RUSSELL Grant and I have something in common, but it’s not an ability to forecast horoscopes or deliver a tidy-tango on the dance floor that we share.
We’ve both got a nasty case of the sniffles.
“I’m just thinking to myself, ‘I have a kindred spirit at the end of this phone’,” he says in reply to my nasal introduction.
“I so sympathise with you darling, because I’m exactly the same – I did the Christmas special for Strictly, which was a fabulous thing.
“Then I went to Milton Keynes to see the theatre for the first time, and by the time I got back to Snowdonia I had a sore throat and the rest is history... I’m feeling like death warmed up.”
Russell sounds dreadful, but he has antibiotics on his side and is still revelling in the Strictly Come Dancing spotlight, despite being voted out of the Saturday night prime time success some weeks before last weekend’s final, with his beautiful dancing partner Flavia Cacace.
Their on-screen flair engaged a nation of fancy footwork followers.
And what about his huge smile? Russell’s dentist could have performed a check-up from the comfort of his armchair.
“It was the highlight of my television career, I have just had the best time of my life,” Russell gushes.
“It has been great to return to theatre, and showbiz,” he admits.
And his on-screen success and likeability made him a favourite for panto: “I had about 20 offers in a week.
“I said yes to Milton Keynes because it’s a lovely little short run before Christmas, and because mum was evacuated to Bletchley in the war.”
Even today, mum Joan visits the area when she can.
“I’ve got a connection to the town... and one of my very best friends, Sheila, lives on the Lakes Estate. I did my stars from the Bletchley Co-op once, too.”
Having checked his workplace, he knows he made the right choice: “When I saw the theatre I thought ‘My god, I have made the right decision’. It is beautifully designed, has great acoustics, a great backstage – that’s how you can tell a theatre, when the wing space is great. There are loads of fabulous dressing rooms, great aisles for the disabled. I’m not gushing needlessly.
“It’s a brilliantly stylish theatre.”
And those wanting Russell to shake his booty onstage won’t be disappointed.
“I’m doing a couple of dances from Strictly – Better the Devil You Know and Reach for the Stars...”
So despite feeling below par, Russell still feels on top of the world.
It is a major turnaround for the household name who just a few years ago was shackled to health problems and depression.
“I had two heart problems, was diagnosed diabetic, had become asthmatic, I had prostate problems, I even had skin cancer.
“What stopped me twice when I was close to thinking ‘I want to end it all’, is the big thought that came into my head saying ‘this really isn’t a good thing’.
“It’s so selfish. You are going to leave all your loved ones wondering if it was they that drove you over the edge. I suddenly thought, ‘I want to live’.
“It was all about my positive mental attitude... PMA, that’s nothing to do with PMT!” he jests.
And he has worked hard for results – when he started his diet in 2009, Russell weighed 26 stone.
“...and I am only five foot seven tall. I was on 25 pills a day too and now I am on seven.
“I’m still 15 and a half stone, still too big – I would love to take another four stone off...”
But for the moment, panto is the word for the likeable, cheeky chappie. And there is more sparkle than normal when Mr Grant takes the stage.
“There is a special treat for the audience...” he says, explaining that one of his Strictly Come Dancing costumes has been sent from Television Centre for the show, “…and I can assure you there will be a lot of bling in it,” Russell promised.
Russell stars alongside Gareth Gates in Aladdin until Christmas Eve.
> Call 0844 871 7652 for tickets.