Why Craig’s a real soul survivor

Mannifest 2012''Craig Charles
Mannifest 2012''Craig Charles
Share this article
Have your say

It’s been a great year for Craig Charles.

The actor, TV presenter and BBC6 Music DJ has seen Red Dwarf, the cult comedy series which first made him a star, return for a triumphant 10th series after many years and has also returned to prime time soap Coronation Street with a dramatic storyline in which he discovers he has a daughter he never knew of.

On the decks: Craig Charles in his element spinning the music

On the decks: Craig Charles in his element spinning the music

Always a labour of love, his BB6 Funk and Soul Show has gone from strength to strength and he has even just brought out an album, The Funk and Soul Club.

And he’s taken it on the road to DJ live shows and festivals like Clitheroe’s Beat-Herder and Cumbria’s Kendal Calling.

But all other achievements pale into insignificance alongside one great fact - 2012 was the year that Craig Charles’s daughters finally accepted he was cool.

He laughs: “My 15 year old daughter and my nine year old daughter are all massive Red Dwarf fans. I’ve turned into Cool Dad again.

“It might have been Kendal that swung it. One of my daughters got up on stage with me at Kendal, my 15 year old, and whispered in my ear as I was DJing, ‘Dad, you’ve got a really cool job.’

“With the nine year old, I’ve been Kinda Cool Dad but with the 15 year old, I’ve been Embarrassing Dad - and with my 24 year old, I’m just Bank of Dad!”

Returning to film Red Dwarf felt natural even after so long. He says: “It was like we’d never been away because we’ve all been in contact with each other over the years.

“We were just worried, you know, we didn’t want to screw with the legacy because it has got such a good legacy, Red Dwarf. We just wanted to make sure it was as good as the ones back in the day.

“When it went out on the telly, it was surrounded by older episodes and then they put the new one on - and it stood up with those older ones really, really well. In fact, I thought the new ones were a bit funnier than the old ones.”

Filming wasn’t all plain sailing. Charles admits: “I got really ill during filming. I got the flu and I was on antibiotics and steroids and all this.

“But it was when I was filming the Fathers and Sons episode so I had to play out of my head anyway and really hungover. And the fact that I had the flu - it kinda worked for me!”

Originally, the plan was to make a film to follow on from the end of the last series. But the process took so long, they went back to television, fearing their audience would forget them.

The increasing age of Charles and his co-stars was another factor. He admits: “We’re all getting long in the tooth. Have you seen the size of Kreighten now? How much software can you fit in one robot? And Danny’s wearing a wig, he’s bald! Bald as a coot! And totally grey. It was only me and Chris that were unaided.”

He begged a break from Coronation Street to shoot Red Dwarf. But when he returned, he was thrilled to find a gripping new storyline waiting for him.

His character, taxi driver Lloyd Mullaney, meets an old lover - and discovers she is mother to the adult daughter he never knew he had. But the daughter, who has just lost the man she knew as her father, is none too thrilled.

Having grown up in the only black family among 1000 white households on a tough Liverpool estate, there is one thing in particular he loves about the storyline. He says: “it’s good because that’s the first black family ever in Coronation Street.

“It’s good fun playing it and she’s a nice girl, the daughter, and so’s the girl who’s playing my ex squeeze.

The only snag is playing such intense scenes while ensuring no details slip out. He laughs: “My daughters are the worst for all that, it drives them mad. They’re like “Dad, what’s happening, what’s happening?” “Not telling you. Can’t tell you.”

“They’d be straight into school telling all their mates everything! It’d be in the Manchester Evening News before I knew it, I tell you!”

When in 2006, he was filmed smoking crack by his Coronation Street driver, he partly blamed the stress of the show. Now he refuses point blank to even discuss this period of his life.

He says bluntly: “I don’t want to talk about that to be honest. It’s so in the past, man. It’s a long time ago and I really don’t want to go back there.”

His love of soul comes from his family, particularly his late father. He says: “My Dad came to England in the late 1950s early 1960s with a few shillings in his pocket and a bagfull of records. And it was him that turned me on to Aretha Franklin and Otis Reading and Reverend Al Green, Marvin Gaye and all that kind of stuff, and Ray Charles, Nat King Cole - it was all from my dad.

“I remember my Mum and Dad dancing round the kitchen to Aretha Franklin in the late 1960, I must have only been about four or five.

“So when everyone was rocking in Liverpool to the Beatles, I was listening to Otis Redding. It was just an alternative upbringing. Them when punk kicked off, I was into Parliament, Funkadelic, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins and all that.”

He is the longest serving DJ on BBC6 Music - he describes himself as “the Ken Barlow of BBC6” - and the show is enduringly popular.

It’s allowed him to rub shoulders with many of his soul heroes, from Dionne Warwick to George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Amy Winehouse - and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Charles admits: “I was a bit nervous meeting James Brown. You had to call him Mr Brown. So I said, “How many children have you got, Mr Brown?” He goes (imitating Brown distinctive rasp), “I’ve got eight!” “How old’s the youngest?” “Youngest is two!” And I said, “So it’s still working, Mr Brown, onstage and off?” ‘More onstage than off now! But I like you, boy. I like your attitude. You can call me James!”

Next Friday, Charles brings the Christmas Funk and Soul Show to Preston’s 53 Degrees for a date that’s beginning to feel like a regular part of his build up to Christmas.

He feels at home in our city and tells of family summer holidays near here as a child. He says: “We used to go camping on the River Ribble, can you believe that? That was a holiday for us, that was how poor we were. There used to be loads of eels in the River Ribble and we’d get all the eels out and my Dad would fry them.”

“We used to go camping there with the Scouts as well. There used to be a Scout campsite somewhere there and we’d always end up there. But I remember some good summers.”

This year, he’ll be at home at the converted mill he shares with his wife and daughters for a proper family Christmas. As Charles has built a pub inside his home, the family is understandably popular at Yuletide.

He says: “We just have loads of family and friends over, they always come and stay at our house for Christmas so we’ll probably have about 14 people round the table.

“My wife’s sister, she’s got nine kids, and we have loads of friends over and just make merry really. I don’t think I’ve had a very sober Christmas for a long time. And the pub’s got a dance floor. It’s like a busman’s holiday - because they make me DJ!”

Craig Charles Christmas Funk and Soul Show is at 53 Degrees on Friday December 14. Advance tickets are £13 on 01772 893000 or online at www.lancashiretickets.com