‘Strictly is mine and Tess’s third baby – but I’ve never been asked on,’ says Vernon Kay

He’s one of our favourite TV talents with a varied career spanning over 20 years, but surprisingly Vernon Kay has never done panto – until now.

The 48-year-old presenter and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here finalist is making his theatre debut this year as Dandini – “the prince’s personal assistant,” says Vernon – in Cinderella, having accepted it following some encouragement from his kids.

Vernon’s two daughters with wife Tess Daly – Phoebe, 18 and Amber, 13 – have been regular panto-goers with their parents since they were little.

“We go every year and that’s why I’m really pleased I’m doing it, because I’m doing it when the kids are at an age where they can bring their friends and enjoy watching Dad make a fool of himself,” he explains.

But how will his performance schedule fit in with Tess’s presenting duties on Strictly?

“We’ve looked at the diary and we pretty much know already what the kids want for Christmas,” he says. “And my dad will get the usual staples – the sweater, socks, undies, flask – and my mum will probably get another throw for the sofa, or a shawl or a handbag. So you can plan all that.

“There’s a period where they overlap – the end of Strictly and the start of panto – but it’s something we’ve become accustomed to. Strictly is like our third baby. You know it only comes and visits from June until Christmas so we’re kind of programmed for it now.”

However, there’s another thing Vernon has to fit into his busy schedule, and that’s watching Mike Tindall, 44, do his thing in this year’s I’m A Celebrity. Vernon tells us the former rugby player, who’s married to HRH The Princess Royal’s daughter Zara, 41, is one of his best mates – although watching Tess, 53, will always come first.

“The only appointment-to-view for me is Strictly,” he says. “[Each week] I dread Tess tripping up when she comes around the corner on the stage. I make sure I’m watching after the titles, when Tess says hello and welcome to Strictly, and Claudia says something. I just want to make sure that she’s done the opening link without tripping on her beautiful gown.”

That said, he is hugely supportive of Mike and thinks he’ll do well in the jungle.

“I love Mike Tindall, he’s a good friend of mine. We play a lot of golf together,” says Vernon. “I think he’s got the perfect personality, the perfect character to be successful on I’m a Celebrity because he’s a man’s man. He listens, he has his own opinions but he likes to debate. He and Zara are absolutely brilliant. I think he’s a top bloke.”

So what advice would he give his pal, given that he’s been on the show himself and came third in the final?

“All you’ve got to do is be yourself,” he says.

“If you go there trying to have a personality that isn’t naturally yours, if you go there thinking ‘I’m going to win this’, then your experience isn’t going to be as joyful as someone who just goes in there and says, ‘You know what, it’s me versus the jungle, I’m going to get on with everyone and be myself and have a really, really good time. I’m going to get covered in gunk, I’m going to meet a lot of creepy-crawlies and I’m going to eat part of an animal that I would never in a million years dream of putting in my mouth. If you just enjoy the experience, you’ve got a great chance.”

Given that he was so popular with I’m A Celeb viewers, would Vernon be tempted to chance his arm on Strictly next? “I’ve never been asked, to be honest with you,” he admits. Perhaps competing when he knows everyone on Strictly so well would be seen as a conflict of interest, especially with Tess as the presenter?

“I never thought of that,” he laughs. “I’m good friends with many of them – I play golf with Anton. So yes, maybe that’s why they haven’t asked me. I do enjoy the process of getting to know the dancers. I enjoy watching their rehearsal tapes and I enjoy sitting down with Tess and watching It Takes Two,” he adds.

But while Vernon is well versed in how live TV works, appearing on stage in pantomime is a different challenge.

“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” he admits. “First of all, I was really excited. Then I went to watch the casting process, which made me apprehensive. And then I’ve got the script and I’m really anxious. And now I’ve learned a bit of the script, I’ve got the butterflies.”

We’re sure he’ll make his family proud, though, and with eldest daughter Phoebe likely to head off to university next year, Vernon says “holidays and half-terms are quite precious” for him.

This has made him more selective about the work he commits to, but it’s often exactly those times when he’s asked to step in as a presenter, either filling in for

Zoe Ball on her radio show or co-hosting This Morning with Rochelle Humes.

“I’ve been given dates to do more of This Morning, but obviously Phil and Holly take time off during school holidays and I don’t want to lose any of those. I do want to do more [of the show] because I love it so much. It’s such a good laugh and the team behind This Morning are brilliant. And you get fed – you get two meals in a three-hour period!” What more could you want from a job?

Vernon Kay will make his stage and pantomime debut in Cinderella at The Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe from 9 to 31 December 2022. Visit wycombeswan.co.uk for tickets.


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