You think a man like me can never change?

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Do you hear the peo­ple sing? Yes, rather too much. For the past three years, my 16-year-old daugh­ter Lola has been a mas­sive fan of Les Misérables. For an old punk dad, reared on the Clash and the Sex Pis­tols, this was a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing: my daugh­ter was into mid­dle-of-the-road mu­si­cals. Shouldn’t she be hang­ing around shop­ping cen­tres, drink­ing il­licit cider and gen­er­ally be­ing a bit more anti-so­cial? I as­so­ci­ated mu­si­cals with sac­cha­rine sin­ga­longs and danc­ing Dick­en­sian urchins. Was her love of mu­si­cals some­thing to do with the X Fac­tor gen­er­a­tion? Why would she en­joy Anne Hath­away croon­ing I Dreamed a Dream in the film ver­sion? But now it’s hap­pened: through some form of weird parental os­mo­sis, her foot­ball-loving, beer-drink­ing dad has be­come a fan of Les Mis, too.

It’s been a long jour­ney. When we went on a fam­ily trip to the seem­ingly never-end­ing film of Les Misérables, I nearly fell asleep dur­ing Cosette’s love songs. It was un­doubt­edly well done, but even so, it went on for two and a half hours. Les Mis is the world’s long­est-run­ning mu­si­cal – and it sounded like it. The film also brought flash­backs of en­dur­ing the mam­moth stage ver­sion with my sis­ter (what is it about women and mu­si­cals?) some 15 years ear­lier.

Yet my elder daugh­ter’s de­vo­tion to Les Mis was strangely im­pres­sive. Lola has seen the mu­si­cal three times, and in the course of her GCSE mu­sic stud­ies took to play­ing the songs on the house pi­ano. On My Own, Empty Chairs at Empty Ta­bles and Do You Hear the Peo­ple Sing? were con­stantly echo­ing up the stair­case. She saved up and bought her­self a “Pris­oner 24601” Tshirt (for the unini­ti­ated, it’s Jean Val­jean’s prison num­ber). I’d greet her in the morn­ing with an en­treaty to, “Wake up Pris­oner 24601!”

Un­like Sacha Baron Co­hen as Thé­nardier in the film, I was no longer Master of the House. Lola played the Les Mis sound­track end­lessly in the kitchen. She has DVDs and CDs of all the var­i­ous pro­duc­tions and she in­sists there’s a great dif­fer­ence be­tween the 10th an­niver­sary show and the 25th. For her 15th birth­day we bought her a Les Mis back­stage tour of the Queen’s The­atre and watched her and sev­eral other mu­si­cal wannabes per­form a song in the the­atre bar.

Fam­ily out­ings took in other mu­si­cals such as Miss Saigon, Once, Wicked, War Horse and a free con­cert of mu­si­cal stars at Covent Gar­den Pi­azza – though Lola never quite for­gave me for fall­ing asleep dur­ing West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells. But it was al­ways Les Misérables that she re­turned to. Where could she have got her ob­ses­sive gene from? Clearly not from me, even if I do have a mas­sive col­lec­tion of West Ham pro­grammes in the at­tic, a Wain­wright-bag­ging wall chart and ev­ery Doc­tor Who DVD ever made.

My wife, Ni­cola, had a black­spined copy of Vic­tor Hugo’s orig­i­nal novel in our li­brary, which Lola dis­cov­ered. As­ton­ish­ingly, she got through it all. It was un­de­ni­ably an achieve­ment to have read 1,200 nine­teenth-cen­tury pages at the age of 15. We thought she might have skim-read sec­tions, but she knew ev­ery scene. She took the book to the stage door at the Queen’s The­atre and got most of the cast to sign it. They were im­pressed by how well-thumbed it was.

On hol­i­day we vis­ited Water­loo in Bel­gium and she could re­call all the bat­tle de­tails from the ac­count of the sunken lane in Les Mis, so I had to ad­mit that Vic­tor Hugo was prov­ing an aid to her his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge.

When she in­sisted that, “You have to read it too, Dad, it’s bet­ter than Dick­ens!” I agreed, in the in­ter­est of bond­ing with my teenager and in be­lated ac­cep­tance that she’d been rad­i­calised by a dead French nov­el­ist and now wanted to mount the the­atri­cal bar­ri­cades.

The first hun­dred pages were slow, but once I got used to the pace of the book and Jean Val­jean ar­rived out of the French nick with a chance of re­demp­tion, it just got bet­ter and bet­ter (and there were no songs!). When Val­jean saves the life of Javert, the surly po­lice­man is forced to re-eval­u­ate his en­tire life sys­tem. Now, rather like Javert, I was hav­ing to re­assess my feel­ings about Les Misérables.

