FOR the past 15 years, Craig Revel Horwood has been the man we have loved to hate as one of the judges on the hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing, writes JOHN ANSON.

On the show he’s always been something of a pantomime villain, handing out harsh criticism and low scores with barely disguised relish.

But now he’s in Manchester as the real thing, playing the Wicked Queen in the annual festive pantomime at the Opera House, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which runs until Saturday, December 29.

This will be the 11th successive year that Craig has taken a central role in a major pantomime - all the more surprising to learn then that he came to pantomime relatively late.

“Sadly Australia doesn’t really have pantomime, and it certainly doesn’t have the same popular appeal as it does in the UK,” he said. “So I never got to see one as a child.”

Craig, now 54, was born in Ballarat in Western Australia and didn’t move to the UK until he was 24 to pursue his dancing career.

“The first pantomime I saw I actually ended up starring in,” he recalls. “Producers Qdos Entertainment first offered me a job directing one of their productions, but due to work commitments I had to turn them down - they quickly called back and asked if I’d appear in one instead.

“I fancied something a bit different after a few years on the panel of Strictly so I jumped at the chance of dusting my heels off and giving it a go.

“From that first panto I was sold - I’ve been back every Christmas ever since.”

At the Opera House, Craig joins an all-star cast for the festive family treat.

Eric Potts, best-known for his role as Coronation Street’s eccentric baker Diggory Compton, plays Dame Nora Crumble; West End star Zoe George, who has starred in Wicked, will play the heroine Snow White and Ben Nickless, who starred in last year’s Opera House show, Cinderella, returns in the comedy role as Muddles.

Craig will be living up to his name, revelling in the role of the Wicked Queen.

“Being the Wicked Queen means I can be really nasty to Snow White and her ghastly friends,” he said. “Although I like to think the Queen is just a bit misunderstood, and a rather desperate woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis, which explains everything!”

Craig gave TV audiences a glimpse of what theatregoers can expect when he did a routine on Strictly singing Hello Dolly in drag.

For Snow White, some of his costumes will be among the most spectacular things on view.

“They are fabulous and I’ve been allowed to have input into her general look - including doing my own make up, darling!” he laughed.

“But ask any woman in heels and they’ll soon tell you how difficult that can be, and doing two shows a day in them is quite painful. I’m also pulled into a corset for my costume, but ultimately I need to look wickedly glamorous at all times, so no pain, no gain."

Again, on Strictly, Craig has given audiences a taste of what they can expect with his waspish wit knocking down hecklers who have criticised his marking on the show. And for pantomime it is very much part of the show.

“I’m always heckled, and I’m disappointed when I’m not. Putting them back in their place keeps me on my toes!” he said.

“My favourite audience moment wasn’t a heckle, but after my big number I looked out into the audience and saw an entire row of people holding up paddles of ‘10’s, that was fab-u-lous.”

Having become something of an expert on the genre, Craig is the man to ask what makes a great panto.

“You’ve got to treat it like you would a musical and fill it with great music, a great script, a great cast and plenty of glitz and glamour...and a lot of hard work,” he said. “When it works it’s wonderful.

“Panto is a fantastic introduction to theatre and is often the first taste of live entertainment for children. In a time where we’re all so transfixed by screens, it’s a brilliant opportunity to sit back, be entertained and let the imagination soar for a few hours with loved ones. And Boo and Hiss me as loudly as possible, darling.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, runs at Manchester Opera House, until Saturday, December 29. For further information go online at