August 22, 2008
Craig Revel Horwood says that some days he doesn't leave his house. 'Or I wear a hoodie and glasses, but I still get recognised. Oh, heavens, you know, it's awful.
'I was in this square in Newbury and I was assaulted. This woman came up to me and said: 'You're Craig Revel Horwood, aren't you?' and then she slapped me across the face. Blimey! I need bodyguards. Even my mother, Bev, attacks me.'
I am sitting opposite Craig in the bar of a London hotel. Craig, of course, is the 'nasty' judge on Strictly Come Dancing.
While fellow dance experts Len Goodman, Arlene Phillips and Bruno Tonioli soothe celebrity egos with honeyed words, Craig is 'the Queen of Mean'. He made Penny Lancaster cry after telling her she looked like 'a swinger', told Letitia Dean she was fat and called Esther Rantzen's performance on the floor 'the dance of desperation'.
He certainly looks like a queen. Horwood is openly gay and, until recently, was in a 13-year relationship with another man. As a taster for his forthcoming autobiography, All Balls And Glitter, he told one red-top tabloid that he had been a rent boy.
Craig, 41, definitely glitters. He is dressed in a striped shirt with a silver leather tie. His jeans, which have a gaping hole in the left knee, are finished with a pair of shiny purple tap shoes. (As well as being a critic and award-winning choreographer, Australian-born Craig is an accomplished dancer.)
'So, prisoner in the dock,' I say, 'you stand accused of being Mr Nasty. What have you to say in your defence?'
He giggles helplessly. One on one, Craig is charming, friendly and has an attractive face, with cobalt eyes full of puckish mischief. But Stalin could be charming, too. With a beady eye, I ask the accused if his Strictly persona is strictly contrived? In which case, he might get off with a suspended sentence.
He says: 'Not really. It's what I'm like: direct. Len Goodman [Craig rolls his eyes] is so, so nice [he makes a gagging sound], Arlene always gives good-looking men top marks and Bruno is all flowery. I get to the point. When you've only got 20 seconds, you have to hit the nail on the head. I'm a critic of dancing, so I criticise. I was amazed when people started to call me Mr Nasty.'
He insists that his comments are always constructive. I produce Exhibit A for the prosecution. Letitia Dean. Was it constructive to call Miss Dean a spinning porker?
Craig wriggles. 'It wasn't exactly like that. Fat people can dance. I actually said that she needed to do stomach crunches to be fitter.'
I decide to drop that particular charge. But how does he plead to calling Jan Raven's dancing 'embarrassing', provoking her husband, Max, to haul off and punch him?
'Oh, guilty,' he replies, grinning. 'Did you see that episode when she started twanging her garter? No? Lucky you. It was awful, darling.'
I let him off with a caution on that one, and bring up the prosecution's most serious charge. 'You are also accused,' I say sternly, 'of insulting the venerated Bruce Forsyth, the programme's host.' Craig allegedly said that Brucie had only three words on each of his autocue pages, written extra large, and added that the production team was agog each week to see what 'screw-ups' he'd make.
'Oh, dear,' he responds, with the air of a child whose finger has been found in the cookie jar. 'I'm not really allowed to talk about that.' He then proceeds to talk. 'Bruce's autocue words are big, yes. But he is 80. He does cover up well if something, er, goes wrong.' I say I will leave the jury to consider that one. In his book, Craig promises to sing like a canary about the show, including what he refers to as 'the backstage backstabbing'.
'The celebrities just cannot take criticism, even when they are abysmal. But, unfortunately, it's the public that has the vote. I get so frustrated by how they vote. They just vote for their favourite celebs.'
'You regard the public as an ass, then?' He decides to incriminate himself. 'When it comes to dancing, yes.'
Craig bats his eyes. They look suspiciously like they have had lash extensions attached. 'Why are you wearing what looks suspiciously like eyelash extensions?' I ask. 'Because they are eyelash extensions,' replies Craig.
'I love make-up. I might bring out my own line of man make-up. We wear lots of it on the show, including spray tan. Arlene is in make-up for three hours. Ha, ha! Len hates it and refuses to have mascara. He yells: 'Oh, get off me. Take it off.'
But once, the make-up artists forgot him and he really complained.'
What else will he let slip? Wound up, Craig evidently wants to talk about his fellow judges.
'Arlene and the others are so different off camera. They have images to protect, backstage is a different story. Sometimes they call me a bastard, or admit I was right. I especially disagree with Len's judgement. He is Mr Ballroom. I think ballroom is so dull!'
What? Does the accused want to retract that, I ask, astonished. After all, Strictly is a celebration of ballroom dancing. 'But ballroom bores me rigid to watch. All those ballroom rules drive me up the wall. They stop creativity.'