Those drunken stu­dents on the bar­ri­cades seemed very mod­ern – and Mar­ius was almost Rus­sell Brand-like in his search for both revo­lu­tion and love ac­tion. As Val­jean mused upon los­ing his sur­ro­gate daugh­ter Cosette to Mar­ius, I be­gan to won­der how I would cope when some Mar­ius fig­ure lurked in the gar­den to lure my own daugh­ter away. And songs from the mu­si­cal kept play­ing in my head at key plot points.

Then I found my daugh­ter’s touch­ing hand­writ­ten mes­sage at the back of the book say­ing it was the most haunt­ing thing she’d ever read.

Hugo’s book is un­doubt­edly a master­piece. It’s a book of big pas­sions and dra­matic emo­tions. And if you can’t en­joy big ideas about love and re­demp­tion and rev­o­lu­tion­ary pol­i­tics when you’re young, when can you? Mine prob­a­bly come from Joe Strum­mer and Johnny Rot­ten, while my daugh­ter’s come from Vic­tor Hugo and Hugh Jack­man as Jean Val­jean and Ed­die Red­mayne as Mar­ius. That doesn’t seem so bad.

So I sat down with my daugh­ter and watched the DVD of Les Misérables again. Just for half an hour. But that seemed like five min­utes. Maybe an hour, then… We watched the whole film through in one sit­ting.

She sang along, word per­fect, to ev­ery song. And de­spite the odd over-sug­ared num­ber, I found my­self singing along too and (spoiler alert) a lit­tle moist-eyed by

Visit a tele­vi­sion fan con­ven­tion: dad goes forTomBaker-era Doc­tor Who while daugh­ter goes for Matt Smith.

Watch a vlog­ger to­gether: dad gets to dis­cov­er­whoZoella is and ap­pre­ci­ate six mil­lion teenagers’ abil­i­ties to take in beauty tips, take­aways and tickle fights.

School quiz night: daugh­ter learns ben­e­fits of not dis­cussing emo­tions as they bond over trivia. Dad­gets to ad­mire daugh­ter’s knowl­edge of mod­ern lyrics and The Big Bang The­ory.

Goto a women’s foot­ball match: dad gets foot­ball fix, daugh­ter gets to see pos­i­tive role mod­els for­wom­enin sport.

Plait her hair: in­volves amore com­plex for­mula than even Brian Cox could con­trive, but daugh­ter will en­joy dad try­ing to do it.

Watch her rid­ing: dad stands in a windymé­nagea­monghorsey­mums watch­ing daugh­ter jump and try­ing to un­der­stand what makes a “good seat”.

Take taek­wondo classes: daugh­ter gets to learn self-de­fence skills. Dad­gets to im­prove mo­bil­ity of dodgy back.

Coun­try walks: dad gets to look fear­less in fields of cows and daugh­ter en­joys sweets and pub din­ner at the end.

Shop­ping trip: dad learn­snewskills of pa­tience while daugh­ter ap­pre­ci­ates his role asATMand bur­rito dis­penser.

En­joy a for­bid­den food: visit a greasyspoon café and eat egg, chips and beans – food her­mum­would never al­low.

Metal de­tect­ing: almost trendy thanks to TV’s De­tec­torists. Dadin­dulges his in­ner anorak, daugh­ter has in­cen­tive of find­ing trea­sure trove hordes, or at least the odd­50­por bot­tle top.

Ride a cy­cling path: dad and daugh­ter both get to wear Ly­cra, only daugh­ter looks a lot bet­ter in it.

Dry­s­tone walling classes: dad gets tomake­rock-star jokes while daugh­ter learns skills from pre-mo­bile phone era. the time Jean Val­jean dies. It’s re­ally very good, even with Rus­sell Crowe singing. And I have to ad­mit that set­ting that book to mu­sic is a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment by writ­ers Claude-Michel Schön­berg and Alain Bou­blil.

Now I’ve of­fered to take Lola to the the­atri­cal ver­sion of Les Misérables yet again. Against all crude stereo­types, I’ve be­come a het­ero­sex­ual dad who likes mu­si­cals. Soon we’ll be on the bar­ri­cades wav­ing a red flag.

A man like me can never change? Thanks to my daugh­ter, it seems that I’m start­ing to hear the peo­ple sing.

Pete May is the au­thor of The Joy of Es­sex (The Rob­son Press)

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary: Amanda Seyfried and Ed­die Red­mayne star in the 2012 film; be­low, Pete is a ‘Les Mis’ con­vert, thanks to daugh­ter Lola, 16

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