He’s just one of 8000 people carrying the Olympic flame on its journey across the UK, but with millions set to watch his every step, EastEnders actor Perry Fenwick is feeling the pressure.
“My main concerns are: remember your lines, don’t fall over and don’t let the torch go out,” he says. “If I can achieve that on the night and do a little bit of acting on top then I’ll be thrilled. Hopefully, there’ll be a large gin and tonic waiting for me in my dressing room afterwards.”
Fenwick’s character Billy Mitchell will process the torch through Walford live on 23 July. But as the date looms, the actor’s concerns are intensifying:
“I’ve got into this habit of coming in of a morning and doing a few laps of Albert Square. I basically want to find every pothole and dodgy little bit so the crew can fill them in before the night.
“I’ve started thinking, ‘God, it’s not far away now’. And I’ve been having these bizarre actor/athlete dreams where I’ve got no trousers on or I’m tripping up. It’s a weird blurring of fiction and reality.”
Fenwick’s nightmares have been made manifest in a special episode, available via the BBC red button after tonight’s episode, that sees Billy – accompanied by sporting legends such as Dame Kelly Holmes and Tessa Sanderson and comedian Omid Djalili – plagued by visions of what could go wrong.
“We filmed at Wembley Stadium, my beloved Upton Park [West Ham United’s ground] and we invaded The One Show. To be in every scene for three days was great! All the actors were EastEnders fans, which was brilliant, and they were all up for a bit of improvising.”
So has the experience focused his mind for when Billy carries the torch live, watched by an audience of millions?
“The route is pretty much a circuit of the Square. But I was running round there yesterday morning and the head cameraman stopped me and said, ‘You can’t run that fast on the night.’ If I ran as I normally do – and I still play football and keep myself fairly fit – then I could easily do it in half a minute.
“But this is a seven-minute live insert and I’ll have a police convoy behind me, so I won’t be going at much more than walking pace. There are things going on for other characters as well, so the cameras won’t just stay on me. I’ll actually be doing more running off screen than you’ll be seeing on because I’ll be sprinting from the Queen Vic to other locations while I’m not in shot. What you won’t see is what will be knackering me.”
Billy, of course, has always been the underdog of EastEnders and someone who’s never been dealt an easy hand. So the fact he now has this moment in the spotlight makes it all the more touching:
“Well, he’s an honest joe, isn’t he?,” says Fenwick. “There’s a lot of greedy characters in the show. Everybody trying to get as much as they can and stitch people up. And Billy’s not like that – he’d be quite happy if he had his wife and kids back and was able to run the fruit and veg stall forever. That’s his simple dream. He doesn’t want to win the lottery, he just wants what he thinks everyone else has got.”
So who is more excited by the occasion – Billy or Perry?
“Well, the buzz is incredible. It’s a completely different way of shooting – normally, we have four cameras but we’ve got 19 on this. Even on a busy day, we’ll only have 40 extras. There’s more than 350 for this.
“The fact that an extra couple of million people will tune in to see whether I fall over is a pressure in itself. I’m so relieved – and I know there’s a touch of schadenfreude about this – that the torch has already gone out once or twice along the relay route. That’s taken the heat off me. Put it this way – I’ll be very pleased for Billy if Perry doesn’t drop the torch.”