Tongue-lashing Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood has a softer side
- Credit: Archant
Workaholic celebrity tells Alex Bellotti that despite his trademark bitchy TV persona, deep down he is honestly a very nice guy
‘The odd thing about television is that you’re in people’s homes, invading their privacy. Because of that, they think they can say anything to you.”
Craig Revel Horwood is used to criticism. Because of his infamous propensity for dishing it out on Strictly Come Dancing, no one thinks twice about giving it back. As a man of many talents, this often has implications for the Camden resident’s life away from the screen.
“Producers watch me on television and think I’m going to be bile or too expensive, or both. It’s a double whammy – critics then come to see my theatre work saying, ‘this guy’s horrid, let’s see what he can do then’. You have to develop a thick skin.”
It’s not easy being mean. Especially when, as I quickly discover, Revel Horwood is really nothing of the sort. Away from the boos of a praise-hungry Strictly audience, his honesty is a virtue rather than a crutch – something the wider public are beginning to realise too.
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“I was walking down a crossing the other day and some truck drivers lowered their windows and actually gave me a thumbs-up. I think people like the honesty now – most think it, but no one says it. I love saying it.”
Of course Revel Horwood is not the sort to suffer fools. As the director of two upcoming productions, The Witches of Eastwick and Fiddler on the Roof, do any of his performers suffer his trademark verbal lashings?
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“With something like Strictly, I’m looking at novice dancers who I’d never put in a show. The people I work with in theatre though are fantastic talents who I’ve personally picked, so I absolutely have no gripe with them.
“They do get a bit nervous at the auditions, thinking that I’m going to hold up a number. But then it comes to rehearsals, we go down the pub and they realise I’m very nice really.”
In fact, Revel Horwood says the only issue he has is remembering which production he’s watching auditions for. To call him a workaholic would undersell it – in addition to these two plays, he’s about to embark on a two-week cruise where he’ll teach holiday goers to dance, before returning to choreograph the Strictly Confidential tour.
Furthermore, this is fit around charity work for the National Osteoporosis Society and preparation for an autumn panto stint as the Wicked Queen in Snow White.
And that’s just before Strictly starts again in September.
“I only keep my Saturdays free for the show to be honest,” Revel Horwood says. “The thing is, I have to expect it’s not coming back each series and in television you don’t get a gold watch, pension and redundancy package. If they did get rid of me it’d be fine, I can do my theatre.”
Given the choice, Revel Horwood insists he would always choose directing over television. Famous for staging shows where the cast perform musically as well as theatrically, he is developing a style he can very much call his own.
“I love choosing huge musicals to do in tiny spaces with few people – it forces you to get out of creative corners. Someone will say OK, you’ve only got eight grand to go and make something like the Witches of Eastwick, which usually has all these special effects. As a director, that really does make you think.”
Musical theatre has been in Revel Horwood’s blood for as long as he can remember. As a young Australian, he migrated to the UK after a brief stay in Paris to pursue life as a dancer.
Realising his body was beginning to lag, he moved in his early thirties into directing, before a friend notified him of an opportunity at the BBC for a new show.
“I was cast in Strictly through auditions like anybody else,” he says. “It was so last minute. I was working at the time so went up to the BBC on my lunch break.
“They sat me down, told me not to look into the camera and brought in these dancers – first in were Brendan Cole and Natasha Kaplinsky. After their performance, the producers asked me to sum it up in three words. I looked over at the pair and just said, ‘dull’, ‘dull’ and ‘dull’. That pretty much did it.”
Admitting he reads every review of his theatre work, there is a side of Revel Horwood that still cares how people conversely judge him. At the age of 18, as he reveals in his autobiography All Balls and Glitter, such concerns convinced him to pay for a nose-job.
“If you hate something, change it,” he says. “I didn’t have any confidence before, so doing it gave me an enormous amount of new belief. I don’t agree with full on face-lifts, but if you want a nose job, tit job or bum lift and it changes you positively then do it.”
That burning desire to change and improve is another trait that has always been part of Revel Horwood’s life. As a 17-year-old, he became a rent boy and later a drag queen to fund his exit from Ballarat, Australia.
“Things like that are what makes you who you are. It shapes a person, gives you life experience. Funnily enough the drag queen thing for me came in very handy– I am after all playing the Wicked Queen in Snow White.”
Indeed, it seems Revel Horwood enjoys finding new ways to play to the boo boys. Yet with all his hard work, there are bound to be a few more thumbs up to enjoy as well.
n For more information about Revel Horwood’s projects, visit craigrevelhorwood.com.