As a change from Strictly (the new series begins on September 20), Craig is putting on a flamenco show at the Lyric Theatre in London, opening on September 18. Called Flamenco Flamen'ka, it is to be performed by world-class flamenco dancers, including the acclaimed Argentinian snake-hipped Jos Castro.
'Most of the dancers are from South America and Spain,' says Craig. 'It's really hard to find good flamenco people over here, which is a shame. But I've got some fantastic performers coming over from abroad. And it's going to be a show with a difference, not just dancing all the time, which would be boring.'
Flamenco Flamen'ka is based on a short story, called The Intruder by the Spanish writer Jorge Luis Borges. It is a tale with a dark twist and complicated sexual undertones.
'It's this love triangle set in a Spanish bordello, with flamenco, tango and modern dance,' enthuses Craig. 'I've had original music composed and I'm going to use classical flamenco music, too. It's really exciting.
'It's about jealousy, betrayal, hate and blood-ties. In the plot, two brothers fall in love with the same girl. And do you know how they resolve it?' By tossing a coin,' I suggest. 'No, they murder her, because they decide that brotherly love is more important. Quite right, too.'
'Well you would say that, being gay,' I reply. 'In your book, you even say you became a rent boy at the age of 17 to pay for dance lessons. Was that something you really needed to expose?'
'It's better than hiding it. I didn't want it hanging over my head for the Press to break in some nasty way. It's better to get it out there.'
What does his mother, Bev, think? 'She's too scared to read the book! But I told my parents I was gay when I was 18. I think my father, Phil, who was in the Navy, suspected. At 11, I already had a drag act, with a swimming cap with hair sticking out of it.'
But why did he have to descend to male prostitution? Craig says he was desperate to get away from Ballarat, the small Australian town in which he was born, near Melbourne. Even so, he adds, he had tried to suppress his homosexuality. 'I did not want to be gay. So I actually got married.' 'Eh?' 'Yeah. I'd had girlfriends, so I was sort of bisexual. Then, at 25, I married this Welsh girl called Jane Hallwood. I was young and stupid.'
The marriage ended in divorce after four years. 'Was it because of your gay side?' 'No, I'd told her about that. It was because she committed adultery.'
Craig roars at my confusion. He declares he is going through a long 'gay phase' and has a new partner, whose name he prefers not to disclose.
'I'm really happy with my life. I'm so excited about Flamenco Flamen'ka and I never expected Strictly to become such a huge success.
'I thought it would be taken off after three episodes. Then, after the first one, I realised how compelling it was. People love to follow celebrities and watch them being humiliated. In the past we had the stocks; now we have Strictly.'
Then I ask him what he thinks of comparisons between him and the equally outspoken Simon Cowell. 'Oh, crikey! I'm not a fan of him or The X Factor. I hate the idea of some person from the gutter who wants to be the next Jordan. It's so tedious.' I wonder who he would really like to see on Strictly?
'Sharon Osbourne. That would be a scream. I'd also really like Princes Harry and Wills to be on it, because they're so awkward and gangly. And a politician. I think Tony Blair would be brilliant because now he just wants to be a celeb, and he has a certain flair.' Gordon Brown? 'Oh, no, no. Please! Imagine him dancing. It would be hideous! People would switch off in droves. Worse than dull, dull, dull.'
Craig was picked as one of the Strictly judges after he adjudicated on Fame Academy. 'I was auditioned by the BBC,' he says, twiddling with his silver tie so it looks like a spinning piece of glitter. 'I had to watch someone dance, I can't remember who. Then I was asked what I thought, and I just said: 'Dull, dull, dull.' That got me the job.'
Craig began his terpsichorean career as a dancer in Melbourne. He then came to London and moved into choreography, winning an Olivier Award for the musical My One And Only. His love of dance emanates from him almost tangibly, like a flamenco dancer's duende, or magic spirit.
He grins again, showing small white teeth. 'I still dance, you know. I have my taps on today.' The accused then proceeds to take me up to the hotel's roof garden. I know his intentions are bad. I know my mother warned me about men like him, but I meekly follow with rabbit-like fascination. 'shall we dance? Just a quick one,' he says.
Before I am aware of what is happening, Craig twirls me around and then bends me backwards over his arm so I look like Ginger Rogers after a car crash.
'Wonderful,' he fibs. 'Let's do it again. Put more weight on to my arm. I won't drop you.' I feel a rush of serotonin to my brain. I could go on like this all day. I know I am supposed to be impartial, but I decide to acquit Craig of everything.
'You are free to go on dancing,' I pronounce. 'You are free to make as many rude remarks as you like.'
Whatever whingeing, clunking-footed celebs think of Craig Revel Horwood, he certainly adds to the gaiety of nations.
FLAMENCO FLAMEN'KA will be at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, for eight weeks from September 18. Call the box office on 0844 412 4661.