E14 The Unlock Moment: Russell Grant – Strictly Spontaneous
In this very special episode, I interview TV personality, star of Strictly Come Dancing, actor, author and astrologer Russell Grant, for whom a life-changing call to join the cast of Strictly reconnected him with a long-lost passion for performing and brought out his natural spontaneity. Strictly helped Russell recover from a dark time in his life and to rewrite the public’s perception of him. It gave him a new lease of life and a refreshed energy – he is living proof that it’s never too late to create a life you love. Discover a new perspective on his Strictly journey, his relationship with fame and how his upbringing shaped the person he is today.
Strictly American Smooth with Flavia Cacace
Gary Crotaz 0:00
Do you remember when it became public that you were going on Strictly, how people responded to it?
Russell Grant 0:11
Well, the papers, one in particular, and ironically a paper I now write the stars for, the Sunday Mirror, I wasn’t writing for them then, but I had one of those terrible quotes, which was An insider said, that Russell Grant will be too fat to get round the ballroom and I thought, Well, you ain’t seen me lately! And in fact, the person who was upset far, far, far more than me, I’ve been through it all before, was my mum, my dear mum. Oh, fancy them saying that! I said, mum, proof of the pudding. Wait till I get on there!
Gary Crotaz 0:49
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound, that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking, when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello, dear listener, and welcome to a very special episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today we’re talking with someone whose destiny was truly written in the stars! TV personality, astrologer, actor, and dance extraordinaire, the wonderful Russell Grant wowed us all with his moves on Strictly Come Dancing in 2011 and has been living his best life ever since. He calls it Finding My Bliss. Russell’s first appearance on the BBC was at the tender age of 10. And he featured in classic series on London Weekend Television, including On The Buses and Please Sir! A career in theatre followed with roles in Tom Brown’s Schooldays in the West End, and with Tommy Steele in Hans Andersen at the Palladium. Russell was a staple of Breakfast TV from the early 1980s as the resident astrologer, as celebrated for his famous knitted jumpers as for his zodiac skills. Astrology remains a huge part of his life and millions of people, including one or two members of the Royal Family, have all benefited from his work. In 2011, Russell was invited to join Strictly Come Dancing, and went on to partner both Flavia Cacace and Joanne Clifton. I’m sure we’ll hear all about his experience of being fired out of a cannon, regularly featured as an all-time memorable moment in the history of Strictly. After Strictly he took over from Michael Crawford starring as The Wizard of Oz for Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Palladium. Russell retains his love for theatre, and regularly brings a little Russell glamour to the community in Wales, including playing the iconic role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray at the Welsh Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Outside of the arts, Russell is passionate about supporting dementia research and care and is an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Research and a patron of Dementia UK. Russell, yours is a life very well lived and I can’t wait to hear more about your relationship with fame and this idea of finding your bliss. It is my absolute pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Russell Grant 3:43
Thank you Gary and the nostalgia came pouring in every time you mentioned something! I found myself nodding 200 miles away from where you are and I was just remembering everything. And all the… all the favourable times in my life, how how lucky I’ve been!
Gary Crotaz 4:06
So I wonder whether we should start this conversation with talking a little bit about where you were in life before that call for Strictly came in back in 2011. I know we were talking before about an interview you were doing with Stephen Nolan. So tell me a bit about where you were at that point in your life and your career.
