Joe McFadden talks about his ghostly guest return as Holby City's Raf Di Lucca - and life after winning Strictly Come Dancing...
They say variety is the spice of life, and if that’s the case then Holby City legend Joe McFadden’s career is packed full of flavour!
After landing his first role, aged 12, in iconic detective drama Taggart, the Glasgow-born actor got his big break three years later on Scottish soap Take the High Road.
From there, he’s enjoyed a string of lead characters in primetime dramas, including fan favourite PC Joe Mason in 1960s-set hit Heartbeat, as well as treading the boards in theatreland and winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2017 with pro partner Katya Jones.
This week, Joe’s returning to his old Holby City stomping ground to make a special guest appearance as surgeon Raffaello ‘Raf’ Di Lucca in the most exceptional of circumstances: as a ghost visiting terminally ill wife Essie (played by Kaye Wragg).
Fans were left devastated after Joe’s surprise exit from the BBC1 medical drama in December 2017 in a shocking storyline that saw Raf murdered during a shooting spree by the son of Holby stalwart Henrik Hanssen (Guy Henry).
Here Holby City star Joe, 44, tells us why he’s delighted to be back on the wards…
It isn’t every day you get asked to return as a ghost to Holby City!
“[Laughing] No, it doesn’t happen often enough! But there’s nothing naff about Raf’s return to Holby; there’s no wobbly vision! He reappears as a figment of Essie’s imagination. People do talk to their dead loved ones, and Essie is in this sad situation. There’s no more treatment [for her ovarian cancer] and she’s basically having palliative care. Raf comes to her and offers advice about making everything right with the people she loves. It’s very poignant and has been done really sensitively.”
Have you played a ghost before?
“Last year I was in a play called The House on Cold Hill, adapted from Peter James’ novel. My character had a grisly death and ended up haunting the house he moved into. I was also the ghost of Lord Byron in an amazing web series [for the BBC] called Ghosts of Albion: Legacy with Emma Samms, Anthony Daniels and Leslie Phillips. Wikipedia said I was dead at one point too, which was a bit of a surprise! So yes, I’ve got ghosts on my CV!”
How was it being back at Holby?
“It was surreal. It’s so familiar, yet different. Some of the wards have changed and there are new people, but within a couple of hours it felt like I’d never been away. It reminded me what a lovely job Holby is and how great everyone there is. From the writers to the production team and the actors, they’re at the top of their game.”
Who did you catch up with?
“It was great to see Kaye and Alex Walkinshaw [Fletch] again. And my good friend Dawn Steele is on Holby now [playing Ange]. We got to be in a scene together – although we don’t speak because I’m an apparition!”
What has life been like for you post-Holby City?
“Raf’s shocking death was around the same time as the semi-finals for Strictly, so 2017 was a big old year! Strictly was such an intense, amazing thing to be part of. Then I did [musical] Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which was fantastic and I got to do more dancing, which was, admittedly, all the more difficult in heels!”
Which of your Holby pals would you like to see on Strictly?
“Dawn would be amazing. A lot of the show is throwing yourself into things, you have to have the right attitude, so Dawn would be fantastic. Also, Kirsty Mitchell, who plays Faith in Casualty, is a good mate of mine and would be brilliant.”
Career-wise, what would you like to do next?
“Hopefully I’ll get a chance to be in some of the fantastic television that’s being made in this country, but I try not to make plans.”
“I’ve never had a master plan. I’ve been really lucky. I started acting as a kid in Taggart, did bits of telly and was in Take the High Road for several years. But I didn’t think of it as a job for a long time. I think it was about 10 or 15 years before I thought of acting as a career!”
Interview by Elaine Reilly
Holby City continues Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC1.