You’re in the first week’s heat of Celebrity Masterchef… Have you always fancied yourself as a bit of a cook then?
“I’m the main cook in our household so I feel comfortable cooking. I didn’t hesitate when they asked although as soon as I said yes I started to feel butterflies in my stomach!”
What is it like stepping into the Masterchef kitchen for the first time?
“It’s terrifying! I was surprised by the pressure you feel. John Torode and Gregg Wallace, they watch over you the whole time. There’s no hiding place. I’ve ice skated in front of hundreds of people but I tell you, I’d rather get my dodgy skates on any day! The experience is a bit like an opening night in the theatre, where you’re terrified but you just have to focus and remember your lines. We were all so nervous though, I can tell you.”
You work alongside Sophie Thompson, Jodie Kidd, Russell Grant and Susannah Constantine – had you met any of them before?
“Never. Sophie was in EastEnders too, but long after I’d left. We all got on like a house on fire though, it’s a quickly bonding experience working in a kitchen.”
Your first challenge is to make spring rolls – how does that go?
“Well my first thought when they told me was ‘Right. Chinese takeaway…how do I replicate that?’ In other shows they’ve got to do things like burgers, and everybody thinks they are king of the barbecue. But spring rolls?! I thought that was really hard! You’ll see, my main concern in how to seal them and keep them shut.”
For the second challenge you’re working at Aqua up The Shard. That must’ve been daunting?
“Yes, it was. They throw you in the deep end, cooking for Joe Public. I am put in charge of shellfish, doing the langoustines. I was shaking! And the head chef, well he’s a bit like a polite Rottweiler, on my case the whole time. I have such respect for people who work in kitchens now.”
Your speciality is honey-based gammon. Why’s that?
“It’s the Irish connection. It’s a famous Irish dish, usually with some cabbage or spring onion. I do my version of it with chunky chips and green beans. I thought it could be within my comfort zone to do. You’ll have to see how it goes…”
Do you think actors and performers can handle the challenge because they are used to working live in theatre where there’s no second chances?
“Yeah that’s hit the nail on the head. Because I’ve done lots of live theatre it’s that same thing, you draw on that experience of opening night in the West End where everybody has butterflies in their stomach and somehow has to find their right place, and remember their lines. It’s the same kind of pressure in the MasterChef kitchen. So yes, that did help me, certainly.”
How good are you at taking criticism generally?
“With Greg and John you’ve got to take it on the chin. Like all of us human beings, good or bad, you’ve just got to take it. If it isn’t good they really don’t hold back!”
Have you been watching any EastEnders lately? Your old screen mate Adam Woodyatt is getting lots of praise for the ‘Who Killed Lucy Beale?’ storyline…
“No I’ve not been following it, but I’ve heard it’s brilliant. Adam always steps up for these big storylines so the fact he’s getting praise doesn’t surprise me at all, he deserves it. When the show’s on a high it makes me nostalgic, I had a great 12 years on the Square so to see it still going strong makes me happy.”
Celebrity Masterchef begins on BBC1, at 9pm, on Tuesday 10 June