Russell Grant 4:24
At that point in my life, which was, I can give you a specific date – it was June the 24th 2011. And for two years, I’d actually begun to find my bliss again because in 2008, 2009 actually, the very beginning, I was seriously overweight, I was nearly 30 stone in weight. I’d been to Berlin to do the Christmas market but found I couldn’t walk more than 10 yards without having to sit down. I took control of myself and my life in the early days of 2009, and I asked myself a simple question – what is it that you’re lacking in your life that makes you eat, because eat and food, and for some people drink, and other people smoking, is all a crutch to help you get through sadness of some kind. And I realised I was missing theatre. And theatre had been my life for so long, practically all of my life, and acting – you said it, from the age of 10. And it goes back even earlier, I played the Cat in Dick Whittington at the age of five. But that had all kind of dried up because everybody wanted me for astrology. I didn’t realise that my background was performance. And so by the time I got to June the 24th 2011, just before the Strictly call, we’d had a wonderful time doing a Midsummer Night’s Dream at the fantastic, beautiful village of Portmeirion in North Wales. And I had directed it and I also played Puck. It gave me such pleasure. It unlocked so many ideas. I had Hermia as a hippie, I had Helena as a pole dancer, I had the two male leads Demetrius and Lysander, or I should call them the lovers, there’s a lot of male leads in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the lovers they, I sent away to Greece, and they wore Olympiakos and Panathinaikos football shirts. And I played Puck all of a glitter in even glittery, sparkly, glamorous Doc Martens! And it was a huge success, so much so that they had to add on at least another week, ten days to it. And it was all around the time when Kate married William. And of course, Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about weddings and the beautiful music of Mendelssohn, which I played religiously throughout, so that was it. I’d lost a lot of weight, which some newspapers decided I’d lost to get on Strictly, and that was so not true. The phone call came from Daisy Moore, the celebrity booker. And she said, How would you feel about going on Strictly Come Dancing? This was 4:29 on the 24th of June. And I said Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I’m too old. I’m 60. I can’t possibly do that. She said, Well, would you like to come and meet our producer? And I said, Well, I’m not sure. I’m perfectly happy in Snowdonia. And I said, Where would I have to go to and they said, oh Daisy said, Manchester. And I went to Manchester and I met Moira Ross, the big boss. And we got on like a house on fire. She pushed back the coffee table and said, Do whatever you would see as dancing. Well, I don’t do dad dancing, probably because I’m not a dad. But I did have what she called a natural samba walk. I mean, I found out all about that from Flavia when we did the samba in, in Strictly, but I had this natural samba walk and she said, How’d you feel about coming on? And I said I think I’m too old, I’ve danced in musical theatre, ‘hoofers’ they called us. So she said how would you feel about it? I said, Well I’d love the idea of doing Latin. I suddenly found myself warming to the idea and getting very enthusiastic. And she said, I’ll call you in a fortnight. But I was heading up to Preston in Lancashire and staying with family and a phone call came at five o’clock that same day. And it was Moira and she said I want to book you now because rumour tells me you’re going on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, which was never true. Not enough glamour, or sparkle, or twinkle in that for me to do and she booked me. And I found out later that the only person who had been booked before me was soon to become very close friend Robbie Savage.
Gary Crotaz 10:00
Oh really? And it’s interesting that your first reaction was that you couldn’t do it. And that you came to warm up to the idea. And what was it that that turned you from I can’t do it to Maybe I can.
Russell Grant 10:17
Music. I’ve loved music all my life, If You Could See Me Now, from Sweet Charity, now that’s a great number. But if you could see me now with all of my CDs and vinyl and everything music, it’s mainly a musical but I have a special penchant for Offenbach. And I love Orpheus in the Underworld. I’ve just been playing before I came on air with you, Gary. La Belle Hélène. I love Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, I absolutely adore. And so it was the thought of being able to invest in the music and bring out the best in me.
Gary Crotaz 11:09
So it was something very personal to you. And you remember when it became public that you were going on Strictly, how people responded to it.
Russell Grant 11:17
Well the papers, one in particular, and ironically a paper I now write the stars for, the Sunday Mirror. I wasn’t writing for them then. But I had one of those terrible quotes, which was An insider said that Russell Grant will be too fat to get round the ballroom and I thought, Well, you ain’t seen me lately. And in fact the person who was upset far, far, far more than me, I’ve been through it all before, was my mum. My dear mum, Oh, fancy them saying that. I said mum, proof of the pudding. Wait till I get on there. And I remember the very first group dance which was to the Jacksons, Can You Feel It. What a great number that was, and I just got into that rhythm and it never stopped. And Flavia said to me, when we were first partnered together, and I was a bit dubious because Flavia is so fabulous, as indeed Joanne is, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the technical stuff. But Flavia immediately realised it wasn’t so much the technical, it was showbiz with me. And she said, And the thing that you’ve got, which so many people don’t have, is rhythm. And with rhythm, you can do anything. And indeed I did. Because I was favourite to go out in week two, no one goes out on week one. I was favourite to go out in week two, but I lasted right the way through to Wembley, which was I think about 9, 10 weeks. And then even when I went out, because by then I needed to, simply because my knee had gone, I’d torn a cartilage in trying to do the Jiveathan, week after would have been just, it wouldn’t have happened. But then I got a call from Moira Ross and she said, we’re going to do something unprecedented. We want you and Flavia to be our special guest stars at Christmas. And that’s what we did. So we were the only couple invited back for the Christmas Special.
Gary Crotaz 13:31
And do you remember that very first episode of Strictly where you walk out at the top of those famous stairs and you wave. What were you thinking? At the top of the stairs, the first moment you stepped out onto the Strictly set?
