Best known for his camp and acerbic approach to the celebrity dancers on BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, Mr Outrageous has another, highly successful side to his character, that of director and choreographer of some incredible theatre productions.
His list of credits and awards for this work is very impressive so Lee Hudson wanted to know more and, with barely a paso doble in sight… caught up with the man to chat about his latest touring production of the musical Chess… Strictly and… his undies.
Why on Earth, of all the musicals available, did you choose such a deadly dull piece like Chess?
I love the music. I’m of the age, 45, and the 80s meant a lot to me, I loved Tim Rice and Abba and had only grown up with the concept album, I’d never seen a stage production. So, when I became a director/choreographer 15 years ago then started working with actor/musicians 5 years ago I thought it would make a great actor/muso show. I pitched the idea to the producer, he said let’s go for it and…
I have to congratulate you on the fantastic reviews… everyone seems to say you have taken it in a new direction and into new dimension…
That’s only because I’d never seen it so I had nothing to compare it to. There’s only ever been one version of it in this country so I did it my way because I thought chess is really boring and a bit intellectual.
You seem to have gone for a bit more camp and humour than was in the original.
I made all the chess-pieces weird and wonderful, out of this world, sado-masochistic; people that comment as a chorus on the action that is taking place. I suppose it is just me being me.
So it’s you on stage is it?
Noooo not me… just all the things I like (laughs).
You’ve done loads of things… including Panto… is that something you want to do more of?
I’m doing Panto again this year in Crawley, I’m playing the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, which is hilarious. Plus it gives people the chance to see me in the flesh and hand out scores for my dancing…
This is one of the things that must really get on your tits. You are a really talented, respected and successful director, choreographer and have been in the business for years… so does it piss you off that most people’s idea of you is that loudmouthed, opinionated camp guy off the telly?
People think that ‘Strictly’ is all I do for a living… on a Saturday hold up a ‘2’ and that drives me nuts because it’s not fair… (dissolves into giggles). I was 15 years a dancer in really famous and fabulous shows, being a director and choreographer with a deal of success and I believe integrity… that’s why I’m on the show. Some people say “Has he ever danced before. Can he dance?” They think I’m there to spout off for no reason at all. Unbelievable. That’s why I brought the book out (All Balls and Glitter) so people could see that I have had a career.
I have to say I was very surprised by the openness and honesty in the book.
I had to because of the News of the bloody World. This country… well… one blast and it’s all around the country and everyone believes it. So, I thought, right, I’m going to beat them at their own game and bring it all out in one year… and that’ll show them.
And you did…
Yes, I was a rent boy, yes I was a drag queen… so what?
You did the New Zealand version of Strictly…
That was for three series but it’s no longer on.
Did you go back as the conquering hero or that British guy with the funny accent?
That British guy with the funny accent! They were all horrified to discover I was Australian (laughs)
So you didn’t have to butch it up or anything for them?
Noooo… for god’s sake… butch? I’ve been like this all my life… with girls or boys.
Now I’ve done some immense research on you for this interview.
I love you for that.
In an interview you were asked what brand of underwear you favour and you said Mitch Dowd Astro Boy…
Yes… Astro Boy.
I just love the idea of you sitting in your dinner jacket and bow tie on ‘Strictly’ delivering your scary verdict but wearing such fun pants with the image of Astro Boy all over them secreted underneath.
Yes, that’s it. I get them at Target in Australia, a sort of Woolworths type of place… I also have an Astro Boy style quiff (he giggles at the thought).
Craig is a very busy man and has several productions on the go at the moment so I had to cut the interview short and let him get off to his next appointment. As he disappeared I sneaked a crafty score of “9”. He lost a point because he didn’t call me daaaahling once.
Chess comes to the Alhambra – Bradford on 9th – 13th November
To find out where else the show tours visit: www.chess-the-musical.co.uk
Main photo: BBC Publicity
Chess photos: Keith Pattison