly antics. You sent me tales about your dogs, your children, your schools and your grans. And all of them brought me great joy. Some of you shared stories of alienation and exile from your families, and I'm deeply touched that you found some comfort in the anecdotes from mine. It was a no-brainer, then, that this new book would include a few more Barrowman yarns.

Watch your step as you come down into my main living area, which runs the length of the house; its expansive windows frame the pool and the sea beyond. This space is divided into three distinct living areas: two ranged with their own comfy reading chairs and oversized leather couches, while the third space, at the far end of the room, accommodates a massive wooden table that came from Thailand. The table is scarred with the knots, crevices and imprints of the two trees that produced it, as well as the countless cocktail parties, family dinners, lunches and buffets it's played host to, and the book piles, laundry piles and other everyday stuff and more stuff that ends up on all dining-room tables.

Dominating these main living areas – along with my 52-inch Sony flat-screen TV, which I have to admit is on most of the day – is big, bold, bursting-with-colour art by Steve Walker and bright pop images by Burton Morris. My dear friend in LA, Brett Vinovitch, introduced me to these artists. Brett used to work for Andy Warhol and he knows his hues from his values better than most.

Currently above the fireplace is an oil painting by Paul Kenton, which captures in its broad strokes and blurs of colour the kinetic energy of New York's Times Square. On its left is a painting of a Tutsi woman warrior that Scott bought for me for my birthday while in South Africa, and on the right is an original artwork depicting some very fit baseball players by the Abercrombie & Fitch artist Mark Beard. Below the mantel sit my gran, Murn's, two Wally Dogs – or 'Wally Dugs', as they're known in Glasgow. ('Wally' is slang for 'made with china'. Use in a sentence? You could drink from 'wally cups' if you lived in a 'wally close'.)

Another thing that struck me from your feedback was that lots of you wanted to know my perspective on aspects of love and life from under a celebrity spotlight. You don't necessarily want to know what I think about big global issues, but you do want to know my opinions on what matters to me. That's why inside this book, among other things, you'll find my insights about being Captain Jack, about being a talent-show judge, about being a family man, a gay man, a brother, a son, and a lover.

And that's why I've invited you into my home: to give you an opportunity to spend time with me in a more intimate setting, listening to some Barrowman table talk and learning more about my personal escapades and professional experiences from the past couple of years. So, please, join me at my table. I've made dinner and I have lots of terrific table talk to dish.



* * *

'From scenes like these, old Scotia's grandeur springs, That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad: Princes and lords are but the breath of kings, "An honest man's the noblest work of God."'

Robert Burns, 'The Cotter's Saturday Night'

'Skinny Malinky long legs, big banana feet, Went tae the pictures, an' couldnae get a seat. When the picture started, Skinny Malinky farted, Skinny Malinky long legs, big banana feet.'

'Wee Jimmy'

Twelve things I've learned from my parents

1 Don't go to bed angry (but if you do, wake up first and make the coffee).

2 Don't let anyone make you feel bad about yourself (that's your mother's job).

3 Take responsibility for your actions (especially if you've been caught red-handed).

4 To love another person is to see the face of God (or the Face of Boe, depending on your beliefs).

5 You always have room for dessert (there's a special section in your stomach).

6 You always have time to read (there's a special section of your brain that melts if you don't).

7 Laugh every day (especially at yourself).

8 Speak up for yourself (especially if you have something to say).

9 Speak up for others (especially if they can't).

10 It doesn't take much to be kind (if it does, time for you to be off to that remote island).

11 Where e'er ye be let yer wind gang free (just ask David Tennant, who was once trapped in the TARDIS with me when I followed this advice).

12 Always have a party piece ('Skinny Malinky' doesn't count).

When we were growing up, my dad was perpetually late. Never for work or anything business-related, but if it involved a family outing, we'd all be sitting waiting in the car, crisp and clean and ready to go, and my dad would be nowhere to be found. My brother, Andrew, would already be unbuttoning his collar and untucking his shirt from his trousers; Carole would be ten pages into the emergency book she'd hidden under the seat; and like a pinball I'd be bouncing from the front to the back to the side of the car and again from the front to the back to the side – ping!

'Has anyone seen your dad?' my mum would inevitably ask.

'He's cleaning the garage,' one of us would inevitably say.