Russell Grant 13:46
I think I’ve thought, I was, I mean of course you’re nervous, I mean, but you thrive on nerves I think in showbiz, someone once said to me to me, If you’re not nervous then you’re not going to give a performance! Well you might give a performance but it might not be a good one! I remember walking down and I kind of felt … Flavia was smiling that wonderful Neapolitan smile. And I, we were clinging on to each other in a kind of way, not desperately, but we kind of knew we had a mission, something where I felt in my blood. And I’m going to show you now, I’m going to show you what I can do. And of course you have that little bit of a video bit before where they set up the dance. And of course for me I was behind this fabulous Botticelli scallop shell because the number was Venus by Bananarama and I was going to be Venus! Not Flavia, who was a natural Venus! A Venus Flavia, and Venus Russell, let’s say we were both Venus that night. Flavia was on the stairs doing some fabulous cha cha cha stuff. I mean when you look back on it, I don’t think it’s on YouTube now, I can’t seem to find it anyway. But when she got in that mood, the music that sort of strumming electric guitar full of chords, I was behind the scallop shell, then the bass comes in. And the bass brought me to life because then Flavia choreographed it so she pulled back the shell, I had my back to the audience, so we’re in for a surprise everybody! And up I came and did one of my favourite moves, it’s a kind of trademark move now for me, which is Up go the hands. And I mean, it could easily be Edna Turnblad now, or it could even be Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, but up came the hands, and I was off! I remember the people clapping. I remember going round. I remember that I had to smile because it was so pent up all of this. I remember when we finished, that cheer that went up! I have never experienced anything in my life. And Bruce Forsyth, a dear, dear man who became a close friend. He said Look up there, Russell, look up there. They’re all giving you a standing ovation. And I looked up and they were! I couldn’t believe it, lump in my throat. And then Bruce said, I’ve never seen this before on an opening night. And they were stood up everywhere, all around. So I, the scene was set after that. I knew that, whatever dance I did, I had the power of performance. And the brilliant Flavia, who choreographed it so fabulously that the showbiz me shone through. Yeah.
Gary Crotaz 17:15
And it’s amazing. I mean, you know, you and I have both watched Strictly over the years and you’ve obviously been on that famous floor. And so many of the celebrities are a little bit petrified, both about being in that environment, but doing something so out of their comfort zone. And they do exactly what their professional partner has told them to do. And tell me about your pirouettes?
Russell Grant 17:44
Well, as time went on, I got a fantastic tweet. Because I hadn’t been on Twitter until we got to Strictly Come Dancing, even though I joined, I didn’t do anything, because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. And we had a run down by the press office on how to deal with Twitter. And I watched my numbers going up. In fact, it’s the same as it was, around 50,000. It’s not grown and it’s not deteriorated. And I just knew I had an audience now and I have to do it for them. And Gary Avis, who was Master at the Royal Ballet, in Covent Garden, he sent me a tweet, and he said, you have the whole Royal Ballet behind you. What?! I quickly rang up Flav, and I said, Oh my goodness, look at this! So she went on, she went but I’ve never, no, she said This is incredible! This has never happened! Anyway, I knew by now that I was not only doing it for my wonderful supporters who supported me throughout the whole run, but also for the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden! And we did, we did two dances. One was our tango to Sweet Dreams by Annie Lennox, where I had the teddy bear in bed. And as I go back to the bed, I suddenly went into these turns, these pirouettes, three of them. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just did it. And Flavia said to me, What was that all about? And I said, I don’t know, I just got the urge to do it. And so I pirouetted back to the bed, grabbed the teddy and then pretended to be back to sleep. And then we did our American Smooth, I Am What I Am. And as we got towards the end, I did three star jumps! And I don’t know why but I just did star jumps. In fact, when I was with Joanne, Jo, Joanne in Aladdin and the Genie we played in the Christmas Special. I had another bash at them towards Princess Jasmine, which was our lovely Nat, who is about 20 feet tall, like a totem pole there, and I’m not that height, and I did it again. It just, the spirit took me, and the spirit moved me. And it got cheers and so I just did it. But the joy of Flavia and Joanne was they didn’t care. They knew that whatever I did that I would give a performance and I would work with them. I love working as a team. I would work with them. But the minute I was away from the girls, I just suddenly just had to leap around. And so I did!
Gary Crotaz 21:01
And there’s something quite totemic, iconic, actually about that moment of spontaneity representing your sort of rediscovery of this, of this self that came through, through Strictly and it was such a moment for you in your in your career to find this sort of real you. What does that spontaneity mean for you when you look back at that time?
