TGtS Meets...Keith Chegwin
Showbiz legend, child actor, reality star, TV host, and panto regular Keith Chegwin has done just about everything during his 40 year career on stage and screen. TGtS chatted to Keith about heading back to Swindon to star in Jack and the Beanstalk this December.
This will be your third time appearing in Swindon's panto, are you looking forward to coming back?
I can't tell you, I'm so excited - it's a real compliment to be asked back. Already I think we've sold something like 10,000 tickets, so you've got to get in fast folks!
What is it about panto that you love so much?
Truth be told, it's because I enjoy myself. It sounds like the weirdest thing in the whole wide world, but I really look forward to my panto. A lot of people turn around and say that it's a lot of hard work and I'm like OH NO IT'S NOT! Last year I was literally getting up at 4'oclock in the morning, doing 3 hours’ worth of skating and then driving 2 hours to panto, doing 2 shows, finishing at 11'oclock at night and doing the same the following day, so I don't find it hard work - go dig the roads, that's hard work. This isn't hard work...it's a laugh.
You must have to spend a lot of time away from home, are your family supportive?
I'm a great fan of panto because it sums up Christmas for me. 5 years ago I decided not to do panto, so I took a couple of years off and it was my son who said "Dad when are you going to do panto again?" and I went why? And he said "I really love those pantos that you do" so that's why I took up panto again.
Most people will recognise you as a presenter, but you actually started out as an actor didn't you?
I started off singing in the clubs when I was a kid and after that I went on to acting, I was fortunate enough to get a gig singing and dancing in the West End with Ginger Rogers. After that I went on to make 7 films. I was fortunate enough to work with Peter Sellers, I've done Macbeth, starred in Open All Hours and lots of other comedy bits and pieces. It was because of all of those projects that I got into presenting, hosting Saturday morning tv and fronting kids programmes, somehow from that I moved on to knocking on doors giving money away to people for a living!
Like you said, you’re renowned for knocking on peoples doors in the early hours, what’s the funniest reaction that you’ve ever had from a competition winner?
There have been so many. I knocked on a ladies door to give her a cheque for £10,000 and live on television she said "You won't tell anyone that I've been done for shop lifting will you?". Another time we knocked on a guy’s door to give him a cheque for £15,000 and he was jumping up and down like a kangaroo and then he went "hang on a minute" and stopped jumping up and down, so I said "what's wrong" and he replied "I've just lost my benefits" - that cracked me up! He'd been complain incapacity benefits.
Have you been bitten by the acting bug again? Would you like to do more telly work again?
It's a strange one really, it's nice to have a diverse career from presenting to acting and skating. I'm very lucky that I get all of the opportunities to do these amazing projects.
What was it like working with Ricky Gervais, how did that all come about?
Ricky Gervais is like my agent - I've starred in 'Life's Too Short' most recently and I've also been in 'Extras' too. He keeps calling me up saying "Keith I've got another acting job for you on one of my shows". He's an absolute God send to work with, I've never known such a generous man in my whole life, if he thinks of a gag he gives it to you, I'm thinking I couldn't possibly take this gag from you, but he's like "I think you could do it really well". He's such a lovely guy to work for, the shows have just been broadcast over America so I keep getting all of these crazy American fans following me on Twitter.
What was it like appearing on Dancing on Ice, you could really tell that you were enjoying yourself, do you still skate?
I really did enjoy myself, although because I was the old boy on ice, I did worry that people wouldn't take me as seriously - so I just went away and worked my socks off. I didn't want to be thrown off the show during the first couple of weeks. I came fifth so I can't complain really.
I never thought that I'd go back to skating, but I've been asked to take part in a performance of 'The Nutcracker' at the London Palladium later this year with the Imperial Ice Stars - they're our equivalent to the London Ballet. They keep asking me if they can borrow my tights! My opening routine for the show is about 15 minutes long!
Do you have a favourite routine that you performed on Dancing On Ice?
Oh gosh that's a real tough one, it was probably 'O Fortuna' - the theme to 'The Omen'. It was just a weird song for us to be picked to skate too. There were a lot of sharp head movement involved, they make me feel a bit sick. My partner Olga was so tough on me! I l think I loved this routine because it was serious skating, you had to do all of the moves and you had to get them right. So for someone who'd never done anything that like that in life, I really enjoyed it.
What what we've heard today, it sounds like you've had an amazing career, what would you say has been the highlight?
It sounds really weird, but I've liked all of the smaller highlights. So things like standing next to Patrick Swayze and hearing in my ear piece live on telly "ask him to put his cigarette out!" - That's a real highlight isn't it!
Working with Ricky Gervais has to be a highlight too. It's the biggest compliment when someone asks you to take part in one of their projects. I was amazed to be asked to take part in 'Extras' and then be phoned back for 'Life's Too Short' and then again for a one hour special. I was thinking "Oh my God, all of these people that don't trust me, but Ricky Gervais does, I don't give a damn about the others"
They were really fun to be a part of but there have also been some quieter highlights too, like when I've knocked on somebody's door and given them £20,000 - which has been lifesaving. It's come to them at a time when they really needed it.
This December you’re performing Jake and the Beanstalk, but what would your dream choice of panto be?
I think I've already done it - 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. So I'm thrilled to be doing it again. It's got every element in it. This sounds weird but when people offer me a panto I think in my head that's going to be really loud and noisy. 'Cinderella' is nice and quiet,' Aladdin' is the same sort of thing but 'Jack and the Beanstalk' is all noise, it's just a wall of sound from beginning to end. As soon as you walk on that stage they'll scream, I know what Swindon's like and that's exactly what they do. In 46 years of being in this business I've never know an audience so loud in the whole of my career. Honestly my ears are ringing when I come off stage.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I've got a studio at home, so I do lots of editing and voice over work when I get the chance. I'm a great fan of technology, which not many people know - I do lots of broadcasts that I put on the web - so that's my hobby in a way. I'm a techo-nerd, give me a soldering iron and I'm the happiest man in the world.
Would you ever appear on a reality TV show again?
I've been offered them all, last year I was offered 'Strictly', 'Big Brother' and I've been offered 'I'm A Celebrity', I don't know how many times. Don't get me wrong I think they're lovely shows and I'm a huge fan of them, but what do you do? I couldn't think of anything more boring than sitting around in the jungle. When Dancing On Ice came along I thought hang on a minute this sounds like a challenge, can a man of my age really learn how to skate? Unlike some of the other shows, 'Dancing On Ice' isn't invasive - nobody knows me!