How come you’ve written a poem?
I actually started out as a poet. I’d perform it on telly. Me, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton and Harry Enfield were the regulars on Saturday Live when it first took off. Then the producer, Paul Jackson, went off to do a new show called Red Dwarf, so I went with him. I got sidetracked into the acting and comedy. I never stopped writing poetry.
At 12 you won a poetry prize organised by a broadsheet newspaper. What was it about?
It was called I Wanna Feel Your Bum. It was about unrequited love.
What inspired Scary Fairy? Aren’t your kids grown up?
When I was leaving Coronation Street my kids said: ‘Why don’t you do something with those poems you used to tell us as bedtime stories?’ So I dusted them off and I’m still proud of them. They’re long, about 40 minutes, so the challenge was keeping their interest. And the stories got darker as my kids got older and more difficult to frighten.
Isn’t telling fairy stories a bit soft for the likes of you?
You don’t have to be a kid to get anything out of these. The Grimms’ fairy tales have all been so sanitised over the years — I’ve put all the snot and blood and gore back into them.
What scared you as a kid?
Star Trek. There was an episode where Captain Kirk arrives on a planet where the people are dying from some disease and covered in scabs and I was hiding behind the couch. And Doctor Who — the Cybermen were very dark.
Which poets do you admire?
John Cooper Clarke is my favourite contemporary poet. He inspired me from when I was a kid. I remember listening to ‘the f***ing cops are f***ing keen to f***ing keep it f***ing clean, the f***ing chief’s a f***ing swine’ [continues for two verses] and my mum running upstairs yelling, ‘Turn that f***ing thing OFF!’ Also Roger McGough, Brian Patton, Adrian Henri — the Liverpool Poets. And Dylan Thomas, EE Cummings and Wilfred Owen.
What’s your top New Year’s resolution?
I always break them in the first week, so now I don’t bother. But I am going to get fitter this year. I’ve got a big TV project that I can’t talk about yet but it’s going to require me to be fit. Stick me on one of those bikes or cross trainers in the gym and I get bored out of my bleeding head, so I’m doing boxing. I might go in for one of those white-collar boxing fights.
If you don’t die and stick around long enough, you become a national treasure
Do you have a short attention span?
I’ve got no attention span whatsoever! That’s the reason I’ve done so many things. People ask if I prefer acting or comedy or poetry or DJing. I like them all. If I had to do one thing, I’d explode.
When you DJ what’s your fail-safe floor-filler?
Oooh, good question. Steve Wonder’s I Wish — the Reflex remix of that is so cool. Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough or the remix of The Jacksons’ Shake Your Body Down (To The Ground) — if you can’t dance to that, you should throw away your legs.
Sadly you had to leave I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! when your brother died. Would you do another reality show?
Until then I was quite enjoying it, oddly enough. They asked me back last year but I couldn’t because I was shooting Red Dwarf. I wouldn’t do Big Brother. It just seems very angry, that show. It’s set up for conflict and I’m not into that sort of gladiatorial television.
What’s the oddest fan attention you get?
I’m tattooed on a number of breasts — a bit weird. But I’ve been dead lucky that I’ve done a few shows that are still around. And I’ve got a wide demographic, with Coronation Street and Radio 2 and 6Music thrown in.
Red Dwarf, what’s next?
Red Dwarf XII is out next year. And Red Dwarf XI was quite a big hit — we even got good reviews! It’s the first time we’ve ever got good reviews. Fans have always loved it but the press used to hate it. See, if you don’t die and stick around long enough, you become a national treasure.
Reckon you’ll keep doing Red Dwarf till you drop? Like the Keith Richards of sitcoms?
Heh heh — but if I was Keith Richards that would make Chris Barrie Mick Jagger and I’m not having that! LARUSHKA IVAN-ZADEH
Scary Fairy on Radio 2 is available on BBC iPlayer