Russell Grant 21:27
Well, it means to me freedom and liberation because I’ve been through a very, very dark time, which stemmed from my grandmother passing. I’d been a carer for her, she had Alzheimer’s very badly, she went mute in the end. And then I lost my other grandmother who took me in when my mum and dad were divorcing and I’d lost them both. And what triggered the grieving off big time and I went into a severe depression was when I came home one Christmas, well just before Christmas actually, I’d been opening up a local fete in Blaenau Ffestiniog. And my dog died in front of me. And after that, everything kind of fell apart. And I got depressed and I ate a lot and I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to be seen. I had the great Catherine Tate ring me, she wanted me to go down to London to do a sketch with her for her show. And I just couldn’t. I could not be seen and did not want to be seen. And until I had that eureka moment, I found it, which was 2009, I found the solution – get back to theatre, get back to performance and showbiz. And Portmeirion here were marvellous, they were a great vehicle for me to do that, first with Under Milkwood and then with a Midsummer Night’s Dream. And then the local theatre asked me to put on a big workshop and I did with the 60s musical called Bliss. And I played Dusty Springfield in that and had three encores of When I Said I Needed You. And I did that number three times. And then I knew I’d found my bliss. And that brings in neatly, the Stephen Nolan interviews because once people knew I was doing it, and of course by the time I’d done my first dance, and by the time I did it, I had all the papers backing me. I didn’t have one paper who wasn’t supporting me and giving me a great Huzzah, and so it was empowering. The whole thing was empowering. And it gave me what I’d been missing for a very long time, probably since 1978. 1978 was when the Queen Mother and I met at Olympia and she had an astrological consultation with me in public. The pictures are all there, which, and they went around the world. But before that, you see I’ve been acting and I’d been singing. And I was with as you said in the intro Tommy Steele in Hans Andersen at the London Palladium. I worked with Keith, lovely Keith Chegwin, Christopher Guard, Simon Le Bon at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End in Tom Brown’s Schooldays and so much more, including a Redcoat for Butlins in Ayr. But all that disappeared once people saw me as an astrologer, they wanted that.
Gary Crotaz 24:54
A fascinating part of your story and you’ve talked about, it’s coming back to your love of theatre, and not necessarily theatre in the biggest stages in a high profile way. But coming back to your love of theatre brought you out of a really dark time. But I wanted to, I wanted to understand a little bit more from you about what’s the difference between, in your relationship with fame between that time when, you know, in the early 1980s you’re on Breakfast TV and that whole career that you had? And then your relationship with fame when it was around Strictly? Because both of them were really high profile moments in your in your career.
Russell Grant 25:35
Very iconic, I mean, Breakfast Television hadn’t been on anywhere in Britain. And, and you’ve got of course all the press again. Well, not all of them. That’s deeply unkind of me. Out of fairness, there were some who saw it, this, this could change, you know, breakfast time forever, which of course it did. But there were those who said, Oh, no, it’s never going to work. People are rushing around wanting to go to school, wanting to go to work. And so therefore, the radio is the best medium. There’s, there’s no way it’s going to work. But it did. We launched in January, in 1983. I had, my first role was to interview Sir Harry Secombe, who after that became a very good friend of mine. Lovely, lovely man. And then we had a slight crisis, because the then Archbishop of Canterbury said that if the BBC had an astrology slot, it should also have a God slot. Well my great and wonderful producer, editor actually, Ron Neil said, No, I am modelling Breakfast Time for the BBC on the Daily Mirror. And there is no God slot in the Daily Mirror. And as a Christian, I could see where the Archbishop of Canterbury was coming from. This of course leaked out into the press. And I remember the next day, because I used to get about 1,000 letters a day, because there was no, there was no social media, there was no emails, there was nothing like that. People wanting to be mentioned for their birthdays, oh, so many different reasons they contacted me. They were contacting me really as a kind of astrological shrink. And the, which was fine, but I couldn’t write to 1,000 people a day. And I remember when this crisis hit the show. Tony Crabb who was the production manager who kept the show going and everything. He came to me and said, Oh, Alasdair Milne wants to see the sort of mail you’re getting. I gave him the pile of letters I’d had that day. And he said, No, I don’t want a week’s worth or a month’s worth. I said, Well, you haven’t got a week’s worth or a month’s worth! That’s what’s come in today. And that’s what happened. And Ron Neil said, If you get rid of restaurant, you can get rid of me too. It’s actually all written and documented in the book on the BBC by Michael Billington. The whole crisis is there. And when this hit the press and everything else, and of course, I was a choir boy at Harefield, Middlesex, St Mary’s Church, I have a deep faith and everything. So it was a bit ironic that the Archbishop of Canterbury should have it in for me. And I actually wrote to him, and I said, you don’t really understand what astrology is, and it’s not fortune telling. It is actually helping people to find their creative potential. And I think after a while, I got a letter back and I’ve never found it since which, in a kind of way, exonerated me in his eyes. Once I’d explained what astrology was, too many people are critical of astrology, not realising what it really is. But I had this priest from a Roman Catholic Church in Walton on Thames in Surrey. And he wrote, or sent me, or one of his parishioners sent me, it was a long time ago, a newsletter, and it basically said, All of this drama over Russell Grant and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as far as I’m concerned if he brings joy and happiness to people in whatever way he does it, he should just carry on doing it. And that was the Roman Catholic priest from Walton. I’d found fame was something I never expected to try and find fame from, astrology. I found notoriety through it. I’ve found the good side of notoriety, being famous for all the right things. Notoriety came from other people’s wrong perception or assumption of what astrology is when it basically wasn’t.
