Star of stage and screen Paul Nicholas heads the cast of A Christmas Carol at the Opera House this month. Entertainment writer ANNA CRYER caught up with him ahead of opening night.
He’s had a prolific stage career, but it’s as nice guy Vince in Just Good Friends that Paul Nicholas was perhaps best known.
That is until earlier this year, when he joined the cast of EastEnders as the mysterious Gavin, husband to the long-thought dead Walford favourite Kathy Beale.
Confused? You should, and most likely will, be.
To recap, in brief: Kathy left Albert Square in 2000, and in 2006 was ‘killed’ in a car crash in South Africa with her husband Gavin Sullivan.
This was, in fact, an insurance scam, and Gavin convinced Kathy to go on the run, to keep her sons Ian and Ben safe.
I’ve been busier than ever
Fast forward to February this year, and the EastEnders’ 30th anniversary live episode when Kathy was revealed to be alive, well and back in London, planning to escape the ever-controlling Gavin, confessing she faked her death and hoping to be reunited with her family.
Via various threats, kidnappings and blackmail schemes, somehow – this is Soapland remember – it eventually transpired, in an atmospheric Halloween episode, that Gavin is Sharon Mitchell’s biological father.
And he’s not been seen since, although Sharon has been seen attempting to call her ‘dad’.
A relationship, of sorts, started to be established between Gavin – described by show bosses as ‘an EastEnders villain like no other’ – and his daughter, but Paul says it’s ‘early days’ for the character who he wasn’t ‘quite aware’ of would be such an important addition to Albert Square.
Sharon has been in the soap since is launched in 1985, played throughout by Letitia Dean, and was the adopted daughter of the Queen Vic pub’s original landlord and lady Den and Angie Watts – all adding up to a major place in the soap’s back catalogue and future potential for Gavin.
“I don’t watch the soaps too much as I’m working,” Paul said. “But as people come into others’ lives, it’s clear there’s a strong link for Sharon and Gavin.
“You are aware of who you are playing, as a blood relative, but obviously he hasn’t been around.”
While he may be maturing in years, to be polite, there’s been no stopping Paul this year; he was in Agatha Christie play And Then There Were None on a national tour at the same time as filming for EastEnders.
That tour had a Blackpool stop-off at the Grand in April, and he also directed Tommy at the Opera House in September, the venue he’s now back at to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
“As it turned out, I was the killer in And Then There Were None, which worked well to be not such a charming character,” he said. “I’ve had a good reaction to the change [to bad guy roles].
“It’s good for me too, to not have to play young charming men which isn’t easy at my age.
“Someone strong and off centre, so to speak, is good to play, and Scrooge is not inappropriate with that in mind, he is a miserable so-and-so, and humourless to say the least.
“Gavin is one of those, as father to Sharon now, who’s a bit of a chameleon; a bit of a Scarlet Pimpernel, that you never quite know where he is, and he is the type who could drift in and out of it.
“Whether they have massive plans for him, I have no idea, but I kind of like that he is someone you can’t quite nail down.
“What’s interesting about soap is that the actors don’t really know where it’s going. You work about six weeks ahead of what’s on screen, but what’s coming beyond that for Gavin I have no idea.”
So, Paul is now set to continue in bad guy mode as he returns to Blackpool – a place which holds plenty of theatrical memories for him – in A Christmas Carol.
“This is a lovely show,” he said. “Musically it’s very strong, it’s like being in a Disney film, it has that magical musical flavour.
“Like in those movies there’s a lot of underscoring [music played while dialogue takes place], and that combination of music and dialogue keeps the flavour going too.”
The festive musical is the first major UK staging of the New York hit that spent a decade entertaining families on a huge scale at the city’s Madison Square Garden, thanks to music by Alan Menken, direction by Mike Ockrent and choreography by Susan Stroman.
Paul heads the cast as its month-long run at the Winter Gardens’ Opera House gets underway.
“I don’t understand why it hasn’t been seen in the UK, it has snuck under the radar,” Paul said. “With that combination of creative team [having worked on it in the past], it should have all the right ingredients.
“It’s always nice to feel you’re in something that’s potentially very good. We’ve all been in things when you think it’s a bit iffy, and you recognise when something should work so the cast are all very keen to give it the best shot we can.”
Being settled in one place for a few weeks while A Christmas Carol runs, as well as the preceeding rehearsal period at the Winter Gardens, is giving 71-year-old Paul a chance to take stock on a busy year.
“My wife had this kind of image of us slowing down, but I’ve been busier than ever this year,” he said. “She said the other day, ‘I think you will be doing this until you drop’.
“And I don’t think of it as work, it’s something I enjoy doing.”
And if that’s the case, why would you stop?
• A Christmas Carol, Opera House, until Sunday, January 3. Call (01253) 625252 or visit www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk for tickets.