How are your mornings at the moment? Are Strictly routines whizzing around your head from the second you wake?
I don’t sleep terribly well anyway. I’m normally up at 5am or 5.30am most mornings so this is the same, except normally I would have a snooze at lunchtime. I can’t now so I have to work through it. I’m probably drinking too many espressos.
You riding in on a horse for the launch show has caused quite the social media stir…
Yeah, I didn’t know that. I think I was chatting to Zoe Ball on the radio and she said, ‘You do know the internet went into meltdown?’ I had no idea because I don’t do any of that stuff. I’m really pleased, though.
Before I even originally accepted the job I was just passing it by the producers, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be a laugh if I turned up on a horse?’ I meant it as a joke. They went, ‘Oh God, yeah!’ So there we are.
Not that many actors are asked to do Strictly. Do you know why you got the call?
I think it was because our chum Bill Bailey was in it last year and Em [Greg’s wife, Emma Thompson] and I did a little good luck vid for the final.
I was doing some daft routine from The Dying Swan in the back of shot and they thought, ‘Ooh, hang on, we could ask him.’ I said, ‘Are you having a laugh? Of course not.’ And then I thought, no, no, no, the whole point of life is to take yourself to the edge.
Because I’ve been an actor now for 30 years I’ve kind of played most of the things that are possible to play. A lot of stuff that comes in, I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s great, but I’ve kind of done it.’ I need to be stretched always and this, if nothing else, is stretching!
Did you and Emma consider doing it together?
No, bless her, she’s just come to the end of three films back-to-back. She started in January and has literally segued from one to the next.
Oddly, she finished on almost the exact day I started on this so she’s going to have a wonderful autumn of being quiet, watching her fella on the telly every Saturday night.
I’m going to be the one that’s doing all the work now. We had to unfortunately kick into the long grass all the wonderful plans we had for the autumn but that’s how our lives have to be as self-employed people.
When did yours and Bill Bailey’s paths first cross?
I think we first met Bill at something really random like the Empire Film Awards. He was doing his wonderful act in the middle of it all and we just thought, ‘Oh my God, I love you.’
We started to get together and then I think Em filmed something for him on one of his sketch shows. We were all going to go on holiday to swim with minke whales a few years ago but, again, life or work got in the way and we couldn’t go.
So that bastard sent us lots of photos of him swimming with minke whales, which didn’t make us feel any better at all! So he’s been absolutely gorgeous. He keeps sending me little texts going, ‘How are your feet? How are your arms? Magnesium salts in the bath. Glass of this, glass of that.’ He’s been so sweet.
Have you started practising in the kitchen in the morning?
The first week of rehearsals, when it was just sheer terror and I was trying to learn the moves, I was gently moving myself around the back lawn but then kept running into the bird feeder. So that was quite tricky.
You’ve revealed that you tend to be accident-prone. What was the Christmas present unwrapping incident?
I made myself bleed unwrapping a gift. I gave myself a paper cut. I’m terrible. One of the first things Emma ever got me was one of those Leatherman Multi-Tools.
You open it up and it’s a pair of pliers and it’s also got a little saw in it and various knives. It’s like a posh Swiss Army knife.
It was the most foolish thing to get me because as soon as I opened it I made the largest hole in my finger and almost bled out in front of her.
At the weekend you dedicated your Strictly dance to your ‘disco diva’ sister Clare, who died five years ago from cancer. Judging by your tears at the end, it must have been an emotional experience?
It was, and was pretty wild. We’ve been rehearsing in the space we had my sister’s 30th birthday in. She is absolutely the force behind me being here.
You’ve spoken on podcasts like Dying Matters, which are a great help.
I’m very adamant that we need to be able to talk about the difficult things when we’re with our mates. Why can’t we talk about death, grief and dying on primetime Saturday night telly in a sparkly suit?
As long as we don’t go all heavy with it. We’re all heading the same way. We’ve all got to accept that and try to approach it with as much grace and kindness as we can.
Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturdays on BBC1 and BBC iPlayer