Blog: Ste Johnston

The No Offence actor from St Helens is on the lookout for star talent from the north as he heads National Youth Theatre auditions

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When I was younger I wanted to be a police officer but you had to be six foot and my mum said I was too short, so I thought I’d do the next best thing and see if I could pretend to be a police officer.

In my final year of school, we got a new drama teacher who asked if anyone had heard of the National Youth Theatre. None of us had. I took a look at it, found out it offered courses and performance opportunities for young people, ended up auditioning, and did an intake course in 2004 at the Lowry in Salford.

I then did a show with NYT in 2006, again at the Lowry, where John Hoggarth, NYT’s co-artistic director at the time, saw the show and asked me to come along to audition for the summer season celebrating NYT’s 50th anniversary. I got a part in Prime Resident at Soho Theatre and went down to London for the summer – it was the best summer of my life.

I went on to study theatre at the University of Hull’s Scarborough campus. It wasn’t the best course for me – there was lots of performance art and nakedness and bodily functions you don’t necessarily want to see. After university, all of my mates went to London. It was like something out of Dick Whittington. They all thought the streets were paved with gold. But I’m a northerner. I’m not going to live somewhere that charges £7.50 for a pint. So I based myself in the north and started working with contacts I’d made at NYT, and got to play Buttons in Panto (genuinely my dream role after seeing Brian Conley do it at the Opera House in Manchester).

Eventually I decided to take the plunge. A friend had a spare room in Greenwich that was, amazingly, cheap, so I moved down to London. But almost as soon as I’d moved, I got the audition for Channel 4’s No Offence and within a week I’d got the part, so it was back up north!

I’ve lived in Manchester just over a year-and-a-half now and have absolutely fallen in love with it. With all the amazing theatres in Manchester and MediaCity in Salford, it feels that there’s a real creative buzz around. I’m currently heading up NYT auditions in Manchester, and I’m really confident we’ll find loads of new members from the city, whether they’re set on joining the industry, or just want to try out something new.

“London really isn’t the be all and end all – the world is getting smaller.”

As an actor, you can sometimes be pressured into thinking you need to be in London. But it really isn’t the be all and end all – the world is getting smaller, and self-tapes have made it so much easier to be seen by people. You can make a career in this business living anywhere nowadays.

Working on No Offence still feels utterly crazy though. I’m just a lad from St Helens, who used to come into school after watching Shameless (also created by Paul Abbott) and chat about it with my mates. Now I’m working with Paul on the third series of No Offence, and I think it’s going to be the best yet.

It’s also amazing getting to work with such a brilliant, inspiring cast and crew. It’s cliché but we’re like a little family now. The fact that I now work with people I grew up watching on TV, and having Will Mellor in my phone book, well, it’s a constant pinch-me process.

I was watching The Disaster Artist the other day and there’s a line in it where they say “even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else” and it’s so true.

You have to treat acting as a full-time job though. You can’t just wait for the phone to ring. It’s important not to have all your eggs in one basket. If you’re serious about theatre, try out writing, directing, facilitate workshops. You never know – you may try something you never imagined you’d want to do and love it. It’s like Davina McCall used to say on Million Pound Drop: “Spread your bets.”

Whenever I work for NYT and meet the young people auditioning for it I think back to where I came from. It’s fantastic that NYT holds auditions in towns all across the UK – Lancaster, Blackburn and Bridlington to name a few – because there’s so much untapped talent out there that just may not have an outlet. I know first hand that NYT can change a young person’s life. I wouldn’t be where I am without it, for sure.

Getting to now run auditions for NYT, I meet loads of amazingly talented young people with so many brilliant, quirky, individual skills. So my advice to young creatives is: if you want to do it, go out and do it. Find a room above a pub, or a village hall, or a community centre. Get some mates together and start writing, creating, acting – whatever you want to do. Get involved in a local theatre company, audition for NYT or join the youth projects in theatres up and down the country. Give it a go – what’s the worst that can happen?

Acting auditions take place at Manchester Royal Exchange on 10, 11, 20, 21 and 24 February for ages 14-25. Backstage interviews take place at Z Arts on 24 February. More details and book at

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