He started his year teaching wellness in sunny St Lucia, and now Robin Windsor is finish 2019 in another ‘St’ – St Helens.
The former Strictly professional dancer is playing the title role in the Theatre Royal’s production of Aladdin.
And he admits it’s something of a panto ‘promotion’ after spending the past two festive seasons as the Genie in the tale of Eastern promise and dastardly magical goings on.
“This is my first time taking the leading role which is a big challenge for me as there’s a lot more script to learn, and singing and obviously a lot more acting,” explains the 40-year-old. “So it’s really exciting.
“And I’ve always loved coming to the North because everyone is so friendly up here. I used to live in Liverpool, I spent a year up here with Marcus (Collins – Windsor and the Liverpool X Factor finalist and actor dated in 2014-15).
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“Liverpool certainly knows how to throw a good night out. And everyone here is just so lovely and friendly, so to be back up here in Merseyside for Christmas is fantastic.”
Growing up in Ipswich, Windsor started dancing when he was just three. With performing a part of his life from early on, it’s perhaps a surprise to learn that panto wasn’t on the young Robin’s Christmas list.
“I’d never been to a panto before I was in one,” he reveals. “Obviously I knew about them but I’d never actually been to one.
“Ballroom dancing has always been a bit segregated from the ballet, jazz and tape sides of theatre schools and it’s usually theatre schools that would come in and do the pantos. I would have been out doing my competitions, full of spray tan, even at five years old.”
Robin Windsor (Aladdin) and Kai Jolley (the genie). Photos: David Munn
At 15 he moved to London to build his career as a dancer, competing in both Ballroom and Latin at the highest levels and representing England in championships at home and abroad.
In 2001 he joined the cast of Burn the Floor, touring the world for 10 years including a nine-month run on Broadway. From there he appeared in Dancing With the Stars Australia and So You Think You Can Dance in the Netherlands, before joining Strictly as a professional dancer in 2010.
During his Strictly career he partnered Anita Dobson, Patsy Kensit, Lisa Riley and Deborah Mearden, and formed a pro dance partnership with Kristina Rihanoff who appeared in last year’s Christmas panto at St Helens.
In between, he returned to Burn the Floor – appearing in the West End, and toured with his own shows.
But unbeknown to outsiders, at the same time as he continued to perform he was also battling often crippling depression – putting on a happy public face, but then often spending days in bed.
In recent years he has started working with mental health charities to help people improve how they view and feel about themselves, using the positivity of dance, and has branched out into motivational speaking and team building.
He spent the first six months of this year in St Lucia, teaching at a wellness holiday resort – a place he describes as “an absolutely wonderful place to go to get your head together. I spoke very openly about my past in dealing with depression and things like that, and I wanted to help others.”
The cast of Aladdin
He had planned to live out there permanently, but the lure of home proved too great.
“I’m probably at the best point of my life,” he says. I’ve just turned 40 - I’m probably the oldest Aladdin ever! - and everything has changed since I had that time in St Lucia. I think I had time to switch off.”
This is Windsor’s fourth annual panto performance, and his third Aladdin – although his first as the titular hero rather than the genie.
The role was due to be played by Kelvin Fletcher, but ironically, a last-minute call up to Strictly meant the Emmerdale actor was no longer available and Windsor stepped in to save the day.
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“Learning lines for me was the most challenging thing of my life,” he says of his panto experiences. “I’ve got all my friends playing all the other parts, which works perfectly because then I understand how it’s all going.
“You can show me the most complex dance routine in the world and I can pick it up straight away. But you give me lines to learn and it’s my Everest.”
Of course, with panto if you do forget a line you can always style it out.
Windsor laughs: “I’m the king of winging it. You’re on stage, you’ve got a job to do – you’ve got to get from the beginning to the end and somehow you’ll make it there.”
Aladdin is at St Helens Theatre Royal from December 7 to January 12. Tickets HERE