Nicest man in showbiz
I WAS like many of you – the mere mention of Joe Pasquale's name made me shudder. That voice, the childish humour, the blind refusal to believe that comedy had moved on since the 1970s.
Then I interviewed him a couple of years ago and realised he's a very intelligent, likeable man. I still hated his comedy though.
But having witnessed him run riot through last year's panto at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, in a breathtaking performance which took anarchy to a new level, I now have a grudging admiration for the man.
Joe is back with his Pull My Finger tour (how very Pasquale), which comes to the Hall for Cornwall on Monday, August 1.
He told me: "It's my mission to cheer everyone up in these dark and dismal times. I don't think people want to hear comedy about politics, the economy, war or religion at the moment, so I'm doing a load of nonsense.
"It's a show you can take the kids to and their grandparents – there's no swearing though I might say willybum."
Packed with Joe's routines, performed at his trademark breakneck pace with a myriad of props, Pull My Finger also features his hapless sidekick Raynard, who appears in various forms of "discreet undress".
"It's a bit selfish really, but the reason I am out there every night is for me. I still love it and give it my all whether there are two people in the audience or 20,000," he added.
That's because you're an old school entertainer, I say. "No, I'm just old."
The tour comes hot on the heels of his stint as Muddles in Sleeping Beauty. There's no stopping him.
"I'm in the nice position of only doing things I want to do now. I tour when I want to and do panto when I want to, but I love it.
"A lot of performers don't like panto and frown upon it, but people like Ian McKellen are doing it now. It's a great test of anyone as there are usually about 70 shows over six weeks so it's very easy to get complacent.
"I never do because the people who have paid to see the show at the end of the run have spent the same amount of money as those who saw it at the beginning. You owe it to them to do the best show you can, no matter how tired you are.
"Panto's great as it's the first introduction to theatre for children – I remember seeing Wendy Craig in Peter Pan when I was six and it stayed with me for a long time."
It's hard to believe but Joe is 50 this year and has five children aged 16 to 32. His son Joe Tracini, 23, is just about to join the cast of Hollyoaks, while his four daughters join him for the filming of an episode of Family Fortunes this month.
"They're all much more sensible than me – my daughters are terrified I'll embarrass them on the show. I've never discouraged any of them from following me into showbusiness. I've always told them what my dad told me: 'Find a job you'd be happy to do for nothing'."
Unusual when interviewing celebrities, Joe then asked about my family and showed a genuine interest. As I said, a lovely bloke.
He's a man full of surprises – he cracked his fear of flying when he won I'm A Celebrity... in 2004 and qualified as a pilot and earlier this year ran his first London Marathon. Perhaps most surprising of all, he's now studying with the Open University for a degree in geoscience.
"I always wanted to be a geologist when I was a kid but I got run over by a car when I was 13 and missed all my exams. It will take me ten years to get my PhD but I'd love to become the Brian Cox of the geology world and make it a popular subject on TV. I've just made a film in South America for the Discovery Channel."
He added: "You need to challenge yourself as you get older otherwise you end up watching telly, farting and getting fat.
"I've read all the self-help books – everyone has to fight their fears."
I'm facing one of mine, talking to you Joe.
"Yes, that's a fate worse than death."
Joe Pasquale's Pull My Finger tour comes to the Hall for Cornwall on Monday, August 1. For tickets priced £17 contact the box office on 01872 262466 or online at www.hallforcornwall.co.uk