What’s your favorite venue?
I love performing in any theater designed by Frank Matcham. There are around 20 left, including the Hackney Empire, Buxton Opera House, the Grand Theater Blackpool and the London Palladium. They are lavish, exciting and exuberant buildings that infuse their magic to artists and audiences alike.
What piece of music makes you cry?
He took Archie Roach’s children away. It’s a beautiful song about the stolen generations of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families by governments, churches and charities.
An unforgettable lyric?
Sometimes I like trivial and meaningless things. Marc Bolan’s New York City lyrics are an example of this. He was presumably sitting on a bench in New York with Rod Stewart or David Bowie when a woman walked by carrying a frog. It’s a glorious song thanks to the backing vocals of Gloria Jones. It’s more or less the same line repeated in a loop. “Have you ever seen a woman walk out of New York City with a frog in her hand?” We were told Marc was in his cocaine and cognac phase at the time. We’ve all been there.
What artwork would you take from a gallery?
Bronzino, Allegory with Venus and Cupid. I saw it at the National Gallery at an impressionable age and was mesmerized by all that milky flesh and the girl with the backward thumbs. Years later my art history teacher, Mr. Innes, explained to me what all this means. I love a painting with a story to tell.
Who or what made you embark on your path as a performer?
My sister was a dancer. A show girl. When I was 14, I sat in her dressing room with all the other dancers, surrounded by feathers and sequins and when I was gone I knew my life, whatever it was, had to involve glamour. Comedy was the thing that came out, but dressing up was an essential part of it for me.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
“Just say yes.” If I’m ever in a dilemma, I call my mom. When I was asked to be on Celebrity Big Brother, for example, I wasn’t sure if this was the career highlight I’d been waiting for. “Just say yes,” she said. Simple. And it worked well. I was paid a lot of money, I was elected the winner and I sold a lot of tickets for my tour. However, when I was offered meth in the toilets of a nightclub called Cock in New York, I also listened to my mother’s advice. I arrived 24 hours later in a multi-storey car park with a strange man holding a grease gun and a rolled up copy of Marie Claire.
If you weren’t a performer what would you be?
I would be a tour guide: everything you need to know about gay Doha.
What’s your worst habit at work?
Forgetting the script and making things up: improvisation, some call it. It’s okay to be spontaneous when I do my shows. They are often the best bits. But when you’re doing comedy, apparently, that’s not encouraged. I toured The Dresser recently, playing Norman, who has endless monologues. There’s nothing like a sad matinee in Plymouth to bring out the devil in me. I fear my mind has wandered and I have supplemented Ronald Harwood’s text with a description of what Norman saw in Market Square. Let’s just say I wasn’t encouraged to do it again.
Which artist/creative do you think is unfairly underrated or overlooked?
British dancer and mime Lindsay Kemp. She had the ability to hypnotize and transport an audience. Hugely popular in Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, the critics here have always been a bit dismissive of her, missing the point about her a bit. I last saw him perform in Rome a few years before he died at the age of 80 and it was wonderful to see him with an audience that appreciated his genius. I often need a fix from Lindsay, and luckily I can still see it on YouTube: Memories of a Traviata is a particular favorite of hers.
What art form can’t you get along with?
Jazz gives me hives. Especially that frantic, discordant stuff. It really makes me sick.
What is your favorite panto and who are your favorite panto performers?
It’s very difficult to choose. Except Jack and the Beanstalk of course! Dick Whittington, maybe. The jokes pretty much write themselves. But I also like doing Cinderella. I did a scene in the woods with Paul O’Grady where we had to talk about my muff being too big… My favorite performers, apart from my usual Palladium co-stars, are the dancers – they are life and soul of our shows, the hardest workers and the nicest, happiest people.
What was the most surprising thing that happened to you in panto?
In Birmingham one year, I had to shoot a bedroom scene with Keith Harris and Orville. I don’t remember the script, but I think we get the line in “I suppose a duck is out of the question?”
Jack and the Beanstalk takes place at the London Palladium from December 10 to January 15; buy tickets here