Russell Grant may still be best known for his hugely successful career as an astrologer, but last year he put his stamp on the West End stage, swapping horoscopes for magic to play the Wizard in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of classic musical The Wizard Of Oz.
Of course the star had already warmed up his dancing shoes for the role following his 2011 appearance in hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. As well as winning the public’s heart, he also won the heart of his dance partner Flavia Cacace and the pair reunite for tango extravaganza Midnight Tango.
As the show opens in the West End this week, Grant spoke to Official London Theatre about his role in the production and told us how he avoids stage fright, why Cacace has changed his life and reveals what transports him to “musical heaven”.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Singing in the church choir at Christmas at St Mary’s Church, Harefield, Middlesex.
Did you always have a desire to work in the theatre at some point in your career?
My first performance was as the cat in Dick Whittington for HADS (Harefield Amateur Dramatic Society) and my mum was principal boy! I was about six years old if not younger.
What was it like being on Strictly Come Dancing?
It was the most wonderful time of my life; it brought me back to showbiz. It changed my life completely, totally bringing me out of a dark period into the light in many ways.
How did your starring role in The Wizard Of Oz last year come about?
I got a call from Bill Kenwright [the show’s producer], followed by Arlene Phillips, followed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber who asked me to star at the London Palladium, a theatre I had last played in 34 years earlier in Hans Andersen with Tommy Steele.
Are you looking forward to working with Flavia again?
We’ve actually not stopped working together having won the Strictly People’s Champions Glitterball, made our first fitness dance DVD called Zalza and now this. We have nicknames for each other, I am Mama Rose and she is Gypsy!
In Midnight Tango you play a bar owner in Buenos Aires. If you had to run an establishment anywhere, what would it be and where?
New York City and it would be for Latin dancing of all kinds and genres.
What is the finest stage performance you have ever seen?
That’s extremely difficult. Probably Charlotte Page as Adele in the Holland Park Opera production of Die Fledermaus, but also British Youth Opera’s Orpheus In The Underworld at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I love opera and operetta, and the sheer guts and enthusiasm of these performances were lyrical and blissful transporting me to a musical heaven.
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
I read a great deal, but no fiction all factual. History and geography are my favourite subjects.
Who or what has inspired you?
I’m not really sure how to answer this as my life has been in stages. Recently it would have been Flavia Cacace and [TV Producer] Moira Ross who believed in me when other people thought I was just an astrologer, without bothering to research the fact that my life had been professional theatre, film and television since the age of 12.
Do you have any regrets?
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who would try their best and never give up, despite the odds being stacked against me. This has often been the case.
Your birthday is on 5 February. How will you be celebrating and with who?
It’s the opening night of Midnight Tango, so with the cast!
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Yes, I gave up my burgeoning career in America for Fox TV to come back and be my darling grandmother’s carer. She had Alzheimer’s which left her mute. I shared the responsibility with my mother.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
What book, film or album do you find yourself recommending time and again to people?
Dusty Springfield’s incredible album Dusty in Memphis and always the musical/operetta Kismet.
What could you not be without and why?
The score and CD of Ivor Novello’s King’s Rhapsody. My happiest time in musical theatre and touring with his leading lady Olive Gilbert.
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
I use various crystals to calm my nerves.
Where do you head after a performance?
For Chinese food.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
To work once again in the USA. I gave up two opportunities; one to care for my grandmother (which I would do time and time again) and the other to be in Strictly Come Dancing having been offered my own TV pilot in Los Angeles.
What are your predictions for theatre in 2013?
Astrologers never predict.