■ The actor and comedian, 55, on the joy of caravans, singing in a girdle and childhood heroes
Why are you promoting a caravan show?
I did a Channel 5 show about caravan holidays. I have a history of staying in caravan parks and chalets when I was a teenager. My grandmother was a Romany gypsy from Sicily and they travelled across Europe to Ireland in caravans. So it was an honour to be asked to do this and have a heated debate about caravans and motorhomes — what do you prefer? My in-laws did one of the episodes with me and had the best time.
Did you have any favourite places you visited?
The Isle of Wight — I stayed there when I was working in holiday parks as a teenager when I wasn’t doing plays. I’d do that from July to September, then go and tour in a play and go back and do the holiday parks again. Caravans were very different in those days. You’d have to get up in the morning with a blowtorch to warm the toilet seat up.
Should we all go on caravan holidays to fight climate change?
When I get my motorhome I’ll be straight across Europe. I’m not sure I’m flying that flag. I went all around the Gold Coast when I was filming in Ireland a couple of years ago and there were loads of motorhomes along that route. I’d want to drive down the coast of France and go to Spain and take in those beautiful views.
Have you been paying attention to Greta Thunberg?
I’ve got five kids and Greta has become a hero to my 11-year-old daughter. It’s great. My idol at 11 was Bruce Lee. I could go out and do roundhouse kicks to anyone. I could knock you out with one sideswipe — but my daughter has Greta Thunberg. It’s wonderful. I’m constantly being reminded by my children about climate change and carbon footprints. I’m always learning. The family can all get together and go on holiday in a motorhome instead of taking a convoy of separate cars.
Are you looking forward to doing the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tour?
Yes, being surrounded by young talent straight out of drama school is great. I’m playing a middle-aged drag queen and I’m wearing five-inch heels — I’m loving it. It’s a coming-of-age musical about diversity and acceptance. I’m from a generation where my gay friends as teenagers were hiding behind closed doors and this musical is about daring to be different and celebrating those differences.
What’s challenging about the role?
My character, Loco Chanel, closes act one. You’re trained to sing from your diaphragm but I’ve got to get into a girdle, which really squeezes everything in, so I have to shallow breathe. It’s such a big song, I get light-headed by the end. Luckily I have three drag queens there to catch me in case I go over. And I’ve got 14 minutes to get changed from Hugo to Loco Chanelle, so all dignity goes out of the window — the make-up, dress, girdle and heels have to go on very quickly.
What was it like doing The Entertainer? It’s an intense role…
It’s a role I’ve always wanted to do. I was first approached about it when I was doing Minder on Channel 5. This version was updated from the version Laurence Olivier did in the film. It was moved from the 1950s to 1984 and the character was a bit Bernard Manning. The backdrop for the original was the Suez Crisis and ours was the Falklands War. I looked back on comics from that time such as Bernard Manning — and that sort of material was used in the play. It was tough, I’d see the audience squirming, but it was about an entertainer who found the world had changed and passed him by.
Did you find any of that old material shocking? You wouldn’t be allowed to do that on TV now…
Not so much the material but the attitudes. I’m from a big Irish family and my dad ran clubs in London. I’d see comedians come on and do all the clichés about Irish people being stupid. I never found it funny and my mum had never found it funny. I grew up in Harlesden, where everyone was either black or Irish. I’d watch the Black And White Minstrel Show as a kid and couldn’t understand it — I’d think, ‘Is this what middle-class English people think black people are like? Or that all Irish people are stupid?’ Even at 12 I thought there was something wrong about it. Comedy has since changed but when you go so far left, you give the right a chance to rear its ugly head.
Are you still the UK’s biggest-selling country artist?
I have no idea. I’m writing another album while I’m on tour and I’m also writing a sitcom which I hope will be commissioned later in the year. I’ve got a guitar in my dressing room so when I get downtime that’s what I’m doing.
■ Shane Richie will be at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC Birmingham, February 18-23, ccmshow.co.uk