Strictly star Craig Revel Horwood on his panto role as the Wicked Queen

PUBLISHED: 11:30 13 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:30 13 December 2019

Snow White @ Manchester Opera House

Photo: Phil Tragen

Snow White @ Manchester Opera House Photo: Phil Tragen

Phil Tragen

Craig Revel Horwood takes to the stage as The Wicked Queen in Snow White for the seventh time this year, at Manchester’s Opera House.

Craig Revel-Horwood
Photo: Neil GenowerCraig Revel-Horwood Photo: Neil Genower

If you're a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, Craig Revel Horwood will in fact have been in front of you week after week this winter, as he delivers his (often brutal) feedback to the contestants. His role as the Wicked Queen in Snow White seems as if it could be as perfect a fit as Cinderella's slipper, but after 10 years in pantomime, how does he keep it fresh?

'This is my seventh time as her,' he says. 'I did originally plan to hang up the heels after five years, but then I went on to play Hook for three years - I loved playing him. Last year I played the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella and now it's Snow White again. It's a great role; I get fantastic costumes, she thinks she's 21 and beautiful - which is just hilarious. She is wicked, which is even better. I get to play an old crone, I get to play a beautiful woman, I get to put people down, the kids are booing me and scared of me... It's fun to play the villain, plus I love all the booing and the kids being able to partake in the show.

'Of course it's all very Strictly-ified, because I am not immediately recognisable as myself, so a lot of the kids don't know it's me until I open my mouth - I say 'disaster darling' and 'fab-u-lous' and all that stuff, that's all part-and-parcel of tying it in to what I'm known for.

'It's something I now can't imagine I wouldn't do. At Christmas I think, what would I do with myself? Now it's become second nature I think, and I look forward to it. Once you're in panto you're in panto-land for those three weeks and you can't escape. There's no escaping the dressing room, anyway - I'm in there for 12 hours a day.'

Craig does his own make-up, which takes an hour, then he spends two hours doing a vocal and physical warm-up - a Wicked Queen who considers herself the most beautiful woman in the land can neither whisper nor shuffle, of course.

'It's all a bit of a rigmarole. In between shows I sleep, rest, eat - I can't go out, of course, as I have my make-up on. I can only eat something light, as I have to get the corset back on - something I didn't have to do in Hook!'

Craig is a delight. He's generous with his time and his answers and clearly loves working in pantomime. I wonder if he has any thoughts on why we love it so much - uniquely in the world. 'I think people in Britain are outrageous and have been brought up on Shakespeare and bizarre theatre. Nowhere else in the world does that or has the history of that sort of theatre. Nobody in America has a clue what's going on, and neither does my homeland of Australia, despite their British roots. It's strange; it's a phenomenon, and some phenomena you can't explain. People like a bit of tradition at Christmas here and without a panto it's just not Christmas.'

Craig is, of course, the Strictly judge we all love to hate and his pull-no-punches feedback is the stuff of legend. I can't possibly leave the sofa we are sharing without asking him if this was a position he actively sought?

'It was created in May 2004, when the first words out of my mouth were 'dull, dull, dull'; the audience didn't like it and booed. From that moment on I was called Mr Nasty - and now any criticism gets booed. I could give a six and get booed and then Motsi give a six and get a cheer. It's strange, but it's just the way it is. I am very blunt and very honest and that's an Australian thing, and I was brought up in that way. All my teachers were very to the point and very honest - they would say: "no, that's terrible, you need to work on your arms and your footwork..." How else are you going to find out what's wrong? And, my goodness, you've got to be able to take criticism! But that's not my problem, I am just there to judge a dance competition, it's that simple. And when I'm off the desk I'm myself again - lovely, all-nurturing, warm, huggable, loving…'

Snow White runs from 6-29 December, agttickets.com

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