FOR Craig Revel Horwood, taking on the role of a panto villain in the form of the Wicked Stepmother is simply a return to his roots.
Now famous as a judge on TV favourite Strictly Come Dancing, he says he’s simply revisiting a style from early in his career when he first performed drag in the clubs.
“I do feel like I’ve come full circle,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I just wish I was as beautiful as I was 30 years ago.”
Now aged 53, the Aussie-born star reckons he tries his best to keep in shape – even at Christmas.
“You have to look after yourself, as you can’t go off partying the whole time,” he says. “But panto is fantastic, it keeps me thin all the way through Christmas.
“Also, I love it because it’s an introduction for children to live theatre and, as live theatre is my passion, I really encourage that. It also teaches children generally about theatre, which I think is the most important thing about doing panto.
“Coming to the theatre is a unique and individual experience and you can interact with the cast too. It’s great.”
Craig keeps a hectic schedule, planning his professional commitments up to three years in advance. “I’m working on material now for Christmas 2020,” he explained. “It’s crazy.”
Last year, in addition to panto, he appeared in Annie, recorded the voice of supercilious snake Cornelius – for new animated series Sadie Sparks – and resumed his role on national favourite Strictly, a job he’s had since the first series in 2004.
And he’s far from jaded. “I still get very excited and very nervous when I hear the opening music,” he says. “It’s a whole new bunch of people, a whole new cast, so it’s always fresh.”
He’s still a dancer at heart. “The Argentine Tango is my favourite, I just love that,” he says. “It’s the way the body is intertwined, how fast it is and how the woman responds to the man’s lead and how much is improvised, it’s a very cool dance, when it’s done well.”
Despite his reputation as a brutal judge, he adds: “Seeing people who’ve never danced before realising that dance can actually be taught, and just seeing the enjoyment that people get out of it is great.
“It’s a gift. People are no longer socially inept when it comes to dancing and that’s fantastic.”
Having worked as a dancer, choreographer, theatre director, TV judge and panto star, Craig is a popular figure but claims being in the public gaze is not something he generally enjoys.
“The only thing I find good about being a celebrity is that you can raise money for charity and I’ve done quite a lot of that,” he says. “My mum has chronic rheumatoid arthritis, but osteoporosis can be prevented by exercise up to the age of 23 so that’s why it was a charity I chose in order to change people’s lives.”
On top of all this, he choreographed the final scene of the Paddington 2 movie, is to make his film acting debut in Nativity Rocks and has been playing Miss Hannigan in Annie in the West End.
“Life is very short and you have to just go out and don’t fear anything,” he says. “I’m open to whatever comes along. I’d love to direct a film as well, but I think I need to act first to see how it all works then can apply everything I’ve learned from that, and from directing musicals, to film, and perhaps promote dance in film. I’d love to do that.”
His stint as the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, begins on Friday 7 December and continues until Sunday 6 January.