Shane Richie is Robin Hood at this year's panto at Milton Keynes Image: Ambassador Theatre Group

Shane Richie – Robin Hood, Milton Keynes Theatre 2018/19

This is a first. Robin Hood, this year’s big winter show at Milton Keynes Theatre, has never been done before. And it’s certainly never been done like this before.

Shane Richie, the fans’ favourite from Eastenders, Redwater, Benidorm, numerous TV game shows, many stage appearances and three country music albums likes to liven things up a bit. So you might get a bit of Aladdin or Peter Pan thrown in to Sherwood Forest. You might even find him down in the audience with you.

Jude Riley talked to Shane about the past, the present and the future…

Hi Shane. If you were conducting this interview, what’s the first thing you’d ask yourself?
I love the dress I’m wearing, it’s lovely.

When did Shane Roche become Shane Richie and why?
Shane Rosh – oh, you make it sound so posh. It’s pronounced ‘Roach’ but my wife doesn’t like that so she pronounces it Rosh-ay. I went to work in Spain as a compere when I was 17 and instead of Roche the Spanish put Rochie – with an ‘I’ and pronounced it ‘Rerchie’ and it kinda stuck. Confused the hell out of the taxman as well.

You’re very well known for, amongst other roles on stage and on television, your appearances as Alfie Moon in Eastenders and Sammy Valentino in Benidorm. Where did Shane Richie get those characters from?
Alfie’s not too far removed from who I am. He was created by Tony Jordan who created the Slaters and the Mitchells, and he also created Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. And when I met Tony he said ‘I’ve got this great idea for a character’ and basically he just wanted to put himself in the show. And he created this character based on him and his wife, Tracey – their relationship is very Kat and Alfie. I’d like to say there’s a bit of Marlon Brando… but there was no such thing! There was a bit of Del Boy and a bit of me, obviously, in there.

But Sammy Valentino; things changed around him and he didn’t see it. The business had moved on and left him behind. I’ve always said, you never give up on the business, the business gives up on you. There’s a bit of sweetness I love about playing Sammy Valentino and I love putting the wig on.

I remember saying ‘we need people to know it’s a wig’. So occasionally I’ll move it around a little. Maybe next year, who knows, we can look at the history of Sammy Valentino and see his fall from grace in a documentary style thing.
They’re two very different characters that both have their traits and their faults which I love tapping into.

And do you ever find yourself channelling Alfie or Sammy on the panto stage?
We do have references to Eastenders in the panto because it would be a cheat not to. There are plenty of moments where you get the ‘Duff, Duff, Der,Der,Der-der coming in.

I’ve not introduced Sammy Valentino into the panto yet but who knows, every show’s different and I may just slip him in.

Sammy Valentino sings the greatest showman ‘AH-AH-AH,ah-AH! (He belts out an indescribable melody) Can you imagine? There’s an idea there!

Robin Hood. Romantic lead or daft but loveable comedy character?
All of the above, all of the above. Romantic lead, loveable rogue, he’s a bit of a loser, a bit of a winner. He’s all of the above.

What’s going to be the most fun thing for you about playing this role?
It’s that it’s different every show. The great part about doing this, in a big space like Milton Keynes Theatre, is having the cast in the wings going ‘Oh, god, what’s he doing now? He’s gone, he’s in the audience, he’s gone missing!’ And I love that feel about the show.

How do your fellow actors cope with that?
They don’t. They don’t cope with it. I see them in the wings going ‘I thought I was going to get the train home tonight, I’ve missed that. He’s off. He was doing Robin Hood, now he’s doing Aladdin. Why is referencing Peter Pan? What’s going on?’ That’s what I love about the show.

Is there anything in Robin Hood that is a real challenge for you?
There’s a swordfight in the show that we’re upping the ante with. It’s very physical for me. I’ve got injuries now which I still carry from three years ago. Sword fighting, wrestling people – fighting! There’s a lot fighting in this kids! If you like fighting you’re gonna love this! It’s like Fortnite on stage!

