When Michael Crawford presented himself at Buckingham Palace in June, l987, to receive the OBE the Queen told him: ‘You obviously didn’t get this just for ‘Phantom of the Opera’, you’ve done so many wonderful things …’ He admits: ‘I’m sure I was glowing’.

Her Majesty was right, of course, yet regardless of his many achievements it was ‘Phantom’ that elevated him into mega-stardom. He remembers hearing the music for the first time. ‘It made my hair stand on end. I looked at Andrew (Lloyd Webber} and said ‘It’s bloody marvellous! I’ve got to do it’. And, of course, he did. He went on to captivate London and later Broadway and Los Angeles with his electrifying performance as the tormented ‘Phantom’ – and he did it from behind a facial mask. ‘I only had parts of my body that were visible.I only had half a face so one eye and the mouth could be seen. The physical being was black – dressed entirely in black - and my hands were exposed to show the different emotions as I went through the show. I had to combine the voice with dance movement and mime. It all combined so that I could convey, even with my back to the audience, absolute devastation, or hurt, the building of violence, or the building of passion. It was a very good exercise working with choreographer, Gillian Lynne’. Crawford, until then best known perhaps for ‘Frank Spencer’, managed to mesmerise his audience with his singing and sensual hand movements… ‘To seduce Christine’ he explained ‘I would run my hands down her body but I never touched her. I had to show what I wanted to do so the hands would stretch. I had to make them appear twice the size they really were so that you would feel his yearning, his desire, through every piece of his body’.

Consequently he went on to seduce most of the women in the audience on a nightly basis.

No one in their wildest dreams could have predicted the unprecedented success of the show, the public interest or the demand for tickets priced at £1000 each which had people camping out overnight around the theatre in London’s Haymarket. The world press went wild and the honours and awards followed. It must have been heady stuff even for a seasoned trouper like Michael Crawford. With a grin, he described his feelings on the night he was awarded the prestigious Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. ‘After receiving the award I left the stage and started to hyperventilate I was in such a state of nerves. Up to that moment I had refused to admit to myself how madly I wanted that award’. He locked himself in the bathroom and weeping uncontrollably, thought about his beloved Nan and mother and his two daughters, hoping they were proud of him.

Crawford’s family is very important to him and he still talks lovingly of his grandmother.

‘Nan was born Edith Emaline Kathleen O’Keefe in Londonderry in 1885 and she died almost a hundred years later holding my hand. I thought she was absolutely marvellous and I am shameless in the way I love her still’.

Although born in Wiltshire, Michael grew up in Herne Hill, off Half Moon Lane, in South London. His step-father was manager at the grocers, David Greig’s, in Brixton, and young Michael would serve in the shop on Saturdays. ‘The old ladies always wanted brown eggs. I never knew why they had to be brown eggs’. Herne Hill was where he spent much of his early youth. ‘I had all my early friendships there. Dulwich was close by and is really beautiful. Dulwich Park was always the place we would go in the spring and summer, to walk or cycle. I used to visit Brockwell Park a lot too. In those days there was a public swimming pool but I can remember they had a scare about polio and I had to stop going swimming but I’d still go to Brockwell Park almost every night’.

Another favourite haunt of the young Crawford was the Herne Hill Cycle track. He would go there regularly to watch the cycle racing. ‘I’d get my homework done early and go to the track to watch world champions like Reg Harris race there. I remember Good Friday was the big meeting of the year’.

No mean cyclist himself, on Sundays young Michael would cycle down to Sheerness, sometimes Southend and sometimes Brighton, a mere round trip of 100 miles!‘My bottom still feels the pain as I speak of it today’, he laughed. ...

The complete interview first appeared in:
'London' Magazine April 2000
Irish Post
Kent Life magazine
My Weekly magazine

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