Gary Crotaz 30:37
You said to me before, when we were talking about this, you said, fame can be a devil of a thing. What do you mean by that?
Russell Grant 30:44
Yes, fame can be a devil of the thing because once, the difference between the two is when you’d walk around a supermarket as an astrologer, everybody would follow you and nab you by the groceries or the freezer department or the, just as you’re leaving after the cash point saying, Oh, I’m an Aries, can you tell me what’s, I’m a Cancerian and all the rest of it. When I did Strictly the kind of fame I got from that was, Oh how do you do it? and I found myself doing sambas, normally a botofogo in the middle of the aisle, which just happens to be one of my favourite moves. And I do that and, and I remember once around here, I live near Porthmadog, which is my nearest Tescos. And I remember at the back of the supermarket, it’s not terribly big, I have had about six or seven people all, I was teaching them botofogos and they were doing it in the back of Tescos. And I love that! Whereas with people asking me questions about sun signs, which is so, so far away from a proper astrological chart, I found that more difficult, because how can you say to people, because they, it’s like when they read columns, so many people read what they want to read rather than than what is actually written. And I don’t think that applies just to astrology. I think that happens with a lot of things. People read and see what they want to read and see. Whereas with a samba in a supermarket, it’s very different, because they can see it. And that’s it. You can’t misconstrue it.
Gary Crotaz 32:41
I love this, this story of how Strictly brought out your sort of true spontaneous self. And I’d love to hear a little bit more about who you were when you were growing up. You know, when you’re when you’re a boy, when you’re when you’re growing up. What were you like when you were young? And how does that relate to where you are now?
Russell Grant 33:00
Oh goodness, when I was young, I was an introvert. I used to like to stay in and still do. A very strong artistic streak in writing, calligraphy I’ve learned now, and that came from my dad. My dad was a wonderful signwriter, he could knock up a sign for his local, Middlesex Foxes was his golf band of brothers who were based at Pinner Hill. And you, I could watch him in awe where he would do this beautiful writing and up, he would create, without any mistakes, this fantastic poster. Well he was a set designer over at Pinewood Studios, Denham Studios and worked with some of the very great stars of the day from Rex Harrison to Noel Coward, all of these fabulous people and that’s where he met my mum, who was a contract secretary at Pinewood and my mum had a different kind of artistic streak. My mum was a great performer. And I would say think Ethel Merman. Betty Hutton, Betty Grable for those people who are old enough to know them. I suppose in, if most people would know like a Bette Midler, that was my mum. And, and so whereas my dad gave me the artistic streak when it came to colours and writing. In fact one of my latest books was an adult colouring book, which is called The Art of Astrology. And it gave me a chance to explore colour and the psychological effects of colour upon you. I loved doing that book, and that stemmed from dad Whereas mum it was about performance, it was a bit like Ethel Merman in Gypsy, dragging me along to the local Harefield Amateur Dramatics Society, but I loved it. As I said earlier I played the pussycat in Dick Whittington. And mum was Dick Whittington, and it was mum who sent me to drama school. My dad didn’t want it at all, because I think he’d seen too much of what went on in studios with actors, they hit the bottle or they have problems when they can’t get work or anything. And as fate would have it, or Kismet, one of my favourite musicals, would have it, I have never wanted for work. And my heart and soul is in what I do. I’m a perfectionist, OCD many would think, and probably say. My dad was like that. So he didn’t want me to go into showbiz. My mum sent me to a drama school, which was the Daphne Davey School of Dance and Drama. And I didn’t do the dance bit, I did the drama bit. And it was in the lovely, lovely old building called The Barn, which is in Ruislip, in Middlesex, and we, but it was an outreach of LAMDA, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. And we used to have to trail up to Talgarth Road a couple of times a year to do our exams and perform. I remember one being when I played Shylock in Merchant of Venice, and then we had to improvise and I remember improvising to Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Noah and his Ark. So all of these things still stay with me. So it was my mum who basically got me to go to Daphne’s school. We had a wonderful time, I loved it. We were there most weekends doing stuff because I was at an ordinary state secondary school during the week. And it was almost done in subterfuge, dad didn’t find out I mean, he did in the end, and by that time it was too late anyway. But of course, these drama schools act as agents for you as well. And so I then started to get calls, after having one job for a BBC Wednesday Play. Ironically, I was playing a Welsh boy. And I lived in Wales for much of my life. And after that, the work just kept coming in through the drama school. I loved it. I loved every bit of it. A lot of hanging around though for television, especially if you did On The Buses, you had to get up to Wood Green, the bus station there, because the buses were called I think Luxton & District, but we had to go up to Wood Green. So they used Wood Green Garage. And most of the time with television but not with theatre is hanging around. Because in theatre, you go on that stage, it’s live. You can’t say to somebody, I’ll be back in a minute. Or would you mind holding on, I want to do that again. And that’s the big difference between the two. But I love them both.
