MATT Terry has never been to York until today, not even in his childhood days, when school visits to the Minster or Jorvik are so often the norm.

The winner of The X Factor's 2016 series will be at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow evening, playing Alex the lion in the touring stage version of DreamWorks' Madagascar The Musical, wherein Alex, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo break out of New York’s Central Park Zoo.

"I grew up in Spain, about 40 miles inland from Alicante, and then trained in musical theatre at the D&B Academy of Performing Arts in South East London [Bromley]," says Matt.

"I was there from age 18 to 21 on a scholarship, and I hadn't really done anything until starting late at 15. I'd always sung but I'd had no formal training, so the scholarship did surprise me...but I'd always had belief in myself."

Two years after leaving stage school, Matt triumphed on The X Factor talent show. "I was auditioning for shows like Kinky Boots but my feedback was always that I 'looked young'," he recalls.

The X Factor put him in the public eye. A top three hit ensued with the Ed Sheeran-penned single, When Christmas Comes Around, followed by recording sessions in Miami, Los Angeles and Scandinavia; his debut album, Trouble, in November 2017; 60 million streams for the single Sucker For You; and guest vocals on Enrique Iglesias’s single Subeme La Radio.

Now, his D&B Academy training is being put to good use in his professional musical theatre debut in Madagascar The Musical. "I got asked to audition last year, maybe last April, and the show sounded really impressive; I read the script, heard the songs, and thought, 'is this the right time for me to do this?'. I knew it would be great to create a role for others to follow, and that I'd have a lot of freedom to add things, change things," he says.

York Press:

Lion's share: Matt Terry's Alex the Lion on stage in Madagascar The Musical with Jamie-Lee Morgan, Antoine Murray Straughan and Timmika Ramsay

He duly auditioned, whereupon the producers called up Matt the next day, offering him the part. Yes, he decided. "I feel like it's an extension of what I've been doing, but it's a different route to take and why not?" says Matt, who has been on the road since last August.

"It's very disciplined doing a tour, but it's great to travel around the country and it's great fun too. It's made my voice stronger as well."

He was delighted to take on the role of Alex the lion, learning to move like a big cat over four weeks in rehearsals with choreographer Fabian Aloise, who happened to have appeared in the musical Cats.

"I was attracted by the fact Madagascar The Musical is a big franchise show, and putting my own spin on the character was what really appealed to me.

"I feel it's been like a work in progress, developing the character from the beginning. I'm very similar to Alex – who ends up in the wild but likes being back home and the star there – and I've put a lot of me in there," he says.

"You just kind of adapt! I've loved playing Alex, and I'd love to do more musical theatre in the future."

Matt will leave behind Madagascar The Musical in June. Could a new album be in the pipeline? "I'm in the studio writing, with a view to doing a new record over the next two years," he says.

York Press:

Matt Terry, centre, with Madagascar The Musical's penguins and puppeteers on a visit to the Sewerby Hall and Gardens zoo. Picture: Hannah Carter-Brown

MATT Terry was among the Madagascar The Musical cast members and puppets who visited Sewerby Hall and Gardens in Bridlington before this week's performances at York Theatre Royal.

Penguin stage stars Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico came beak-to-beak with a colony of Humboldt penguins in the cliff-top zoo on the Yorkshire coast. Laura Johnson, penguin Kowalski’s "handler’ in the stage show, and Jessica Niles, who looks after Private the penguin, ventured on to the penguins' home turf to feed them fish.

Tickets for tomorrow to Saturday's 7pm performances and Thursday's 2pm and Saturday's 2.30pm matinees are on sale on 01904 623568 or at