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“I never normally get time to sit down and relax and was almost reaching a point of burnout when lockdown happened, so for me it was a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“All my theatre stuff has completely gone out the window and is all postponed until next year so everything from the last two years has now been crowbarred into next year.”
His single – Christmas Merry Christmas – is from his forthcoming album Craig & Rietta Duets, with best pal Rietta Austin. London-based New Zealander Rietta is one of Strictly’s vocalists.
Craig says it is a “bucket list” achievement. He has his sights set on the festive No1 spot and, not surprisingly, doesn’t care if anyone judges him.
“That was something I wanted to do… a bucket list thing. I always said I’d love to release a Christmas single, so we’re doing it this year.
“If people don’t like it it’s up to them but I really enjoyed doing it. I don’t care what people think, to be honest. I’m making it for myself, I’m not making it to really become an international pop star, I think those days have gone, darling.
“It’s fun and if people dance around the Christmas tree to it, that’s good for your bone health,” added the 56-year-old, speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express in his role as a Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS) ambassador.
Strictly went ahead last year with tough rules to control Covid on set. However, one recent change Craig admits he struggles to get used to is missing former judge Darcey Bussell.
“I do miss Darcey and I love dancing with her, she is so much fun. I miss her terribly but she made that decision and that’s great and she wanted to work with her charities,” said Craig.
Asked about his dream dance partner, he says: “I’d have to go back in time to Ginger Rogers. She was amazing. An exceptional dancer.”
Meanwhile, his nightmare dance companion would be presenter and columnist Piers Morgan.
“He’d be constantly talking and very opinionated. To dance you need to be quiet and learn, it’s all about the body. I don’t know Piers would have the temperament for it.”
One dance partner he can’t wait to strut his stuff with again is the Duchess of Cornwall with whom he danced at an ROS event. He said: “I know the Duchess really loves dancing so hopefully that will happen again soon.”
Sadly, Covid restrictions have left the former professional dancer unable to see his beloved mother for two years and he is also concerned repeated lockdowns have “savaged” the arts. Craig is now preparing to appear in panto and is thrilled theatres have reopened. “The arts industry, it’s been savaged,” he said. “Now we are sort of coming through it… and we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I think people will be desperate to be entertained, gagging, chomping at the bit to get to the theatres and have some well-deserved entertainment.”
And as we return to post-lockdown living, Craig is eager to get people moving to improve bone health. “You cannot just be a couch potato. You can’t pretend every day is a Sunday – and a lot of people felt that at the beginning of lockdown. I just thought this is ridiculous and I got off my backside and started doing things.”
He started supporting the ROS in 2008 after seeing his mum suffer with rheumatoid arthritis.
“When you consider one in two women and one and five men will get osteoporosis over the age of 50 it is alarming. I’m 56 now and I have osteoarthritis but not osteoporosis itself.
“It’s really important to build a bone bank for the future and do weight-bearing exercises. If you’re a kid at school and you don’t like sport then it’s really really good to dance. People like dancing more than anything else and you don’t even notice you’re doing yourself a favour for later on in life.”
He is keen to get children taking up dancing for their bone health and has a TV idea that could boost their enthusiasm.
“Strictly Kids would be fantastic,” he said. “We should campaign for that. Pro dancers judging a kids’ version of the show would be really good.”
His mum, who turns 80 this year, based in Australia, Craig opened up about her isolation. “It’s been absolutely awful for her. She’s been really lonely, she lives by herself, no one is allowed to come and visit.
“They went out of lockdown for a couple of months but Australia has gone back into it again so it’s been two years on and off, on and off and now it’s been 11 months since she has seen anyone. People can’t visit her and she can’t visit them so it’s really difficult. I hope it’s resolved soon.”
In the meantime, Craig is getting back to his exhausting schedule.
“I’m doing panto – Cinderella in Southampton and that is full steam ahead. I’m also doing the Strictly Come Dancing live show, directing it.
“February I start my one-man show and as soon as that finishes I’m directing Strictly Ballroom the musical with the wonderful Kevin Clifton, so I’m really looking forward to next year because it’s going to be busy.
“It’s going to be tiring but it’s great to see some happy, wonderful faces in theatres again.”
- Visit theros.org.uk for help with osteoporosis
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