Gary Crotaz 38:32
Was it difficult not having your father’s support for the career that you were pursuing?
Russell Grant 38:37
No, well I’ve always been an independent being. I’ve always wanted to do what I want to do. Astrologically I’m a double Aquarian, so that means I do do what I want to do. And I always tried to do it without hurting others, Libra Ascendant for the astrology, what can I call them, enthusiasts listening! And so I’ve been always very diplomatic. In fact, I used to have at the top of my Twitter page, till the BBC made me take it off, Do as you would be done by, because I believe that you cannot criticise somebody for something that you wouldn’t do. You can only do any kind of criticism or comparison if you could match them in every way, so Do as you would be done by sums that all up. In fact, talking about my dad. It was very interesting because at the very, during Strictly we got to know each other probably the best we ever had. Because we didn’t have a close relationship, Dad and I. But when I did Strictly I used to stay at his house in Uxbridge. And Dad said to me one day that was I, we just left the show after the cannon. My legs couldn’t take any more. And I put out on all my social media, BBC didn’t like it, but I did. Please don’t vote for me anymore. I can’t, I can’t do the jiveathon. And when I got back to dad’s place, Bruce rang, and Bruce said, You have been the most amazing performer and you really are my favourite. I’m not just saying that. And then my dad who’d answered the phone, after the conversation was over said, I want you to know how proud I am of you, Russ, but I wasn’t sure if it was because Bruce Forsyth, had rung who was a golfer like my dad, but no I’m being cynical. He was and I knew it. And we got on like a house on fire right up until the day he died, August the 8th 2019.
Gary Crotaz 41:07
I promised that you were going to tell the story about you being fired out of a cannon because that’s a real sort of TV moment. Tell me about that. Tell me of the day somebody said there’s a cannon and you’re going to be fired out of it, Russell.
Russell Grant 41:21
Well we’re, we’re going back to Moira Ross, the big boss, who first inveigled me into coming into Strictly Come Dancing because I had a natural samba walk. And we just finished our paso doble, which was great fun, I played it like Benny Hill actually on top of a bull and had those sort of glasses, spectacles, which were like the bottom of pint glasses. And we had great fun with that, March of the Toreadors of course by Bizet, had to be in a way. And just before we came to the show, I was in my dressing room. And Moira came in, she went, I want to fire you out of a cannon. And I said, Do what you want love. I knew I had to do the paso doble. I said, And of course it much depends if I’m going to get through. I speak to you after. Well, we did the show, we did get through. And Moira came to my dressing room. Okay, she said, If you get to Wembley, I think I was about one or two weeks off Wembley by then, I want to fire you out of a cannon! I said, Well you did say that then did you, before I went on to do the paso. She went Yes, of course I meant it! How’d you feel about it? I said, Well, fine. She said, Well, it’s going to be British Week. I’ve got a lovely number. Because by now of course Moira knew if they gave me the wrong song, I wasn’t going to bring out my best. When we did our salsa they gave me Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie and I hated it so much. I wrote a long letter to Moira and said, Is there any way you can change the song? No, we don’t do that. And then she said, Come back to me in half an hour. And I got for my salsa Dancing Queen! Perfect! I said, but she knew then that the music, I invested in the music. Anyway. We had a lovely number. I really loved it, Reach For The Stars. And it was just glorious. And when we got to Wembley, I used to live in Wembley, that part of Middlesex was always very special to me. And we, we were rehearsing and we were doing all of our thing and then we had to do the cannon bit. So we’d finished our jive stuff rehearsals, into the cannon, I was just in heaven, quite literally. It was this flimsy little tea tray thing with four bits of wire on each corner. And can you believe it? I wanted to just keep rehearsing, I loved it, the music was so right for that and so I was clicking away and up I went up and down I came and I rehearsed it six times and in the end Moira came and said you cannot rehearse it any more. Just one more time? No, you’ve rehearsed it six times. She said, I think you do like it. And you can do it. I went Yeah, maybe! But I did and I could have stayed up there in that cannon. The funniest thing about that, Gary, is that when it was so highly publicised, and I mean highly, I think they got something ridiculous like 13, 14 million people watching. There was a headline which Moira showed me, which basically was the highest audience ever, it was because everybody, there’ll be some people who want to see me fail, always the schadenfreudes out there. And then there’s the others who just exalted in my joy and happiness and bliss. And it’s six thousand people, I’ve never played before such a big live audience. And they stuffed me into the cannon. And I looked around, and as they were stuffing me in, everybody stood up and cheered and gave me a standing ovation. And I’d done nothing except be stuffed into a cannon. What a wonderful, wonderful evening.
