Phoenix return for Steve

Steve Royle plays Silly Billy in Sleeping Beauty''Photo: David Hurst'The cast of Sleeping Beauty pantomine on at at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, gather in Stanley Park for a photocall.
Steve Royle plays Silly Billy in Sleeping Beauty''Photo: David Hurst'The cast of Sleeping Beauty pantomine on at at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, gather in Stanley Park for a photocall.
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Steve Royle loves Christmas and the panto season.

But this year’s offering can almost not end soon enough, as he will get to fulfil a long-standing ambition in the new year – completing his audition at the Phoenix Club.

Steve appeared as a useless auditionee at the end of an episode of Peter Kay’s now legendary sitcom Phoenix Nights back in 2001.

And no sooner will his panto run as Silly Billy in Sleeping Beauty come to an end at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, on Sunday, than he will be into rehearsals for the live remake of the show which will run at Manchester Arena for a fortnight from Saturday, January 31.

“We’ve not got that many rehearsals,” he said, “and I don’t know what I will be doing, it’s all very secretive from those who’ve written it and we’ve not got scripts yet.

“I never got to do my act on Phoenix Nights, as I was meant to be a rubbish juggler... But without giving too much away, I will finally get to conclude my act.”

Since the original series, Steve’s stayed in contact with Peter Kay, as a regular warm-up act for his live performances – and Peter even came to see the Grand panto last week, surprising cast and audience members alike.

Regarding the return of Phoenix Nights, Steve said: “I knew several months ago it was happening, probably 
after Easter. Peter phoned me and it has been so hard to keep it quiet.

“Family and friends were asking about it once the 
rumours started to get out, and it’s been very exciting being in the know.

“I was genuinely shocked how fast it sold out and how popular the show still is.”

This Christmas is Steve’s twelfth stint in the Grand’s pantomime, having fun in the festive season as the comedy characters such as Muddles, Buttons and this year’s Silly Billy.

And for the first time, he’s taking to the skies as Silly Billy makes a flying entrance for his first scene.

“It’s a very delicate proceedure,” Steve said, of being fitted into his flying harness for each performance. “I have a lovely lady to help me, and she always asks me ‘Are you happy?’ and my reply is ‘It’s just the harness’, that’s our little joke.

“I thought flying would be all graceful and magical but a lot of pain goes into it. Everyone else seems to have been given padded pants to wear but I just have wires cutting in to me, and I have Harry Potter suspended from my broomstick, too.

“Usually it’s the bad fairy who flies, but Jennifer (Ellison, who plays Carabosse) only gave birth a couple of months ago, so it’s ended up with all of the rest of us doing it instead.

“Panto is always brilliant, it’s my favourite time of year.

“Sleeping Beauty is maybe not the best of stories, but that gives way for a lot of comedy routines and double acts, and Nick (Wilton) and Michael (Chance) are brilliant as the dame Nurse Nelly and the King. I just go off at tangents sometimes and I look at their faces and see them wondering when I’m going to stop.”

As the comedy character, Steve’s in charge of the traditional ‘meet the kids’ scene, providing some great laughs at the little ones’ expense.

“The kids on stage this year have been a gift,” he said. “There are two types of kids who come up – the really cute ones sent up because grandmas are so proud of them, and those whose parents just want a break from them for 10 minutes!”

And Steve’s own children are forging their own love for pantomime – with his youngest daughter Lucy, seven, making her panto debut this year, following in the footsteps of her big sisters Rosie, nine, and Daisy, 11 – although she’s now too old after several years taking part.

“She’s loving it, and even wants to come to the theatre when it’s not her team’s turn for the show,” he said.

“I get so much pleasure from seeing them doing this, I’m chuffed to bits.

“When I make my first entrance, flying in, I look down and see their faces. The little one is the spitting image of me, it’s a shame there are no scenes where I have to shrink – I do something like that in Aladdin, and maybe there’s potential in Snow White next year, if I’m in it again.”

Sleeping Beauty runs at the Grand Theatre, Church Street, Blackpool, until Sunday. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.