There is so much more to Ashley Taylor Dawson than being a veteran Hollyoaks cast member.
In fact, as Revive Magazine discovers talking to Ashley at his Wilmslow-based haunt, The Symposium, there has always been a lot more to Ashley.
While Ashley is a familiar face on television, he is also a passionate advocate for his local community and its businesses and institutions.
The Symposium represents Ashley’s drive to revive Wilmslow and also his love of music, hospitality and creating a real sense of connection and belonging.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Ashley began acting in his teens.
“I was watching my sister in a local Wilmslow theatre company, known at that time as Scamps. One of the lads in the shows was hilarious; seeing him inspired me to pursue my new-found hobby with curiosity, which I discovered I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Ashley got involved, acting in a series of productions, rehearsing every Saturday.
“Even now, the smell of the Wilmslow leisure centre where we performed our shows every year brings back a strong sense of nostalgia.”
Following Scamps, he auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and gained a place beginning with a two-week course in London.
“It was an incredible feeling of freedom. You were with kids from all over the country you would otherwise never have met normally. It created this incredible bond.”
This sense of freedom and trust made a big impression on Ashley.
“To see people let go of themselves, it was euphoric.”
He also advises anyone to do an improvisation class at some point in their life because you could come out of it a completely different person.
“Everyone in life wears some kind of mask. Acting is about learning to use the right tools at the right time. It allows you to express yourself.”
Ashley’s journey to becoming an actor was not entirely straightforward.
He held serious aspirations to be a tennis player.
The atmosphere could be pressurised, involving one tournament after another, and the training is intensive. More importantly, it required considerable financial resources, which Ashley’s family simply did not have at the time.
“Acting provided a viable alternative at the right time for me.”
Ashley’s first real paid acting job was in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.
Not long after this, he landed the role of Darren Osborne in Hollyoaks, first appearing in 1999.
However, the following year he attended an audition for a pop group, allSTARS and successfully became a member, alongside his close friend Sam Bloom.
The group had their own television show, STARStreet, which ran for two seasons on ‘ITVs’ SMTV.
“It was an incredible time really, though I didn’t really appreciate it enough.”
The band eventually split up, and Ashley found his way back to Hollyoaks and back to being the lovable Darren Osborne character which he has played ever since.
Since then he has settled down, had children with his fiancée, and he has also developed a new passion, in his original hometown of Wilmslow.
That passion is The Symposium which he co-owns with George Yiannis, his business partner.
COMMUNITY AND COCKTAILS
The Symposium is a cocktail bar that features live music in the centre of Wilmslow. Ashley co-runs it with local restauranteur George Yiannis.
“I like to be busy and to do something constructive. When I met George, I saw an opportunity to help revive Wilmslow’s nightlife.”
George was originally the owner of the famous Greek restaurant the Stolen Lamb.
Originally Ashley had, rather cheekily, asked if George would do him a takeaway meal, even though this is not something the Stolen Lamb customarily offered.
Over time this became something of a regular occurrence and the two men formed a friendship, with Ashley also getting to know George’s close-knit Greek Cypriot family and being impressed with the mutually-supportive, community-based ties it represented.
When George eventually wanted to sell up the Stolen Lamb, Ashley had a moment of inspiration, to do something that could spark a revival of Wilmslow as a destination for a night out, just like back in the days when Wilmslow was the place to go.
“I remember living through the era of The French Brasserie, Bollin Fee, Bank Square and The Rectory when people travelled from Manchester to Wilmslow for a night out. We want The Symposium to become a catalyst for change.”
Ashley aims to develop a vivid sense of community with The Symposium, having established it as a go-to place in the heart of Wilmslow.
The name is, of course, Greek in origin, and in ancient times was what came after the banquet; with drinking for pleasure accompanied by lively conversation, live music and dancing – something The Symposium in Wilmslow excel at.
“It’s about adding a sense of personality and individual culture to the night-time scene.”
LOVE AND MUSIC
The Symposium is more than a cocktail bar, even though its cocktails are something of a house speciality.
It also offers regular live music, DJ sets, jam sessions, soul on Sundays and our popular premium comedy nights, which provides an incredible comedy show — no open mic acts. Every act is a headliner, with excellent reviews in their own right, guaranteed the best of the best from all over the globe. They even run the occasional speed dating nights.
“One of the things the ancient Greeks would have discussed would have been love, and therefore it’s perfectly fitting to do our bit to try and make romance happen, especially in a digital age where, in some senses, it’s actually harder to meet your soul-mate.”
This approach is typical of Ashley’s keenness to bring people together socially and to encourage mutual support.
“Live music helps bring people together. They even dance differently together when there’s a live band playing. At the same time, we’re always about maintaining the heart and personality of the space.”
The idea is that everyone should feel equally comfortable at The Symposium.
IN THE MIX
The risk in being a long-term actor in a soap is that people start to identify you with the character you play, whereas, as Ashley’s story demonstrates, there is a lot more going on away from the screen.
At the same time, there is a kind of continuum in his life and work, with his interest in music and time spent as a DJ, alongside his acting career, feeding into his current venture.
The mix feels just right, with George looking after the food and Ashley focusing on music and entertainment. But what of the future?
“We’ve kept reinvesting, refining and improving the space, even when at times it’s been a struggle.”
There has been talk of a roof terrace restaurant, but Ashley is in no hurry.
The pursuit of different interests and of the rewards life itself can offer, has been a theme throughout Ashley’s life. There is a certain restlessness there, but it is tempered by an ability and willingness also to enjoy the moment as fully as possible.
Meanwhile, The Symposium continues to thrive, offering a lively mix of live gigs, DJ sets, and various events including a regular monthly comedy night on a Sunday, which has attracted some serious comedy talent to Wilmslow.
In this sense, the fortunes of the town, the venue and of Ashley Taylor Dawson himself are all intertwined.
Editor – Caroline Dowse