I always knew I wanted to be a performer. The first school production I was in was Toad of Toad Hall and I played Toad. All the kids made paper mâché masks, but I was crying to my mum: “What is the point if they can’t see my face?” They let me paint my face green instead. I was about eight – and that was the beginning of me wanting to show off.
There was a Sliding Doors moment when I was 15. I had been accepted for the National Youth Theatre’s summer course, but I also bunked off school and went to audition for Pontins. You had to be 18, so I forged my doctor’s certificate and off I went. My mum, bless her, had to pay fines because I did no exams. I had done some acting, I’d ticked that box for the moment, so I decided to tear the arse out of it on a holiday camp and learn to be an entertainer. I loved that life – you did sketch shows, sang with bands, danced, called bingo and had a great time. I’d make the same decision now.
I bunked off school and went to audition for Pontins. You had to be 18, so I forged my doctor’s certificate
I had my heart broken so many times, but I broke a lot of hearts as well. I fell in love every week. The girls I went out with were much older and thought I was 18. I brought a girl called Karen home to meet my mum. She was 20. My granddad went: “What the hell are you doing? He’s only 16!”
She finished it, which broke my heart for a while.
My mum taught me to treat every woman like a princess, regardless of age, colour, size. I felt I did that from an early age. She was a big influence. When my dad wanted me to work with him on building sites in the school holidays, she would go: “Leave him alone. Look at his hands – they are made to hold a microphone not a fucking brick!”
I ended up homeless in Plymouth when I was 16. I had a DJ act with my friend Colin, the Fun Funketeers. We were promised a job but it didn’t materialise – always make sure you get a contract, lesson learned! My ego wouldn’t let me go home. I ended up on a park bench for a few nights. I look back on it as horrendous, but it felt like an adventure. The police literally drove me to the edge of town: “Piss off back to bloody fucking London!” I thumbed a lift back to the squat where I’d stayed for a bit. The next night they raided it and drove me out of town again. I went home with my tail between my legs. But I was lucky. It was a mild winter and I always had a safety net.
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I lied about my age for years. By 17, I had a stand-up routine and toured with hen and stag parties, on the road with drag acts and strippers. I worked the nightclub door before I was 18, turning people away if they weren’t old enough, giggling my bollocks off – and then going on stage, doing rude gags as people laughed at my baby face.
If you want to be a star, look like one. I had this problem with the whole alternative comedy thing when it started. I used to see really hilarious people in their jeans and T-shirt. They had real star quality, but they looked like shit.
I would tell my younger self not to confuse success and fame. Being called a celebrity when I first did television was a badge of honour. Now, to me, it is a fucking dirty word. You have to earn an ego. I was asked to go to an audition for Full Metal Jacket. They said: “We will need to shave your hair off” so I said I wouldn’t do it. I had grown my hair and dyed it blonde because it was the ’80s! My ego got in the way and I lost that role. I should have listened more. I still had such a lot to learn.
I know I came across as smug, but I didn’t mean to. On Lucky Numbers we got 10 million viewers every Friday night, and at that time Michael Barrymore, Chris Tarrant, Terry Wogan, who were much older than me, were doing the big shows. So it was like: who does he think he is? But I just knew what I was doing. I had been calling bingo since I was 15 and knew how to speak to the public. In your 20s, you come across a bit flash.
I shouldn’t have done those Daz adverts. I was lured by the money. At the time, I was with Coleen [Nolan, who Richie was married to from 1990-1999] and we bought the big fuck-off house, had cars in the drive. Then we sat in the big fuck-off kitchen going, “What happens next?” That was the beginning of the end. I would warn my younger self – you will get shitloads of money but at auditions people will giggle: “It’s that prat from the adverts.” My career was based on a personality and no talent for a while. For all I was at my richest, I was probably at my unhappiest.
I was lured by the money. That was the beginning of the end
I love everything EastEnders has given me. All those years slogging around theatres, making films that went straight to DVD, appearing in odd episodes of dramas, studying improv and method in the States and doing stand-up paid off. It all came out in Alfie’s first episode, which was just me walking through the market eating an apple. But it was all about the comedy timing. And it gave me a chance to show off again! The show had a lot of alpha males and Alfie came in looking after his Nan and brother, his heart on his sleeve.
The older I get, the less I look to the past. I’ve got five kids now, so my journey is dictated by the great moments in their life. I’m proud of selling my 40th birthday pictures to The Big Issue [below]. It was at the height of my Kat and Alfie fame and OK! magazine wanted to pay me a fortune. But I wanted someone to benefit so we came up with a fee of £1.10 – a pound for me, 10p for my manager’s commission. They sent me a cheque – I still have it framed at home.
I want people to give my album a chance. It is country music, tears in your beers. I would rather everyone give it a listen and think it’s shit than dismiss it. I could have done Sinatra songs or sung Islands In The Stream with Jessie Wallace. But that would have been a bank raid. I created something from the heart. Every song means something to me and I could only have done it after the journey I’ve been on. My younger self would be proud. Lots of friends also had visions of being singers or comics or actors. I’d say, just keep doing what you are doing, young lad…
Shane Richie’s album A Country Soul is out now on East West