When a Blackpool music act’s star Michael Jackson impersonator decided to “cross the street” to a rival venue on the pier the stage was set for a courtroom thriller.
Former soldier Craig Harrison, who served in the Cheshire Regiment in Iraq, has been living his dream of moon-walking like his boyhood hero on stage, London’s High Court heard.
The 31-year-old successfully auditioned to perform as Michael Jackson in the “Trevor Chance’s Legends” multi-tribute show at The Sands Venue.
He was soon treading the lights, alongside “Tina Turner” and “Lionel Richie”.
The lucky break ensured “reasonable financial security from tribute work without having to rely on intermittent building site work”, said barrister, Thomas Roe QC.
Trevor Chance – described as a famous figure in the showbiz world – said he had been “very keen” to take on Mr Harrison due to his obvious talent.
It was unfair... we had invested all this time and money and here he was intending to go across the road to a competitor
“To this day I know he is an excellent performer,” he told judge Mr Justice Edis.
But Mr Chance’s company, Legends Live Ltd, went to court to accuse his one-time protege of “reneging” on his contract by flitting off to a rival show.
The impresario said he and colleagues were surprised when Craig moved to star in the rival “Kings and Queen of Rock Pop and Roll” show.
Mr Harrison left Legends at the end of the 2015 season and joined up with “Kings and Queen” in January.
He now performs alongside artistes impersonating Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury.
Tensions rose when Mr Chance discovered that Mr Harrison had transferred to Legends’ competitors on Central Pier.
Given all the time and money they had put into honing his act, they expected Mr Harrison to stick around for more than just one season, Mr Chance told the court.
The dispute – which ran up tens of thousands of pounds in lawyers’ bills – hinged on a clause in the 2014 contract signed by the lookalike. It barred him from ‘competing on any look/soundalike shows in Blackpool’ between October 2015 and October this year.
Mr Chance accused Mr Harrison of “exploiting his investment”.
“It was unfair... we had invested all this time and money and here he was intending to go across the road to a competitor,” he added.
His son, Richard Chance, described Mr Harrison as a highly-talented performer, but said he had needed “a great deal of input from us”.
When he started at The Sands, Mr Harrison lacked the “techniques and flexibility” for large scale dance routines, claimed Mr Chance junior.
But Richard Chance said he had been “very proud” of what Legends accomplished with their new star – describing his success as a “joint effort”.
However, Mr Harrison insisted: “The show worked around what I did. I taught myself from an early age. The choreography as well.”
He also disputed that organising the routines was a “joint effort”, adding: “I put a lot of effort into that show, I think I put more effort in”.
However Mr Justice Edis accepted Richard Chance’s evidence Mr Harrison “still had work to do” when he arrived at The Sands.
And the judge decided the contract clause was not an unreasonable restriction on Mr Harrison’s ability to make a living.
But he ruled that Legends Live had left it too late to apply for an injunction against him, forcing him to stay off the boards in Blackpool during the height of the season.
He added that the case had in many ways “developed into a battle between the two venues and the producers of their shows”.