Dean Gaffney has come a long way since his days of being branded a ‘love rat’, writes Lorne Jackson.
Dean Gaffney is no stranger to the world of tittle-tattle and torrid tabloid tales.
The actor – who reached the zenith of his popularity during a seven-year stint on EastEnders – allegedly used his fame to impress the ladies.
That well-worn phrase, “love rat”, was bandied around by the more scurrilous national rags when describing the frantic antics of the London-based lothario.
Then, during an appearance on a popular reality show, Gaffney appeared to admit to another contestant that lust had blinded him to the feelings of Sarah Burge, his long-term partner, and the mother of his twin daughters.
He was contrite that day – a very rueful roué, indeed.
When I catch up with him, he argues that he’s grown up over the intervening years. Maybe so.
But that doesn’t explain why Gaffney is currently skipping round the country, eyeballing a wide selection of naked female flesh.
Okay, I admit it, I’m dolloping some of that tried and tested journalistic spin on the circumstances.
The reality is that Gaffney is grafting, working in a new version of the stage show, Calendar Girls.
The play, based on the popular film of the same name, is about a group of middle aged, middle class ladies who decide to flash their wobbly bits for a charity calendar.
It’s certainly not meant to be erotic, as some of the wobbly bits are very wobblesome indeed.
Dean plays Lawrence, the photographer who takes the saucy snaps.
“It’s all done very tastefully,” he says of the show, which will be playing at the Hippodrome from Monday. “The audience don’t see anything untoward. Obviously, as the photographer, I get to see a bit more than the people watching from the stalls, but nothing too outrageous.
“The first time we rehearsed, I didn’t know where to look. But the good thing about my character is he loves his job, he loves being a photographer.
“He’s certainly not a pervy old man, or doing any of this for the titillation. It’s purely because he wants to make a good calendar. If I’m playing the character right, that should come across.”
The ladies flashing their flesh include Anne Charleston (formerly of Neighbours), Charlie Dimmock (bountiful TV gardener) and Letitia Dean.
Letitia has a similar background to Gaffney. She also starred in EastEnders, and both were pupils at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, a sort of ‘jazz hands’ sausage factory for those in the performing arts.
Gaffney seems like a down-to-earth sort of fellow. He specialises in playing lovable losers, and even parodied himself in the Ricky Gervais comedy, Extras, appearing as Dean Gaffney, failed actor and budding Carphone Warehouse salesman.
It’s hard to imagine him flourishing in a school for lively young luvvies.
However, it transpires that he thoroughly enjoyed Sylvia Young. “I just totally immersed myself in the experience,” he says. “It was so friendly. By the end of the first week I knew everybody’s name. It really was a close-knit family.
“The school I had been in before had 1,400 pupils. But Sylvia Young had 200, and all 200 knew each other. Everybody was singing in the halls and dancing around in tap shoes. It was mental, but an amazing time. It was completely like that 80s TV show, Fame. All you could hear were young kids belting out show tunes.
“But the good thing was the teaching staff staggered the performing, so Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays were purely academic. You’d be doing your maths and English in a school uniform. Then, on Thursdays and Fridays, it would completely turn into the school from Fame, and we’d all be wearing our tights. I met people like Emma Bunton, from the Spice Girls, who was in the year above me. There were loads of people who have now gone on to do great things. “We’d compete with rival stage schools. We’d all try and win roles for our school, instead of fighting over them with other people in the class.”
Gaffney was just as eager as his friends to get his first big break – and wasn’t disappointed when it came.
At 14 years of age he bagged the role of the boy in Waiting For Godot, playing opposite Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Later there was EastEnders, where he was Robbie Jackson, binman (and lovable loser).
Afterwards came stage shows, reality TV, the Carphone Warehouse gig with Gervais, and now Calendar Girls.
A smattering of Gaffney gaffs are sprinkled over our conversation. Musing on the Peter Shaffer play, Equus, he manages to call it Equitus. Maybe he thinks it’s about a group of actors struggling to get work permits.
Despite the linguistic stumbles, Gaffney is likable and sincere. He probably deserves to do well, especially now that he appears to have his head screwed on regarding family matters.
“Having a family makes you humble,” he says. “It makes you grounded, and it makes you work. It would be easy if I was just on my own to take a year out. Chill out a bit. But my daughters need Christmas presents under the tree each year, so that gets me out of the door and onto the stage. I have to get off my bum and work.”
And does he plan on returning to TV – perhaps to play a lovable loser – or is he now more enticed by the theatre?
“They are both very different. With stage you are going on live every night. You do your thing, then hear 2,000 people laugh. That’s an amazing feeling. In television you do your thing in front of the camera and crew and there’s not much of a reaction, then a few weeks later, it’s on the telly.
“Obviously TV pays more, and people tend to think you’re doing better in life if they see you on the box. But I always say that if you’re an athlete you should be in the gym. And if you’re an actor, you should be on the stage.
“Theatre is really stretching me, and I feel like I’m learning all the time.”
A good point, and well argued. The former Sylvia Young student certainly knows what he wants. Gaffney remains lovable – but it transpires that he’s not such a loser after all.
* Calendar Girls is playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from June 28 to July 3. See www.birminghamhippodrome.com