BIG INTERVIEW Craig Revel Horwood: 'It's difficult to shrug off that "Mr Nasty" tag, but I love it'
One could argue that Craig Revel Horwood gets to play the pantomime baddie every weekÂ as Strictly Come Dancing's 'Mr Nasty' on the judging panel.
But from today, he's getting to really embrace his evil side asÂ Queen Lucretia in Mayflower Theatre's festive production of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs alongside The Chuckle Brothers, dance troupe Flawless and Hayling Island's own Charlotte Haines in the title role.
'You could argue that,' says Craig when The Guide puts this to him, 'if you think being honest is wicked!' And he gives an appropriate cackle.
'Everyone loves to boo, it's just the nature of the beast.Â Strictly Come Dancing has been going for 13 years now and I was established as the Mr Nasty way back when.
'It's difficult to shrug that tag off, but I really love it and it's been a fantastic line-up this year, I haven't really hadÂ that much to complain about because there's so many good dancers.'
And Craig's been enjoying getting to meet his panto co-stars.
'I think the combination of the three ideas is good - the Chuckle Brothers will entertain the older people who remember them from growing up on TV, the "to me, to you", and all that stuff, I'm on that mainstream/crossover with Strictly, and Flawless will get that younger generation.
'It will be great fun, IÂ don't know what to expect though. Then you get heckles you've got to deal with from the audience and that's all part of the fun '“Â and people love that side of it.'
On this year's Strictly, only Craig and Bruno Tonioli remain of the original judges after head judge Len Goodman retired last year, to be replaced by Shirley Ballas '“Â who Craig is full of praise for.
'Shirley's a powerhouse, I love her. She's not afraid to say what she thinks and I think that's important as a judge. You've got to say what you think is wrong and what they can do to fix it.'
While it would be unfair to ask him his preference of this year's crop as we head to this weekend's final, he reveals some of his favourites from the mega-hit show's run: 'Mark Ramprakash, because he came really from the dance gutter and couldn't dance at all, and turned into thisÂ most amazing salsa man, which you couldn't believe. It'sÂ people like that who surprised me. People like Anne Widdicombe, who entertained the nation for 11 weeks, no matter how much we tried to get rid of her,' he laughs. 'But that's the nature of Strictly and that's why I love it, IÂ think it's right that the public gets 50 per cent of the vote and have their say. They can turn the leader board around any time they like.'
He will naturally be bringing something of Strictly and some of his more well-known pronouncementsÂ to the show.
'Of course! And a lot of people come armed with paddles with numbers on for me, generally the numbers one to three, or Len's seven.
'I'm sure there will be a "fab-you-lous", and aÂ "di-sah-ster" and a fewÂ "a-mah-zings" '“Â and the audience love it too, you can ride along with it, they can come and judge me and be opinionated about me and judge my performance can't they?'
Craig is no stranger to cross-dressing either. Early on in his career, back in his native Australia, he had a drag alter-ego, Lavish, who he toured the clubs with. And he thinks those roots still influence what he's doing now.
'I think it's bound to '“Â that's the base for it all, and I think that's why the producers, eight years ago, got me to play a particular role in my first panto, to try me out, because they'd seen the photos from when IÂ was doing drag from 20-23.Â I'm now 52, and still doing it, but I'm loving it. It's brilliant playing the evil parts, the wicked parts. They're always a bit more interesting aren't they, than love interest parts?'
He's had a good warm-up for Queen Lucretia in the West EndÂ '“ he recently spent 10 weeks playing Miss Hannigan in the hit musical Annie.
'That's sort of drag, but she's a "real" woman, whereas in panto you can break the fourth role and come out of character and speak as yourself, plus I have my own accent, not a 'Noo Yoik' one!'
If Strictly, Annie and the panto weren't enough, Craig has also been the director and choreographer ofÂ brand new musical, Son Of A Preacher Man, which isÂ currently touring the UK (and comes to The Kings Theatre in SouthseaÂ from February 27 to March 3).
'It's Dusty Springfield's music, but is put together with Warner Brown's book, it's three people who have lost love in their lives and are looking for it again, and there's one man who can help them find it again - and that's the preacher man's son.
'It's all done with actor/musos too, so you're getting a full complement of music, which is quite nice. I do like it, that's out at the moment and I'm constantly reworking bits of it, because this is it's first year out. Diana Vickers is really fantastic, and so is Ian ReddingtonÂ and DebraÂ Stephenson, who most people don't know she's a singer as well - she's known mainly for all of her impressions. It's more of a play with music, it's notÂ a broad-stroke musical like 42nd Street.
'It was a real pleasure to do. We're still working on it and enjoying it. It's nice to get your hands on a new piece and keep fine-tuning it.'
'¢ Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from today until January 7. Tickets cost Â£15 to Â£39.50. Go toÂ mayflower.org.uk