BRIAN Conley has a fun month ahead – he’s back on stage with his favourite genre of acting, as well as playing his favourite character.

“I love panto and it really is my first love,” he says. “It really ticks all the boxes. The cast are singers and dancers, people want to see the fun and we give them just that.  Although I’m not a brilliant dancer… I lasted six weeks on Strictly.”

Brian is a pantomime veteran who says he can’t even remember how it all started. And he is again playing Buttons in Cinderella, at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre.

“I missed panto so much in lockdown so I’m happy to be back,” he says. “I’ve been in EastEnders for two years, playing Tom ‘Rocky’ Cotton, so being in panto is very different to that. It’s all about having a laugh and making people smile.”

“Panto is a different type of laugh too. It’s a family laugh where the whole family can enjoy the jokes right from the kids up to the grandparents – everyone is having a great time.

Cinderella is the best panto, I think, and is my all-time favourite,” he explains. “Buttons is also a wonderful character. He’s fun and he’s there to brighten up Cinderella’s life. He wants Cinderella to be happy and he’s such an integral part of the show.

“He does love Cinderella but unfortunately, she doesn’t love him. There is a big moment in the show where it shows the true friendship between the two and there is always silence at that part, which is really powerful.”

Panto might not be the most high-brow entertainment, but its appeal goes across the board – even to some of our greatest acting talent.

Brian reveals: “Last year, Ian McKellen came to see the panto I was in at Southend. I didn’t realise and I had put a joke in about calling one of the characters Gandalf. I think Ian must have thought I knew he was coming.

“After the show, Ian commented about how the panto had made him cry with laughter. That’s the magic of panto!”

With around 50 performances to come in Woking this year, it might be tough to keep each show fresh, but Brian says he’s got it covered.

“I made a commitment as a performer to always put on a good show,” he says. “It’s in my blood and what I’ve been doing for so long. I appreciate how important it is for everyone to say they enjoyed the show.

“Word of mouth is so important and it’s so vital for everyone to enjoy the show so much that they then go and tell their friends. This will keep them coming back for years and years with different family members.”

Cinderella is on at the New Victoria until Saturday 31 December.