ANITA Dobson played right into the hearts of soap lovers with her feisty portrayal of Angie Watts in EastEnders, writes Sammy Jones.
The British public couldn’t get enough of Angie’s tempestuous life with Dirty Den.
The fact that Anita left the role behind in 1988 and yet Angie remains one of soaplands most revered characters speaks volumes of her talent.
But Albert Square is a million miles away from her recent shenanigans on Strictly Come Dancing.
Very much the mover and shaker, she proved to be.
“I’ve always been able to move well, and it was my last ditch attempt to get the chance to learn – I’ve always wanted to learn to ballroom dance,” she tells me..
“I respond to music, that’s been the case all my life, but I’ve never ballet trained or anything like that...”
The Strictly Come Dancing tour now beckons for Anita, who spoke with us during her New Year panto engagement at MK Theatre. But beyond that her samba might start to rust up...
“I would love to keep the dancing up, but it is going to be really difficult because I am an actress, that’s what I do.
“Ideally I need someone to write me a series where I can ballroom dance!” she beams.
“Having just done a reality show I have to say I would never do another though.
“The only reason I did this one was because the desire to dance overtook everything else.
“They had asked me twice before and I had said no. This time I thought ‘You are 62, you’ve got nothing to lose and if they have a go at you, so what?’
“My best friend said to me ‘Don’t ever look back and regret not doing it.’
“I’m so glad I went for it. I’ve been asked to do Celebrity Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity, but it’s not my thing really and I don’t feel the need to do it.
“And there is no money in the world to get me to eat bugs in the jungle,” she says, grimacing at the thought.
“I don’t even want to watch it really – it’s like those Japanese programmes when you see people putting their heads into bowls of ants. I just say ‘why’?
“I do think that telly is full of a lot of reality shows now and drama has suffered.
“The drama we do see on the box, like Downton Abbey, Lark Rise to Candleford, Poirot and Miss Marple is great stuff, but there’s probably a queue around the block of people that want to do it, and so there is not as much work for an inordinate amount of people that want it. It gets harder and harder and a lot of people go back into theatre, so the business is getting very jammed...”
But in 2011 Anita was in demand.
“I’ve had a pretty good run,” she smiles, “I did Richmond’s panto last year and from then until now it has been full on, with lots of really different jobs – documentaries about wartime Britain, and then I did a play about a woman who did her own facelift at home, a true story...some really good stuff.
“I said to Brian that I was ready to semi-retire a year and a half ago, because I’ve had a great career, I’m getting older and I’ve made my money, so its time to take it easy.
“Then, all this good work came along and I said ‘While the good stuff keeps coming in, I’m going to do it’. When it stops, I’ll stop, but until then I am just grateful that I am healthy enough to do it.”
The Brian she refers to is Brian May.
To Anita, he’s hubby. To the rest of us, he’s the legendary guitarist with Queen.
Having two in demand, successful people under the same roof must make for a tricky living situation.
“I think with Strictly it spilled into everything,” Anita admits. It took me completely by surprise how much I was absorbed by it.
“For the first six weeks I don’t think I surfaced, so that was hard for Brian because I just didn’t talk about anything else.
“I came home, ate, slept, got up and rushed off.
“But generally speaking we support each other. If you care about someone, be it a friend, relation or a partner, you have to understand that if they have a passion and something they desperately want to do, it is pointless telling them not to do because it
doesn’t fit in with your plans.
“You have to work around it and that’s what we try to do. It makes life difficult sometimes, but if you care about each other and you have a life together, you manage.”
Anita is a petite, radiant, glamorous 62 year old who looks ridiculously younger, even when sitting in her dressing room pre-performance and make-up.
How does she do it?
Well, she is vegetarian (“I just don’t agree the steroids that they pump into the animals and the way we farm creatures and stockpile”), aims for a decent amount of time in noddyland and knocked fags on the head years ago.
“I smoked when I was younger but gave them up, which I am really glad about.
“I don’t drink like I used to either. I used to be a bit of a hellraiser in my youth, but I think we all have to go through a little of that.
“I like a drink and it’s a great social tool, but I don’t drink that much really.”
Those of you who caught her on stage in panto will have heard her letting her vocals loose on the Queen song I Want It All.
“I’ve done quite a few of them in panto’s,” she says referring to Queen numbers, “I said to Brian once many years ago, would you mind if I did a Queen song in panto?’ and then everyone seemed to be doing it.
“If anyone should be doing it, it should certainly be me, seeing as how I am married to the guy who wrote that particular song!” she says with a giggle, before preparing to go out and dazzle under the spotlight once more.
> Anita stars in Strictly Dancing on Tour, January 20–31, and tours with Greta Scacchi in Bette and Joan, which plays at Northampton Derngate Theatre, May 8-12. Call 01604 624811 to book.