The genesis of the phrase is from early in our childhoods in Scotland. It was a Sunday morning, and my mum was expected to be singing with the choir at the Church of Christ in East Kilbride within the hour. Carole, Andrew and I were decked out in our 'itchy clothes' and had all clambered into the car, when my dad spotted something out of place in the garage, something he had to change, clean or repair at that precise moment.

We did not make it to the church on time.

Throughout my childhood, and even today, this was our response whenever we were waiting for my dad.

'Where's your father?'

'Cleaning the garage.'

My dad even has a recurring dream about his chronic lateness, which stems from a real-life incident that occurred in America. As you may know, in the mid seventies, my family, including my gran, Murn, emigrated to the US. One summer, we were all travelling back to Scotland for a visit. (For our first few years living in the States, we went back to Scotland fairly regularly, especially so my dad could see his brothers and his parents.) This particular trip home, the entire family was waiting in a hired limo, which was ready to take us to O'Hare Airport in Chicago for an evening flight to Prestwick. We were already cutting it a bit too fine in terms of getting there on time.

'Where's your dad?'

In unison: 'Cleaning the garage.'

Fifteen minutes later, my dad emerged from the house after having double-checked for the fourth and fifth time that every light was out, every plug unplugged, every switch in the off position. The house was sealed so tight we'd be lucky if there was oxygen left inside when we returned.

Of course, we were heading to one of the busiest airports in the world, so there was a lot of traffic. When we were about two miles from the terminal and no longer moving, my dad realized we might not make our flight. The driver pulled over and called the airline and got assurance that if we could get there in the next fifteen minutes, the plane would wait for us. Keep in mind this is the late seventies. Airlines actually had live people answer their phones back in the day and international flights often waited for their late passengers.

With eight minutes left in our fifteen, the limo squealed up to the kerb at the terminal. We all scrambled out. Carole and Andrew helped Murn into a wheelchair. I piled bags on her lap and my mum distributed the other cases among the rest of us.

My mum looked at my dad, and nodded ever so slightly. The look that passed between them in that instant was one that kids often see parents exchange in moments of crisis, when children know instinctively not to argue – just to do what they're told. My mum grabbed my hand. Carole and Andrew watched my dad's face for the sign. We were poised like runners from Chariots of Fire.

Then my dad yelled, 'Go!' And like bats out of hell we went.

Dad led the way, propelling Murn forward like a battering ram, followed by Carole and Andrew, with Mum and me bringing up the rear. The crowds parted before us as if my dad was Moses. Murn was shouting in broad Glaswegian, 'Oh dear God! Oh dear God! Oh dear God!' and my mum was yelling after my dad, 'John! John! For goodness' sake, slow down!'

With seconds to spare, my dad, who by this time was a few lengths ahead of the rest of us, spotted the flight attendant closing the gate. He made a deep lunge and let go of the wheelchair. Murn – still screaming, mind you – went rolling forward and just missed the ankles of the flight attendant. The near miss bought the needed extra time for the rest of us to catch up. However, it was at that moment that my dad realized he'd left all our passports in his briefcase in the hired car.

When my parents first met, my dad knocked my mum off her feet – literally. He stuck his size-eleven shoe out and tripped her as she walked past him on her way to the cloakroom at a dance at Wellshot Hall in Tollcross. She was with her girlfriends and my dad and his friends were trying to make slouching against a wall look cool. My dad admits the bit with the foot was not his best move, but it was one he was sure would get my mum's attention. And, of course, it did.

My mum picked herself up from the floor, brushed off the dress Murn had made from a picture they'd seen in a fashion magazine, and the words just tripped from her tongue: 'My God, what a smooth move that was. I want to have your children some day.' Well, maybe not exactly those words. According to my mum, she already thought my dad was a bit of a nutcase, so this latest move didn't really surprise her.

Humiliated and angry, my mum ignored my dad for the rest of the evening. In fact, when my mum tells the story, she reminds us of how she dismissed the entire event as just more 'carry-on' from those Barrowman boys, and she kept her dance card filled with dances from other young men.

My mum never lacked dance partners. Even today, aged seventy-five, she still has some good moves – as she proved onstage during my recent concert tour.

