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Craig Revel Horwood on how he got into dancing and raunchy Strictly couples

Craig Revel Horwood didn’t want to be a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, the show that has made him a star. He didn’t even want to go to the audition. ‘I said to my manager, “I’m not interested. What is it? Celebrities dancing with professionals? It’s going to be pathetic. Awful. Car-crash television. I really don’t want to do that.’’’

The lifelong dancer was a highly acclaimed choreographer and director in the West End when the call came in 2004. ‘I never wanted to become famous. I became a choreographer so I could sit in the dark and not be recognised.’

Craig Revel Horwood is giving Event his frankest interview yet about his extraordinary life

That’s an extraordinary thing to hear from a man who is about to go on a nationwide tour with an all-singing, all-dancing show based on his own life, called All Balls And Glitter. As he gets ready to tell all on tour, Revel Horwood is giving Event his frankest interview yet about his extraordinary life: including why he traded sex with an older man for dance classes as a teenager in Australia, why a short-lived marriage to a woman in his 20s failed and the day his father tried to shoot his mum.

As for his reluctance to step into the limelight with Strictly in the first place, he says: ‘I felt forced to go to the audition in my lunch hour, so I was in a foul mood.’

They asked him to comment on a clip of two dancers. ‘I said, “Whoever is walking down the stairs is terrible, she can’t even walk, let alone dance. It is very lame, darling. The boy’s got the most bowed legs I have ever seen for a professional dancer…’’’

So he didn’t hold back! ‘They said, “Could you cut it down to three words?” I went, “Dull, dull, dull.” And they were the first three words that ever came out of my mouth on Strictly Come Dancing.’

The dancers he demolished were TV newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole, who went on to win the series. ‘So there you are: I know nothing!’

The live audience booed when he gave the same verdict during the first television episode and a star was born. ‘From the moment the boos started, I became Mr Nasty.’

Revel Horwood with current partner Jonathan Myring at their Hampshire home. 'It's nice for people to know I am human. I am not affected by the business, like a lot of people'

Revel Horwood with current partner Jonathan Myring at their Hampshire home. ‘It’s nice for people to know I am human. I am not affected by the business, like a lot of people’

The other three original judges were Hot Gossip founder Arlene Phillips, movie choreographer Bruno Tonioli and ballroom expert Len Goodman. Goodman left a few years ago but recently blasted the show for being too raunchy these days. ‘I couldn’t disagree with him more,’ says Revel Horwood. ‘I think Len is living in the Dark Ages, or thinks that Strictly should be set in the Fifties. He became a dancer in order to pick up girls, you know. Now you can go on Tinder, but in Len’s day you had to go and have a dance with them. It wasn’t raunchy back then, but of course people had sex!’

He’s letting rip again. ‘You’ve got to be clear about this: Strictly dancing is sexy, whether you like it or not. What are you going to do, put no sex in the Rumba? They call it the dance of love but what would it be then? The dance of cold, wet fish?’

He held his tongue and said nothing when 189 people complained to the BBC when Strictly showed two men dancing as a couple for the first time, just before Christmas, but now he lacerates them. ‘Out of 13 million viewers, that’s not bad. Those people need to turn off. Don’t pay your TV licence, don’t watch the BBC if you can’t cope with two men dancing with each other. It’s ridiculous. Those 189 people should be named and shamed.’ That’s strong. Surely they have a right to complain if they want to, as licence-fee payers? ‘It’s totally homophobic.’

But these are rare flashes of anger. For the rest of the time, as we talk on the white sofas at his manor house in the Hampshire countryside, it’s pretty clear this tall, witty man is nothing like the poker-faced pantomime-villain we see on screen, demolishing egos. ‘When I am not judging people, I am not judgy.’

