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Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood is in reflective mode. The man whose praises put contestants in the heavens but whose barbs can bring ‘disaaaaster’, turns 50 in January, although he’s certainly not planning on putting his feet up just yet.
“I’ve definitely done more learning in the last few years. When I was younger I was too focused on dance. But you’re never too old to study. People think you should be winding down by 50, but if you’ve got time on your hands, it’s your chance to really go for it.”
And Craig, who’s originally from Australia, is practising what he preaches. He was 46 when he passed his driving test and 47 when he learnt to scuba dive! “The diving was hard,” he says. “I studied and did lots of training, but felt a real sense of achievement in the end. And as well as gaining a diving certificate, I lost an inch off my waist!”
More recently he put his vocal talents to the test on Gareth’s All Star Choir for Children in Need last month. But his most intensive revision of late was done for the UK Citizenship test. “That was slightly frightening,” he says. “I’d been in this country so long (since the age of 27) and the thought of not passing was awful. They reformat all the questions, so you can’t just learn everything parrot-fashion.”
But failing was not an option. “Becoming a UK citizen made perfect sense,” Craig says. “I felt British and no longer had an Australian accent.”
It has certainly been a busy year. As well as filming Strictly every weekend this autumn he’s now performing twice daily in the panto Peter Pan in Dartford. You’d never have guessed that it’s just over a year since he had a major hip operation, and he still suffers with osteoarthritis.
“But that’s why I went public with my op,” Craig explains. He is referring to the BBC’s insistence on providing him with glitter-covered walking sticks while he was in recovery during Strictly last year. “I wanted people not to feel nervous about major surgery.”
Craig is also a patron of the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS). “I wanted to work with a charity associated with bones, as my mum has rheumatoid arthritis,” he explains. “I decided on the NOS as their cause is a preventable disease. I wanted to help bring about change.”
‘I make a point of charity work because I don’t think ‘celebrity’ is useful for anything else’
His campaign, Boogie For Your Bones, showed how dancing can help keep bones healthy in later life. An important message, when half of women who break a bone past the age of 50 will have osteoporosis-related problems.
“If you’re going to support a charity, it’s important to actually do something,” says Craig. “I make a point of charity work because I don’t think ‘celebrity’ is useful for anything else, to be frank.”
It’s through the NOS that Craig has become friendly with the Duchess of Cornwall, the society’s president. He’s even welcomed her backstage at Strictly!
Other unlikely friendships have also been forged over the years. Craig never dreamed he would befriend ex-MP and past Strictly contestant Ann Widdecombe, for example. “Ann was my nemesis,” Craig says. “I didn’t think we were ever going to get on. But then I danced with her on tour and got to know her. We ended up in panto together!”
Another surprise partnership blossomed with Lisa Riley, who burst onto Strictly back in 2012. “It’s all about charisma,” says Craig. “I thought Lisa would be no good, but she turned out to be amazing; so much so that I wrote a show for her (Strictly Confidential). It goes to show, never judge a book by its cover.”
So what’s next for Craig?
“I can’t wait for January,” he says. “I’m touring with Strictly, then I’ll celebrate my birthday in Australia with family and friends and come back for a lovely big bash with my London lot, panto friends and Damon (Craig’s boyfriend).”
Though life will soon be one long glitzy party, Craig’s not without his share of flack. He often comes under fire in his role as ‘bad cop’ on the Strictly judging panel – especially from fellow judges. But his response is to remain level-headed. “To be honest and be myself, that’s the most important lesson I’ve learnt.”
- The Strictly Come Dancing final airs on Dec 20, BBC1 and the Christmas special is on December 25
There's more star chat in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.