This talent is not the only reason I love to have my mum perform with me onstage, though. When she was first married, she had an opportunity to audition for a television show. She chose not to go because she had just found out she was pregnant with Carole, and she decided to follow that particular path instead. When she sings 'Amazing Grace', or our other family favourite, 'The Wedding', onstage with me, I like to think I'm giving her a taste from her road not taken.

Although my parents didn't officially meet until this auspicious moment, they grew up in fairly close proximity to each other. My mum spent most of her childhood in Shettleston, a village nestled near Tollcross, where my dad grew up. I remember a neighbour in Mount Vernon (where I spent my childhood) telling me that one of her earliest memories as a young girl in Tollcross was of my dad and his brothers getting chased out of the fruit shop for stealing apples. My father, of course, denies this, especially when his grandchildren are within earshot.

My mum finally agreed to go out with my dad after he delivered extra bags of coal to her house for a week; my Papa Butler 'felt sorry for the boy'. For the longest time after my mum and dad started dating, my mum's girlfriends thought she was actually going out with my Uncle Charlie, my dad's older brother, because Charlie did not wear glasses and when my dad was with my mum, he refused to wear his.


Excerpted from I Am What I Am by John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman. Copyright © 2010 John Barrowman. Excerpted by permission of Michael O'Mara Books Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

One of Out magazine's "Out 100" for 2009, John Barrowman currently stars as Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood and Doctor Who. He and his sister coauthored his previous memoir Anything Goes, which was a contender for AfterElton.com's Visibility Awards.

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I Am What I Am 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Shellie Romine More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved every minute of this book. It was so gripping, hilarious and insughtful that I read it in all of one day. I couldn't put it down to save my life.
caamich More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for the paperback with the extra chapters about La Cage and such, you want ISBN #978-1-84317-493-6, which B&N currently doesn't have available on its site (6:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 13, 2010). You should be available to special order it from any B&N store location, though. I just don't have one closer than 30 miles, so this was my only option; plus, I had a gift card given to me specifically for the purchase of ISBN #978-1-84317-493-6. *sigh*
Geminia More than 1 year ago
As John has said while promoting the book, this is not a second biography. This is a memoir and much of it deals with what has happened since Anything Goes was written. As with Anything Goes, Carole and John have crafted an engaging mixture of personal and professional insights. Reading the book feels as though you are actually having an intimate chat with the man himself. I would recommend this book to anyone, fan or not.
Laine-librariancanreadtoo More than 1 year ago
As a lifelong fan of Doctor Who and just recently got into Torchwood I am a huge fan...a HUGE FAN of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness)!! He could just stand in front of the camera and smile his huge dashing smile and I'll be content with that!! Ha-Ha! So as a fan of the two shows and him, once I found out that he wrote a book about himself I just couldn't say no. So I interloaned I Am What I Am at my library. And I gotta tell ya...still in love with that guy! Barrowman mostly talks about his life in the life of Doctor Who and Torchwood and he takes you behind the scenes of how he got involved and how much he just loves being on the show. Want to know how he got into show biz? Want to see how his family helped him out in so many ways? Then this book will answer all of that. Sometimes I feel like a stalker reading a biography of someone that is STILL ALIVE!!! I'm fine reading a biography or autobiography of someone that has passed on, but someone that is still alive and I'm reading all their little dark secrets, I don't know. It just feels weird.  But in this case, I am totally fine reading about the life of one John Barrowman. Mostly because he is such a great guy. He loves his job, his family and he just loves life. Doesn't care what anybody says or feels towards him, he just gets back up and glides through life with a huge smile on his face!! Any fans of Doctor Who or Torchwood needs to read this book for the insights of the shows but also to one of the men who makes it possible to love it even more!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read this cover to cover more than once. John Barrowman has lived an interesting life so far. His tales are funny and motivating.
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TimSix More than 1 year ago
I'm a BIG John Barrowman fan. I read his first biography and just LOVED it. It was interesting and made me laugh. I read this one, expecting it to be at least as good as the last, but was disappointed. After reading this one, I was left wondering WHY. Why did he write it... was he bored and had nothing better to do?... I think he should have waited a little longer and then maybe he would have had something more interesting to say.... It wasn't a horrible book, and if you're a John Barrowman fan, you'll buy it anyway. It really just fills us in on what he's been doing for the past few years, since writing his first book.