Neither is he orange or as artificial-looking as he seems under studio lights, in full make-up. There is a hint of Botox in the smooth, wide forehead and the hairline may have had some help, but Horwood is naturally handsome and looks young for 55. His famous catchphrases with their attention-seeking, drawn-out syllables – ‘Dis-ah-ster dah-ling!’ – are all about making the maximum impact on telly. ‘There’s no time to sugar-coat it. I’ve got 20 seconds to speak my mind.’

Some dancers get angry at his comments, some even cry. ‘I don’t care about the celebrities, oddly. I care about the dancing but I don’t care about their emotional state and I don’t care how they take the criticism, because that’s not my problem.’

Revel Horwood on his wedding day with wife Jane in 1990. 'I was both gay and straight, so being bisexual, it wasn’t a big issue for me or for her'

Revel Horwood on his wedding day with wife Jane in 1990. ‘I was both gay and straight, so being bisexual, it wasn’t a big issue for me or for her’

Viewers do care though and it can spill over into real life in alarming ways. ‘An old woman came up to me on the street and whacked me across the face. Then she said, “That’s because you said something really bad about my favourite celebrity. But please don’t change, I love it!” ’

Now he’s going on tour to dance, sing and reveal more of himself. ‘I am only really known as a two-dimensional character on television. Nobody knows I sing, so I will sing stuff from musicals I’ve done: Miss Saigon, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, La Cage Aux Folles. I’m going to explain what my life was like and is now.’

Revel Horwood was born in Ballarat, Australia. ‘My dad was in the Navy for 20 years so we moved around. I actually started school in this country, while he was training in Portsmouth. We went to Sydney and then back to Ballarat [in Victoria] when I was 13. Growing up there was not easy. It’s quite a macho society. They push cricket, football – all of those sports I don’t like.’

How did he get into dancing? ‘Everyone went through puberty before me but I was still a chubby kid with a pretty face. In PE they made me run round with my top off. After that I was called “Tits”. I was miserable and so a girl in the school orchestra called Amanda suggested I go to exercise classes with her. I thought they were Jane Fonda workouts but it was jazz ballet. I fell in love with it and decided I wanted to become a dancer.’

There was another good reason to chase that dream. ‘Dancing gave me a way to be free of my family life. My father was an alcoholic and he was quite abusive. He just screamed at us all the time. That upbringing made me drive harder to achieve something. Just to escape.’

It does sound horrendous. ‘My dad tried to kill my brother-in-law and my mother. He shot over their heads, that’s what he said, but the threat was still there. The police picked him up in his pyjamas and he went to prison. He was clean for four years after that, but then he started drinking again and it was all over. It took that for Mum to not have him back.’

His father died four years ago. Revel Horwood was in England and could not get back for the funeral but he took part by Skype. ‘I sang his favourite song, My Way, which I sing in the new show. That will be hard, but I have come to terms with it. I am pleased he no longer has to live that life.’

His own life was transformed by a man he will only call Mr X. Revel Horwood was 17 and working as a chef and dancing in drag clubs when they met. Mr X was 43. ‘It gave me opportunities I never would have had. So, it was a Sugar Daddy sort of thing. I knew exactly what I was doing.’

Mr X took him on a six-week world tour, including the opening of Cats on Broadway and paid for the teenager to go to dance college in Melbourne, in return for a sexual relationship. ‘The tabloids have called it prostitution but it really is no different to a younger woman marrying an older man then divorcing him for half the money. At least I wasn’t doing that.’

Going to college would have been impossible otherwise, he says. ‘My family couldn’t afford it. I thought, “OK, let’s take this opportunity.” It wasn’t horrific, you know?’

Revel Horwood worked as an exotic dancer in Paris and on tour with the drag legend Danny La Rue, but then joined the first touring cast of Cats. That took him to the West End. ‘I was doing Cats and Miss Saigon at the same time. The matinee of Cats then an evening of Saigon. It was only because they ran out of people to play Munkustrap [the narrator]. They were all off sick or injured, so the producers asked if could I do three weeks of alternating shows.’ Revel Horwood became the dance captain, leading the troupe in many different shows. ‘Then I hung my dancing shoes up forever, at the age of 30.’

