Ask Craig Revel Horwood – famously the panto villain Mr Nasty of Strictly Come Dancing – if he is a kind person, and he doesn’t miss a beat.
“Yes,” he says at once. “I’m very kind. All my ex-boyfriends, bar one, are my best friends. I’m a lovely person, considerate and loving.” Actually, it’s easy to believe it.
That may sound a big leap on the evidence of a one-hour chat with a telly celeb, who is practised at putting across a certain version of himself in an interview.
But talk to people who have encountered him when the cameras are off, and they will tell you that he is indeed kind, approachable and fun – and in the case of this interview at his Hampshire home, courteous. In bucketing rain, he walked me to my car under the shelter of an enormous umbrella, even though I had a brolly of my own.
It must be said Horwood’s country pile is a hoot, as flamboyant a personal statement of design as you might imagine. Built in 2008, outside it looks vaguely like something out of a Sunday-night costume drama, while the surgically clean interior is made for Through the Keyhole, with at least half-a-dozen full-length mirrors dotted about the ground floor alone.
The gigantic living room is blindingly all-white, with two huge sofas turned away from the fireplace towards a vast television. The room is accessorised with a five-foot mirrored Buddha, two glitter balls and a lifesize crystal-encrusted panther, while a white baby-grand piano overlooks a terrace, a pool, and a great swathe of lawn, where four fibreglass sheep nibble at the greensward in the middle distance.
Back inside, the dining room seats 12, and even the kitchen – steel grey with crimson designer Dualit and KitchenAid accessories – has a table for ten. Horwood, 52, is a serious host.
The kitchen contains not only a large Aga, but an eight-ring range cooker with two double ovens, plus another eye-level oven to the side – and this is merely what he calls “the vol-au-vent kitchen”. The real cuisine takes place in an anteroom that was a fully-equipped gun room when he bought the seven bedroom, seven-acre property three years ago for £1.4 million (he has just sold a house in London, and is now based entirely in Hampshire).
The room has been transformed into a catering kitchen Gordon Ramsay would die for, boasting a further pair of side-by-side range cookers, each with a double oven, and a fridge freezer so massive it could be rented out as a spare room.
“What would people be surprised to know about me?” says 52-year-old Horwood, seated comfortably in the orangery leading off the kitchen. “That I love cooking and chopping wood for the heating system in my house. And I love dressing up and having parties.”
Call me unfair, but I’m not sure they’d be absolutely astonished about the latter two. But there is no sense at all of Horwood, who is currently single, rattling round his big house alone. The morning we meet, his mother Beverley had departed after a six-week stay, and one of his sisters, Di, is staying for the rest of the year. Family life is important to him, which was partly why he was thrilled to take part in the 14th season of Who Do You Think You Are?.
“I’ve always absolutely loved the programme,” he says of the show that, like Strictly, first aired in 2004 and has since become a broadcasting landmark. “I was gobsmacked when they were interested in me. It especially appealed having just turned 50, and after losing my father [who died in 2015]. As I was born in Ballarat, 70 miles northwest of Melbourne, I knew the programme would take me to Australia, but I had no idea my ancestors built Ballarat on money from gold-mining.
“Discovering that my great-great-grandfather Harry was Australasian clog-dancing champion in 1871 was extraordinary. And it was great to find that my ancestors were British, as they could have been from lots of places, and it explains why I’ve always felt so comfortable in this country, choosing to spend my life here since 1989 and taking dual nationality in 2011. My heritage is here, and it feels life-changing to know all that.”
He says he misses the outdoor lifestyle of Australia and the instinctive friendliness there. “But it’s ridiculous and stupid that Australia is still years from equal marriage,” he says scathingly. “The country’s politicians have gone backwards. Disgusting.
“Here in the UK I love the class system. I love being with really posh people and the working class as well. I’d call myself middle class, as I have no royal blood, unlike Danny Dyer!”
He laughs uproariously. “Of course I hoped for royal blood… I’m best friends with all the posh ones in the Palace. I’m going to Camilla’s 70th birthday party soon and I can’t wait. She’s so lovable. She’s been really disrespected. She’s just a woman who fell in love, and is the only person who has given love, affection and honesty to her husband. She’s a great friend and I love going to her parties. I should have her at a party here, to see my fake sheep. I think she’d fall about laughing. She really is lovely. There’s not a bad bone in her body.”
They met almost a decade ago through the National Osteoporosis Society, of which she is president and he is an ambassador – his website sells ringtones of his withering Strictly catchphrases (“a complete dahnce di-sah-ster, darling”), with all profits to the society.
“Because of becoming a celebrity myself, I really understand what the royal family go through, being in the public eye,” he says. “The only good part is that you can raise loads of money for charity. I don’t enjoy being a celebrity. I don’t enjoy the attention. I don’t like being looked at. I like being a director. Lots of performers have the same fear. The red carpet is annoying, but it has to be done.”
Does it? He was an established choreographer and director long before Strictly, and has never stopped – his latest musical, Son of a Preacher Man, tours the country from September. What’s to stop him giving up TV?
“I can’t. It’s impossible now. Len [Goodman] won’t be doing the show any more, but you can guarantee he’ll be hounded in the street. In supermarkets, people think they know me. I’ve been slapped across the face and had abuse hurled at me. But on Strictly I never make personal comments, only about the dance. You have ten seconds to speak, so you must be direct without being nasty.”
Yet he said Bargain Hunt’s Tim Wonnacott looked as if he was “dancing in a nappy”, Judy Murray appeared “lobotomised”, and Countdown’s Rachel Riley was “wriggling around like a slug in salt”.
“I don’t set out to be nasty,” sighs Horwood. “At the start of each season, we only find out who the celebs are an hour before the information is released to the press, and then I have to google the names quick-smart because I don’t know who they are. The celebs are willing to accept the money and they know what the gig is. The sportspeople on the show always take the criticism well. Actors are scared, afraid of failure.
“I only wish they’d make the figures from the phone vote public, to stop talk of it being fixed – but if one celeb gets 13 million votes and another gets two, it might not go down well…”
He agrees, and seems content, that his Strictly role as the villain ruled him out of replacing Len Goodman as head judge. He also appears cautiously supportive of 56-year-old Latin American specialist Shirley Ballas as Goodman’s replacement.
“It would have been wrong for me because I would have had to be a smiley mediator, which isn’t in my nature,” he says. “Besides, you don’t get any more money. And it’s best that it’s someone viewers have no preconceived ideas about, unlike Anton [Du Beke] or Brendan [Cole].
“I’ve met Shirley to say hello to. She’s a brilliant dance trainer, although she has been a TV judge only once or twice in America, just as a guest. I think she will be great because she has more knowledge than any of the other judges, including me, although telly requires more than that. Time will tell. It’s very difficult being succinct, creating one-liners and soundbites. It would be tough for anyone. But she’s funny and quick. And she finds me amusing.”
Time is up. We crunch across the gravel to my ancient red MX5. “Love the car, darling,” he says, like a central casting version of himself, before whisking back inside.
Who Do You Think You Are? is on Thursday at 9pm on BBC1