Shane Richie on panto fun, country music and his love for Reigate
- Credit: Archant
From Walford to Woking, Shane Richie has left the pub pumps behind to hunt down the Sheriff of Nottingham in Woking with his Merry Men. Matthew Williams meets the EastEnders star to discuss panto fun, country music and his love for living near Reigate
“I tell you what, I should be the Mayor of Reigate,” laughs Shane Richie, as he relaxes on his bar stool in the lobby of Woking’s New Victoria Theatre.
Having spent the day hard on the Robin Hood panto promo train, the actor, perhaps best known for his character Alfie Moon in EastEnders, has challenged me to ask him something no one else would have thought of – and the topic of his adopted hometown seems to have hit a vein.
“First thing I’d do is pedestrianise the place,” he says, while quickly totting up the details of his political manifesto. “I just think it would take it to another level – can you imagine, a proper café culture with people relaxing outside? We’d obviously have a big music festival in Priory Park too. I love Reigate because it’s still got that village mentality – but it does feel like it’s holding on by its finger tips a little bit, if you get what I mean?”
While he’s quite the man about town in Reigate now-a-days, having helped to instigate annual events such as Reigate On Ice, and he’s no stranger to popping up in local pubs with his band The Prelude, Shane only moved to the area 10 years ago.
“We moved from West London, as my wife Christie was always having to pop back to see her family when I was working in the States. It just made sense to move here,” he says. “I wouldn’t change it for the world and love my trips into town from Lower Kingswood.
“It’s also really handy for shows like this, of course” he says, steering the conversation neatly back to the topic at hand.
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Last year, Shane performed in Robin Hood with onscreen partner-in-crime Jessie Wallace down in Southampton but he’s feeling pretty smug about only having a quick trip around the M25 this time.
“It’s great isn’t it and, well the fun thing for me, is that – other than playing Robin – three of my kids (the 11, nine and six year olds) are also in the show. It’s a time I spend with them 24/7, so even when they’re not in the show they’ll be in the theatre.”
With Hollywood stars Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner long having been subject of internet memes for their eclectic selection of accents when playing the heroic outlaw, I wonder whether Shane has put much thought into how he’ll portray the show’s protagonist…
“I’m aiming for somewhere between Russell, ‘Shane’ and Alfie,” he laughs. “It’s great though, Robin is like Buttons with balls. There’s a lot of jumping about, lots of sword fights; it’s very physical and no two shows are the same. I can’t wait. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people calling for Alfie Moon but that’s half the fun, right?”
Home from home
Over the years, New Victoria Theatre, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has become something of a second home for the comedian turned musical performer turned gameshow host turned soap star.
“I’ve done stand up; my musical Boogie Nights; Peter James’ The Perfect Murder with Jessie Wallace a couple of years ago and then his Not Dead Enough earlier this year,” he says, almost running out of fingers. “I’ve been to see so many shows here over the years, so it’s great to be back on stage.
“I’ve left Jessie at home this time though – well, she’s doing her own thing… thankfully. Nah, we’ve been mates for the best part of 15 years and so even when we’re not working together we speak on the phone every day.”
Because the venue is so close to home, he’ll probably just be making flying visits rather than hanging around town but he’s already managed a scout about between rehearsals.
“What’s the story behind those sculptures of people hanging around the place?” he asks. (Writer’s note: fount of accumulated useless knowledge I am, I explain about The Lightbox art gallery’s Sean Henry sculpture trail…)
“It’s brilliant,” he laughs. “You can only imagine the scenes at pub closing time, can’t you? ‘Alright mate, you got a light? Mate? Mate, why are you ignoring me, I only want a light? No need to be rude about it.’ There must have been so many one-way conversations going on after hours round here recently!”
Speaking of pubs, a fair few of his fanatical internet following (Team Shane Richie has more than 23,000 followers on Twitter, for instance) are keen advocates of him becoming a real-life landlord while Alfie is off our screens. Has he ever considered it?
“I haven’t myself but funnily enough, a good mate of mine, (one time Ready Steady Cook stalwart and well-known Reigate restaurateur) Tony Tobin, has just joined up with the local Time Well Spent pub group as executive chef. They’ve got some lovely country pubs and, considering how hard it must have been for Tony with The Dining Room shutting after all these years, it’s great to see him landing on his feet. I really like The Well House Inn (in Mugswell) and The Sportsman (in Mogador), which are round the corner from me. Perhaps I’ll end up doing music nights in them?!”
A country soul
While Richie fans may have been missing his scene-stealing stint on EastEnders (Alfie last appeared in January 2016 before standalone show Kat & Alfie: Redwater this year), the 53-year-old has always enjoyed keeping himself on his toes.
“Now I’m out I’m kind of privileged in that I can pick and choose what I work on next – that doesn’t mean all the projects will work out but it’s fun to give them a go,” he says. “This year I filmed the Benidorm sitcom, I’ve done a touring play, I’ve done an album, there’s a drama in the New Year etc. I need to be taken out of my comfort zone.
“I’d love to do another musical. It’s finding the right one. I’ve got the theatrical rights to a movie called The Small World of Sammy Lee, which was an Anthony Newley film in the 60s. We’ve written six songs for it and we’re looking for investors. I’m itching to do that.”
First up though, well aside from being a thorn in the side of the Sheriff of Nottingham, is the aforementioned album, A Country Soul.
“It was all recorded in North London but I did quite a lot of the writing for it with my son Jake in Reigate,” he explains. “It’s the all important ‘second’ album after 20 years! I’ve played in pubs, car parks, festivals; it’s something I’ve done throughout my career. If it does well, I’d love to put on a gig back home in Priory Park.
“We’re just about to release it so I’m having to balance panto and music promo, and doing my best not to get the two mixed up. I suppose the Merry Men have been known to play a tune or two, right? Maybe Robin Hood always wanted to be a lead singer.”
Mayor of Reigate? Panto outlaw of Woking? Lovable landlord of Walford? Whichever role he steps into, it’s easy to see why Shane Richie’s tongue-in-cheek charm has had a habit of making him such a man of the people.
My Favourite Surrey
Place to shop…
I love popping into Reigate. I had someone the other day go: ‘I know you’ (in a frightfully posh voice) ‘where do I know you from?’ and I’m going: ‘EastEnders?’ He went, ‘No, no. no’. So I said, ‘was it a musical?’ ‘No, no – ah, the school run, I saw you on the school run.’ And it kinda threw me but then it’s quite well-to-do and I don’t think it’s got a big EastEnders’ audience.
Place to visit…
Priory Park in Reigate is such a beautiful place and we spend a lot of time there with the kids. I used to love wandering over to The Well House Inn through the fields out the back of my house, so I’ll have to start doing that again soon.
Place to eat…
I would’ve said The Dining Room but that’s obviously had to change. My kids love Wagamamas, so we’ll end up there plenty. Absolutely mad that people petitioned the council to get it into the town but, well, there you go! Beryl and Pegs up near the station is lovely and friends of mine run it. You get to know people pottering around town.
Place to relax…
I’ve got a man cave at home and collect toys. I bore myself talking about it, but I’ve got all the Gerry Anderson stuff, love Robert Harrop’s designs and a huge Planet of the Apes toy collection. Then there’s too many guitars etc – I can’t leave a second hand guitar in a shop. I’ll have to start busking at Tony’s pubs…