As a choreographer and director he worked in opera and ballet as well as West End musicals and was nominated for two prestigious Olivier awards. ‘I am not just someone who holds paddles from one to ten on a Saturday. I am not a diva, otherwise I would not be working. Producers will not work with those types of people. They can’t stand it.’

If that’s a surprise, given his TV image, there’s an even bigger one hidden in his life story. Revel Horwood currently lives with a man, a horticulturalist called Jonathan Myring who is 22 years his junior, but at the beginning of the Nineties he married a woman.

‘Love works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I was 25. Jane was 30 and time was ticking. She wanted to have children and I thought, “Well, this is a really good opportunity.” I was both gay and straight, so being bisexual, it wasn’t a big issue for me or for her. We were two people who loved each other, coming together and wanting to have kids before it was too late. But then it ended in adultery…’

Revel Horwood, aged 18, centre, and his family (from left): sister Diane, dad Phil, brother Trent, sisters Melanie and Sue, and mum Beverley

Revel Horwood, aged 18, centre, and his family (from left): sister Diane, dad Phil, brother Trent, sisters Melanie and Sue, and mum Beverley

On her part? ‘Yeah. It didn’t work out. That was after two-and-a-half years.’ Was that hard to take? ‘Yes, of course it is,’ he says, noticeably using the present tense.

Are they still in touch? ‘Yes, she runs my website. Ha! We go on holidays together. It’s amazing. Her and her family. She’s remarried and she’s got a son. She sort of got everything she wanted in the end.’

He sounds wistful. Could he have lived that family life? ‘Yes, of course I could. I had every intention of doing so, but when you find someone in bed with someone else and they say they are in love with them that does put a dampener on it.’

He then fell in love with a man, the interior designer Lloyd Rooney. ‘I stayed with him for 12 years. I hadn’t known that was possible: a long-term, gay relationship.’

Revel Horwood has talked about marrying his current partner, Jonathan, so have they thought about children? ‘I don’t have any plans yet. I would definitely adopt, because there are so many kids out there that need secure homes.’

There were rumours that he threatened to quit Strictly last summer, but he denies them. ‘I signed for two more series a year ago. So that’s nonsense.’ The issue was that BBC bosses forced him to apologise for a comment about previous winner Stacey Dooley, and her professional partner Kevin Clifton, who had become lovers. Offering tips to the dancers on the next series he said: ‘Of course, if you sleep with your dance partner that helps.’

The comment was never broadcast but Revel Horwood was still made to put out a statement saying it was ‘hurtful, cruel and incredibly disrespectful’. Was he cross about that? ‘No. Do you know how many apologies I’ve had to give out? Oh my God. I am constantly doing it.’

 Do you know how many apologies I’ve had to give out? I’m constantly doing it

A little more pressing reveals there was no smoke without fire and he was actually ready to leave. ‘There is some truth in the fact I said that if the BBC told me what I had to say – if I was scripted in any way – and if I was told I couldn’t say something, then I would not want to do the job. But I said, “I will apologise, absolutely, if it has upset her.” I spoke to Stacey directly after that comment anyway. Plus they’d moved in together!’

Has he ever been tempted to date one of those gorgeous dancers himself? ‘No,’ he says firmly. ‘Only because it’s not my thing. I can’t imagine going out with a dancer. It would be just awful. They are all over the place. Emotionally, physically, everything.’

I wait for the ‘dah-ling’ that usually comes with that word, but this is Craig Revel Horwood very much off duty. ‘It’s nice for people to know I am human. I am not affected by the business, like a lot of people. There are a lot who are full of fear. Through that fear they become divas. They are generally the people who have less talent.’

If he’s half as charming on tour as he has been today it will be great. ‘Oh dah-ling,’ he says at last, puffing out his chest as if ready to perform. ‘We’ll have a ball!’ 

‘Craig Revel Horwood: The All Balls And Glitter Tour’ begins on May 22.