Gary Crotaz 45:54
It’s so interesting, because for somebody with a career as successful and high profile as yours, to have a moment at that stage that redefines how everybody sees you and is now, you know, when people think of Russell Grant, they think of you being fired out of a cannon instead of Russell Grant from Breakfast TV, you know, years ago, it’s so interesting that that such an iconic moment can can change the perception of so many millions of people in that way.
Russell Grant 46:23
When I took over from the Wizard of Oz, or took over from Michael in the Wizard of Oz, which in itself was oh, goodness me, it was nerve-wracking because Michael Crawford had always been a hero of mine, not so much his stuff, Betty, Betty, which kind of got on my nerves. But when, I went to the opening night of Phantom of the Opera, and he was just amazing. He was absolutely incredible. And my uncle, who followed mum and dad into the film industry, he was involved with a lot of musical theatre, they used to bring him in, and he had the early rushes for Hello, Dolly. And of course, Michael Crawford was in Hello Dolly playing the juvenile lead. And I just thought he was wonderful and, and so to be asked, Bill Kenwright and Andrew Lloyd Webber, to take over the Wizard of Oz was just insane. And I turned it down of course, which is, you know, typical me like with Strictly. I turned it down mainly because I thought, I can’t, I can’t step into Michael Crawford’s shoes. But I did. And I got this lovely note from him, and a bouquet of flowers for opening night. A lovely, wonderful man. And it was, it was just simply incredible. When I came out the stage door, the amount of people waiting for me. And they were all, as you quite rightly said Gary, it was all about Strictly. It was all they were saying. Oh, I remember when you did this. And I remember when you did that. I remember when you came out the Christmas pudding, that was the Christmas Special. And the cannon, the cannon, the cannon, the cannon, the cannon. If Yuri Gagarin thought he had a good thing going by getting to the moon, then I was obviously Britain’s Yuri, before Tim Peake was around.
Gary Crotaz 48:35
So that’s very interesting. This pattern of, somebody asks you to do something that might change your life. So Moira asked you to do Strictly and Andrew asked you to play the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. And your first response in both cases was No. When it came to the Wizard of Oz, what turned the No into a Yes for you?
Russell Grant 48:55
Oh, Lulu, who’d been a friend of mine for many years, came with me to see Michael do the Wizard of Oz. And we went on the 28th of December, just after Christmas, after the Christmas Special. And so in 2011, 28th December, we went to see Michael in the Wizard of Oz. And to be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t really keen on it. And I wasn’t keen on it because Michael did a lot of his stuff as an actor. There was no dance. And I actually said to Andrew, and to Bill Kenwright, I don’t really see the point in me doing this. I said because you can get many good actors who can do that. But the reason you’ve contacted me is because of my dancing. My showbiz, my performance-type dance, you know. And it was strange because it was almost as though they hadn’t even thought of that, that Michael did no dancing at all. He performed it, he did the numbers, a particularly difficult number called Wonders of the World, the very beginning of the number when he comes on, he has three incarnations the Wizard, he is Marvo the Magician, he is the Gatekeeper to Oz. And of course, he’s then the Wizard of Oz, and each character is neatly defined. Marvo is sort of, you know, a drawling American, and it was sort of southern, well it’s Kansas. And, and so therefore, I had to do this wonderful number sat on a log. I said, I can’t do it sitting on a log. Anyway, in the end Arlene Phillips, who, I adore Arlene, because she gave me the tremendous confidence. And her assistant, Richard Roe. And they built up this number into more of a dance number, I did a little bit of Fred Astaire, a bit of American Smooth, I did a bit of paso. I did a bit of this, that and the other and it became a great favourite of mine, difficult, difficult song. It was a bit like a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan. And it wasn’t easy. But it was wonderful. But the big highlight was this amazing coming towards the end of Act One entrance to the Land of Oz. And I have the photo always with me. And I just adored it, and it was based on samba – there was a ha ha ha, hee hee hee. Lum-ba-lum, ba-ba-dah, and then it goes into a charleston and a samba, work out those two together. So you get bam-bam, bam-bam, dum-de-dum-de-dum, bam bam bam bam, twiddle-de-dum, twiddle-de-dum, and, and it goes into this huge dance number. Again, it wasn’t in the show, or it was in the show, but Michael didn’t do it. And so they built me into this number, which to this day is one of my, I mean, talking about finding my bliss, my goodness, did that number give me all the bliss imaginable. Doing this I played it sort of quite seriously, because the Gatekeeper is not a jolly man. And so I was doing the samba and these moves, and the lines and it was just heavenly!
