Strictly's Craig Revel Horwood and the lovely Debbie McGee star in Cinderella at Mayflower Theatre | Big Interview
Craig Revel Horwood will be hoping that his run in pantomime this year is somewhat longer than last year’s...
The Strictly Coming Dancing judge was due to star as the Sheriff of Nottingham (who else?) in Robin Hood in Woking.
As Craig recalls: ‘It was our opening night and the audience were already gathering outside, then we got word that Woking had gone into tier three, so we had to close.
‘We still went and did the show, but not for an audience, just for the front of house staff.
‘And then we packed up the makeup, I packed up my coffee machine I keep backstage, and we went home.’
But looking for the silver-lining, he adds: ‘It was really sad at the time, but I got to spend Christmas at home for the first time in many, many years, which was great for me in that respect.
‘Obviously everyone could have done with the money and the work, like all the dancers and actors in the show, and of course the theatre losing a fortune over the last 18 months – it's been awful.
‘Just bringing theatre back and giving people confidence to actually feel safe enough to see a show around other people is really important.’
This year he’s back at Mayflower Theatre as The Wicked Stepmother, alongside Debbie McGee as The Fairy Godmother and Richard Cadell and Sooty.
Craig was last here as as evil Queen Lucretia in Snow White in 2017.
‘I’m very excited about coming back to Southampton. I look younger and I'm thinner, and I want to show all of Southampton my beauty,’ he laughs. ‘I’m playing Baroness Demonica Hardup, which is going to be great.
‘She's a bit more of a frump – I don't have to look particularly attractive for it, and I like that as a role.
‘She's a great character, and it's really nice to get back to performing and being in the theatre.’
For his co-star McGee it’s her first time performing at Mayflower in many years. As popular TV magician Paul Daniel’s wife and assistant, they played here on tour several times in his heyday. Paul sadly died in 2016.
‘I've been here quite a few times to see things as I only live about an hour away,’ says Debbie. ‘In fact I've been to see the panto, including Craig – but we didn't know each other then.
‘I love it here, it's a very special theatre. As Craig keeps telling me: “Debbie, it's bigger than The Palladium you know!” And it's so beautiful, if you're sitting in the auditorium – it's a proper theatre. For us being in a big production like this, we're so honoured that we've been booked to do this beautiful pantomime.
‘Cinderella really is everyone's favourite fairy tale, and the characters are well-known – even small children usually know the story.’
Craig adds: ‘And pantomime introduces children to theatre which I think is extremely important to give them a life experience like that – that it's live and not on the Playstation or an animation.
‘It shows them that real life can be as magical as on a TV screen and more involving and embracing. Those kids will go on to see other live shows because of this experience.
‘And It gives some relief for the adults as well because the kids are having a great time, so they can sit in the dark for an hour and get away from it all,’ he chuckles.
The Guide is interviewing the pair together. They met when Debbie was a contestant on Strictly in 2017, making it to the final with her partner Giovanni Pernice.
But they became friends on the next year’s arena tour for the show.
‘I did the arena tour where you get to know the judges quite well,’ says Debbie. ‘You get to party together and travel in the tour bus, so we got to know whether we liked each or not, and I had a great time with Craig.’
Craig says: ‘Like many people I'm very different at work, but after work I become me, Craig Revel Horwood. And it's so nice to be able to meet the celebrities properly for the first time. When we're doing the show we're very segregated as judges and contestants – and even more so now in Covid times.
‘We don't really know what they're like as people – we just get to see them dance for one minute 30 and judge them on that. I can't judge them on their personalities, as such.
‘We'll be going out on tour again next year, and I hope we'll have as much fun again as when Debbie and I did it – it was fantastic.’
Debbie originally trained as a ballet dancer – winning a place at the prestigious Royal Ballet School when she was 16, going on to join the Iranian National Ballet.
‘I was a soloist with the Iranian National Ballet when I was 19, but the revolution occurred so I had to escape the country. If you've seen the movie Argo, that's what I went through – including when I tried to leave the country, being stuck at the airport because someone had made a mistake on my visa.’
Her return to England ultimately led to her working with her future husband.
‘I came back to England and needed a job. All the ballet companies were full at that time, so I auditioned for a light entertainment show – I had no idea who Paul Daniels was.
‘I signed a contract as a dancer for four-and-a-half months. I went home and said, I've got this job with this guy Paul Daniels. I thought he was probably a comedian because I hadn't met him yet, and they went: “No, he's a magician”.
‘And I went: “Oh no, I hate magic!”’
But it was the start of a long and fruitful relationship – the couple married in 1988 and were together until Paul’s death.
Her new role with Paul did, however, mean the end of her ballet career, so her turn on Strictly surprised many.
‘I surprised myself,' says Debbie of her time on the TV show. ‘Really, Strictly changed my life in so many ways.
‘People had no idea what I was capable of – I hadn't danced for about 30-odd years. The dancing you do on Strictly is so different from the training I had – the technique is so different.’
Both Debbie and Craig get to dance in the panto – but not with each other.
‘I was hoping that Craig and I might have a tango together – but that's not going to happen,’ says Debbie.
Aside from the panto, both stars have plenty of other things on their books.
Craig will be undertaking his first solo tour in spring – All Balls and Glitter, featuring an evening of chat and song. Then it’s on to directing Strictly Ballroom: The Musical, starring Kevin Clifton.
‘All of these shows were postponed so it's so great that we can bring theatre back to the public and entertain them once again,’ says Craig
And last week, his debut single, It’s Christmas, Merry Christmas! was released – a duet with Rietta Austin, a vocalist on Strictly. It’s a taster for an album of duets with Rietta due next year.
‘I've been working on that for two years – the Christmas single is to whet people's appetites, then we'll hopefully bring out the album. Rietta has an amazing voice and I've known her for years. We're doing four original songs and eight covers. I've loved doing it.
‘I'm sort of doing it for myself, I don't really care if anyone buys it – it's one of my bucket list things. I don't want to be Kylie or Madonna and have to do hundreds of arena tours around the world – so I'm hoping it's not that popular...’ he laughs, 'but it would be nice to make some money back from it!’
Straight after the panto Debbie will be appearing in her first-ever straight acting role in the hit adaptation of Peter James’ novel, The House on Cold Hill.
‘That should have been two years ago as well!’ she says. ‘Joe McFadden, the chap who won Strictly the year I did it was in it, so I went to see him in this play.
‘Three months later I get a call from my agent saying they'd like me to go and read for this play. So, luckily I already knew it!’
Cinderella is at Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from December 10-January 2. Tickets £19.50-£47.50. Go to mayflower.org.uk.
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