What frightens you in real life?
Failure. But the older I get, the less I worry about failure and the more chances I’m taking. For forty years I’ve been told; I’m brilliant; I’m rubbish. For example, when I first went into Eastenders in 2001 there was a great thing in the tabloid press which said ‘there’s a great reason not to pay your TV Licence – Shane Richie’s going in to Eastenders’ and I’ve still got that cutting. So I’m reminded constantly how it’s an uphill battle. I don’t know if it’s because I’m trying to do different things. I try to avoid being pigeon-holed and it’s not out of choice half the time, it’s out of necessity; I’ve got bills to pay. So if jobs are drying up as an actor I’ve got a wonderful manager who says ‘listen there’s a game show if you fancy doing it.’ And I know I can do them. So I do them. And sometimes that can shut doors but I’ve learnt now that I’ve got a family to look after. I’ve got a wife and five kids to look after and even though the two older boys have flown the nest just the other day (I’ll punch his lights out) my older boy said ‘Dad I need some money’ ‘cos his wages hadn’t gone through. So I’m still looking after him!

So yeah, I’m frightened of failure. Not professionally, but of letting my family down. And also, people pay a lot of money to come and see live theatre; it’s not a cheap day out so I want to make sure that when they come away from seeing the show, they come out talking about it and saying that was the best night out for a long time. So for people like me, in the fortunate position I’m in, that’s my responsibility and I take that on board and I think it’s important I remember that.

How would you explain panto to someone who had never seen one before?
It’s a melting pot of drama, circus, Shakespeare, Dickens, stand-up and freefalling. It’s everything you love if you love theatre whether it’s Chekov or whether it’s Hairspray. It’s in the middle of everything. And if you’re not a fan of theatre, after you’ve seen panto, I think you’ll want to come back. It’s a great theatrical experience and it’s nothing like you’ll ever see again.

What has been your wildest panto moment so far?
It will happen on the 19th December here in Milton Keynes. That’s all I’m saying…

You’re going to be busy in the run-up to Christmas. When do you get to do your Christmas shopping?
On the 19th Dece – no –erm! I will be doing my Christmas shopping here. I love it ‘cos we’re bang smack among all the stores – so I’ll be looking for freebies!

Is there a Christmas present you’ve received that you remember or indeed treasure to this day?
My mother-in-law bought me the most bizarre thing. She said ‘Merry Christmas, you’ve gotta lick this stick. Then we’ll send it away and we’ll find out where your family are from.’ I said ‘If you sit there and ask me I’ll tell you where my ******* family are from instead of licking sticks!’

What would you like to see under the Christmas tree this year?
I’m a big toy collector, I’ve got a lots of 60s and 70s toys, but I’ve just bought a new lilo for my house in Spain. Cost me a few quid but it’s got a table on it with cup-holders and it’s got a canopy and it’s got blue-tooth on it… What was the question again? Oh, yes, another lilo, another one of those.

If there were a new project or a job for 2019 waiting to be unwrapped under the Christmas tree, what would it be?
I fancy doing another musical. They sent me a play that I want to do next year but I can’t say too much about it because if it doesn’t happen then I look stupid.

Are you planning to make any New Year resolutions? What are they?
Oh, the same old rubbish that I do and then by January 2nd I’m doing it all over again. I made a resolution last year to do less work this year and that went out the window. As soon as the country album went to No.1 – thankfully – then I was doing more gigs with the band. And I ended up doing a new show for Channel 5, a voiceover and I’ve got another TV show I’m recording. I said I wasn’t going to do panto for a while but then Milton Keynes said: ‘Come on! Bring Robin Hood to us!’ ‘OK, Milton Keynes, I’ll do it ‘cos I love ya! I’ll do three weeks.’ ‘Do Five!’ ‘Alright, I’ll do five weeks for ya!’ So much for taking this year off. So my New Year’s resolution will be again, just take time off but, I’ve got bills to pay.

If you had to sum up this year’s panto at Milton Keynes Theatre in three words, what would they be?