Having been in showbiz for 46 years, Keith Chegwin is best known for his comedy antics and ‘Wey-hey’ catchphrase. An apparent convert to ice skating, he shocked audiences with his surprisingly good performances on Dancing on Ice earlier this year and is surprising us yet again with a lead rôle in the national tour of The Nutcracker on Ice.Nicole Evans caught up with him to find out more.
You’re coming to the LondonPalladiumin October to perform in The Nutcracker on Ice. How did that come about? Who approached whom?
Oh my God, I can’t tell you! I’ve been in this business for 46 years and I’ve done everything from tap dancing in the West End with Ginger Rogers, I’ve wing-walked, I’ve done so many things, but this has to be the biggest compliment of my career that I have ever had. This is the equivalent of the Royal Ballet phoning to say ‘we’re doing Swan Lake next week, here are some tights’. I thought it was a joke, some radio guy doing an interview for laughs. I phoned them back and they said ‘we saw your skating skills on Dancing on Ice’. For once in my life somebody has taken me seriously! I’m very excited by it.
And the London Palladium of all places. How does that feel?
Oh yeah, it’s the one place I’ve always aspired to perform. I’m from the old genre in a way where theatre was always such a huge part of your life and the climax of that would be performing at the London Palladium. I only realised the other day that The London Palladium started its life as…wait for it… an ice rink! For them to have revamped the place with four tons of ice and all those thousands of litres of antifreeze, it’s amazing.
You’ll be dancing alongside Olga, who of course was your partner for Dancing on Ice.
This is weird. When you see The Nutcracker, you will think that Olga and I are partners, we are, but we are actually skating individually. Dancing on Ice is great and lovely to watch, but you have got a partner and are skating the moves together but in this I’m an individual skater like the others. Although Olga and I are together, because she’s my assistant, we don’t actually skate together that much. She is amazing though, I’ve never seen a skater like her in my life.
You had a shaky start to ice dancing, with some pretty nasty injuries; it must have taken a lot of courage to try again?
It’s funny because I’ve been offered quite a lot of the other reality shows, and I’m not knocking them, because I love watching them but, for me there’s just nothing in it. What do you do, just sit in the jungle. But skating… When it came about I just leapt at it. When I went down to audition and do a run through, Christopher Dean said: “Just go as fast as you can”, so I did. The course record is 14mph and I’m doing 15. So of course I fell and broke my shoulder, cracked my ribs etc, but I must be a glutton for punishment as I thought, yeah I really do want to learn to skate, let’s give it another go. I’ve got the bug.
It’s fair to say you were a bit of an underdog when you finally got a chance to take part and everybody expected you to be a bit of a comedy act, did you think you would do so well?
No, I didn’t. I thought I would have been out on the first show. The judges would say things like ‘your skating is very good’ but then score you 3! I think they were thinking ‘he’s 56 years of age, he’s just come on for a laugh’ and I think they were quite surprised, because I hadn’t. When I really put my mind to something, I really want to go for it and luckily each week they made our routines a bit more challenging and we stayed on until near the end so I can’t complain really. It was more than I’d hoped to have achieved.My mother always said to me ‘don’t do that Dancing on Ice because it’s dangerous!
You might have proved her right on that one!
Yes! She is right, but I phoned her up and she said she was really happy about it because she was worried I’d be the joke of the series but I wasn’t.
How does The Nutcracker on Ice compare to Dancing on Ice?
It doesn’t. This sounds really derogatory and I don’t want it to be, but I’ll be honest with you, Dancing on Ice is really just entertainment and showbiz, whereas The Nutcracker on Ice is really serious dance, and it’s fast. Normally you have 60m by 60m for skating with lots of room to develop a move, this is 15m by 15m and the moves are so furious. Also my learning capabilities have had to improve, they tell you to do this, this and this lift, and I asked if we should practice off ice, he went: “No, no, no, we not skate on carpet, we skate on ice!”. They are just incredibly professional.
I’ve got to ask, how many times have you fallen over so far?
Once! I did four days of really hard training with them and on the last day I just caught my toe pick and went. But not bad really.
Well we’ve had Dancing on Ice, now The Nutcracker on Ice, next stop the Olympics?[Laughs] Oh God, that would be incredible, wouldn’t it? Do you know what? If I popped my clogs tomorrow, I think I’ve achieved everything I wanted to do, because this is like the ultimate thing ever. To have my name in lights at the Palladium and dance with Olga and The Imperial Ice Stars and then go touring, it’s the ultimate thing.
On a more serious note, do you think you’ll carry on with skating after this?
Yes, I know I will, because I enjoy it so much. I surprised a lot of the people at the local ice ring, because when Dancing on Ice finished, I carried on skating. I love the atmosphere of it, I love the mechanics of it and also it keeps you fit! Also if this was to carry on touring and I could carry on skating I’d absolutely love it.
The Nutcracker on Ice tour kicks off at The London Palladium on October 24th. Tickets are available here