Gary Crotaz 52:57
So Russell, if someone’s listening in and they’re facing into something that feels very daunting, as you were when somebody said to you, do you want to do Strictly or do you want to play in the Wizard of Oz? What would you say to them from your own experience of that, that first sense of, I can’t do it? And then what came through for you, what happened for you?
Russell Grant 53:24
I would certainly listen, tell them to listen to people around them. But only trusted people, don’t make a big meal of it. I didn’t go around asking loads of people, I put nothing on social media, because you just get this cacophony of noise, where people don’t have your best interests at heart, or certainly not all of them. But loved ones, people close to you, people who really know you, they’re the people to explore it with. And it is an exploration, you have to go through a discovery of perhaps what you’ve denied yourself and what you need in yourself and for yourself. And once I’d explored Strictly, I knew the reason I was doing it was not for my career. Because as I say, I’ve never ever stopped working with astrology. I’ve written 78 books, I now write for, oh goodness me I think eight or nine national newspapers with my astrological stars.
Gary Crotaz 54:34
So when you look back over this incredible journey you’ve been on, with these highlights around Strictly and the Palladium, and you have this whole theme of of discovering, of finding your your bliss, what would you say that the secret of finding your bliss is?
Russell Grant 54:52
Mine came as a result of being in a very, very dark place having lost three, or two people and one animal that I loved. And I just skidded downwards. I think it’s taking control of your life. It’s about not allowing yourself to, what can I say, collapse in a heap. That’s what I did. I just didn’t care, didn’t want to care and wasn’t bothered. It was only when I realised that I need to do something to shake myself up, that I had to take control of my life. And I think, I say to a lot of people now, ask yourself a question. When you’re feeling down, when you’re feeling blue, when you’re just, feel that you’ve got no aim in life. Ask yourself the simple question. What is it that I’m missing in my life? What do I need in my life? And then aspire to go after it and get it. It won’t be easy. It never is things never are. Because you’ve always got the naysayers around you. And you’ve always got, oh the worst, officialdom, red tape. But there’s a way round things. And it’s interesting because for every setback, I personally, I, every setback, I was suddenly rewarded with a bonus where I could go forward. And I think it’s about not giving up hope. Having good, solid people around you, good friends, not friends that use you for the wrong reasons. Not so-called friends, who would sell you down the river and basically want something from you, I mean they’re the ones, the fairweather friends who, you know, when I get a phone call from someone I’ve not heard from from years, I’m always waiting for the payoff line. So we talk for five minutes about, How you been, oh, so and so and so. And then the last bit is, I just wondered if you could do me a favour? Fairweather friends I’ve not heard from in a year, and suddenly they want a favour. It’s a matter of being selective. It’s a matter of, it’s a matter of finding out what it is you’re missing in your life and then going after it.
Gary Crotaz 57:38
That’s amazing Russell, and thank you so much for being so open in telling your story today. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For Russell Grant, it was a life-changing call to join the cast of Strictly Come Dancing that reconnected him with a long-lost passion for performing and brought out his natural spontaneity lost for many years. It gave him a new lease of life and refreshed energy that he has used to throw himself into projects he cares deeply about, and to make a difference everyday to those around him. He is living proof that it’s never too late to create a life you love. Russell as ever, it has been a huge privilege to spend time with you. Thank you so much for joining me on The Unlock Moment.
Russell Grant 58:22
Gary Crotaz 58:25
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!