James Corden is one of the busiest performers around at the moment, but few know about his humble beginnings, writes Jessica Morris.
‘The Army played a huge part in the whole thing of James performing.’
In the last two years, no star has risen higher in Hollywood than that of James Corden. The 38-year-old Brit has gone from starring on Broadway in One Man, Two Guvnors, to hosting The Late Late Show.
Winning an Emmy award for his legendary ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment, he has fast become one of the most accomplished—and likeable—men in tinsel town.
While he’s often found these days sharing the car with big names, such as Adele, Michelle Obama, Julia Roberts and George Clooney, few know that Corden comes from very humble beginnings. In fact, it was on a Salvation Army stage in Greater London that his world of performing began.
Born into The Salvation Army, his father Malcolm was a RAF musician and his mother, Margaret, a social worker. In his autobiography, May I Have Your Attention Please? Corden recounts dressing in his blue uniform and playing the cornet.
‘He loved being the centre of attention from a really early age,’ his mother Margaret tells Warcry.
His father Malcolm Corden agrees. ‘I think the Army played a huge part in the whole thing of James performing’.
While Corden has always been an entertainer, he truly discovered his love of performing during his sister’s christening at age four.
Taken on stage during the solemn occasion, he began pulling faces at the delighted congregation. As the years progressed and the Corden family attended High Wycombe Corps (church), he took advantage of any opportunity to perform.
‘He had the attention of all these people who should have been really interested in what was going on, but James was there, this boy up there making them all laugh,’ says Margaret.
Corden was the first male to audition for The Salvation Army South Central singing company, as part of The Salvation Army music school, breaking tradition by joining the previously all-female group.
Leader, Lieut-Colonel Trevor Davis ‘relented’, and many years later Corden thanked him by inviting him to his performance of Martin Guerre on London’s West End.
‘He would always be at the forefront of organising skits and directing them, and he learnt a lot about performing in general from the music school,’ says Malcolm.
Corden’s creative expression is vast, and he also formed his first boy band with friends from the school. Years later, Corden would get to live out his dream of being in a boy band through the Tony award-winning production of History Boys.
‘That’s where the germ of performance [started] for him,’ explains Malcolm.
‘He loved being the centre of attention from a really early age. On the platform, as we were, being the centre of attention was great for James,’ adds Margaret.
Growing up in the Salvos, Corden’s background and contacts would have been invaluable in his involvement with an amateur production of Guys and Dolls (a musical about a Salvation Army Captain working in New York during the depression).
Corden borrowed the Salvo band bass drum from his father for authenticity of the production.
‘The bizarre thing was that we did the march through the town with the bass drum, but the drum never ended up back at the corps, it went from the march straight into the town hall for the dress rehearsal of Guys and Dolls without the band master knowing!’ laughs Malcolm.
He later recounts a school production where Corden halted the show due to his profuse ad-libbing. ‘Everybody was corpsing; laughing [so hard]!’
Despite the unconventional nature of Corden’s interests, his parents encouraged him to pursue them knowing he had something special to offer.
‘As parents, you try to find what your children are good at and encourage them,’ says Margaret. ‘He had a flair for doing school plays and things [like that], and that’s all he did. We thought, “It’s not a bad thing, going to this drama school if it’s going to help him be more confident.” It was a good thing to pursue.’
‘We’ve always told our children to have the courage of their convictions and to be happy, whatever you do,’ she add.
While Corden may have exchanged the small town of High Wycombe for Rodeo Drive, his beginnings in The Salvation Army shaped him for the rest of his life. And, though not a Salvo anymore, his experiences there and the support of his parents were the foundation for a stellar career. One that looks to be on the up and up.
James (second from right) with his family at a Salvation Army Church, circa 1992