Craig Charles at home in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 11:17 02 November 2020
The many sides of Craig Charles, star of new reality show Don’t Rock the Boat
Craig Charles is a busy man. Actor, presenter, poet, musician, DJ and author. Today he’s just back from rowing the length of the country for a new TV show, and he’s already packing his case again for a socially distanced funk and soul DJ show in Newcastle.
“I like being busy,” he explains, padding barefoot through his stunning home, a former watermill near Hale, which he and his wife Jackie have made their own.
At every turn there’s a reminder of one of his many projects – a still from the Dave Lister/Red Dwarf days, the transparency of his name from an appearance on University Challenge, posters and travel souvenirs he’s picked up while DJing at festivals around the world, countless signed records for his funk and soul shows and an impressive library packed with books, many by friends – and those he’s written himself.
“That’s the thing about getting old,” he laughs. At 56 he’s far from it but has fitted in enough for two lifetimes already.
“At my age, you’ve done loads of things. I’ve always had lots of different interests – more really than I ever have time to pursue. Of course, I’d like to write more, present more, act more, travel more, learn more. I’m lucky that people keep coming and asking me to do new things, so I never really know in which direction things will go next.”
In the beautiful farmhouse kitchen he finds what he was looking for – his phone – and on it his current project, the seventh Trunk Of Funk compilation album. It includes his favourite tracks from his 6 Music and Radio 2 shows – with songs by PP Arnold, Roy Ayers and Patrice Rushen.
This is his first vinyl release, and he’s been agonising over the artwork and notes for the sleeves.
“I’m like a kid again with it,” he says, proudly showing off the final design. “I love vinyl, so this is a dream for me. It’s also exciting because as well as some classic tracks from the early days of funk and soul, there’s some amazing new music too, made by acts like Monophonics, Amp Fiddler and The James Taylor Quartet. There’s a young scene out there making music that rivals anything from the ’60s and ’70s.”
At the kitchen table, his three grown-up children, Jack, Anna-Jo and Nellie look up from their phones and tablets to nod their approval, while Craig makes a cup of tea on a cream, four-oven Aga.
For all its grandeur and history, this is very much a family home, with Ziggy the cockapoo at the heart of everything.
“The Aga was here when we arrived, but pretty much everything else we’ve changed over time,” says Craig. “The library was a bedroom, and there was a wall here in the kitchen, where now it’s open and lets the light in better. The house has grown with us as a family.”
He’s enthusiastic too about its location: “Cheshire is definitely home for us. I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. We’ve been here for about 15 years and it’s been a great place to bring up a family. We have Manchester and Liverpool on our doorsteps, there are brilliant places to eat and drink, and let’s face it, you couldn’t buy a two-bedroom flat in some parts of London for a house like we have here.” An exaggeration perhaps – with its sprawling rooms, indoor swimming pool and rolling grounds – but the county certainly offers better value than the capital.
“We have a really good quality of life here; we just wouldn’t get anywhere else,” he adds. “I can be at the BBC in London in two hours on the train: Wilmslow station to Euston, then a quick walk and I’m at the BBC quicker than I would be if I lived in parts of south London.”
He prefers the area’s hospitality too. “The guys at San Carlo Fiorentina in Hale treat us like family,” he smiles. “The food and wine are great, and the service is fantastic.Sometimes we’ll go into Manchester and Liverpool, and there are great places to eat and drink there, but often we stay local and go to Hale or Wilmslow, or occasionally Knutsford or Alderley Edge.”
But there are some downsides to living in a rural idyll. “The internet is terrible,” he explains, to agreement from Jack, Anna-Jo and Nellie. “We’ve clubbed together with some houses nearby to get a proper broadband cable dug in, but it keeps getting delayed, so during lockdown while all the other BBC DJs were doing their shows from home, I was having to go over to Media City to do the drivetime show for 6 Music. There was me and a security guard in the whole place. It was eerily quiet.”
But most of his work can be done from anywhere. There are several TV projects lined up including Don’t Rock the Boat, in which celebrities row the length of Great Britain in two small boats. “It was one of those things they offer ages ahead, and you think, yes, it’ll be great to get fit after lockdown. Then they sent a rowing machine and I had a go on it and realised how hard it was.”
The show sees Craig joined by famous faces such as former deputy leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson, Coronation Street star Lucy Fallon, Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton and former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt. “It was an incredible experience,” he says. “Definitely one of the hardest physical challenges I’ve ever done. We went from Cornwall to North Wales, then Wales to southern Scotland. I was hoping we might stop in Wirral or Liverpool but sadly not so I just waved from the boat.”
The rest of his diary for 2020 includes more funk and soul radio shows, hosting a new show for ITV1 celebrating British black comedy, with fellow Red Dwarf star Danny John Jules, plus voicing more documentaries, including one about UFOs. “Red Dwarf was brilliant for that,” he explains. “Now I get asked to do lots of things about space and the potential of other life out there. I’m not sure what I believe, but it would be unusual if we really were the only life forms out there.”
It’s just another string to his bow, which started with performance poetry. Growing up on the Cantril Farm estate on the outskirts of Liverpool, Craig won a Guardian competition when he was 12. As a teenager, he climbed on stage at a Teardrop Explodes concert and recited a poem about the band’s singer, Julian Cope. They asked him back as a support act, and from there he performed at venues across the area, including the Everyman Theatre, with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri.
He became an actor, first as Lister in Red Dwarf, and then in Coronation Street as Northern Soul-loving cab driver Lloyd Mullaney, with stints in the middle presenting shows including Robot Wars and Takeshi’s Castle. But it’s doing his funk and soul radio and live shows that he’s happiest.
“That’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he says. “Obviously, my wife and my children come first, but professionally, if I’m remembered for one thing, I hope it’s for championing some brilliant funk and soul music.”
The Craig Charles Trunk Of Funk Volume 1 is released November 6 on Soul Bank Music
The many lives of Craig Charles
Craig was part of Liverpool’s vibrant post-punk scene, before being spotted for regular slots on Loose Ends on Radio 4, Riverside on BBC2 and BBC1‘s Pebble Mill at One.
It was as Scouse curry-lover Dave Lister that Craig first found fame. He played the last human in the universe, cast adrift with a hologram, a robot and a creature evolved from his own cat.
Robot Wars (1998-2004)
Craig hosted this tech combat show, in which teams of engineers made radio-controlled robots and then smashed them to bits.
Contestants attempted to pass a series of tricky physical challenges in this popular Japanese game show, voiced by Craig.
Like Craig, cabbie Lloyd Mullaney was a Northern Soul DJ and record collector, and funk music enthusiast. He even chose some of the songs played during his scenes.
The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show
Craig has been with BBC Radio 6 Music since the beginning and hosts a live show on Radio 2. He performs around the world, bringing his favourite music to life.
Don’t Rock The Boat
ITV, November 2020
Craig is one of the celebrities rowing the length of Britain in the star-studded reality show