Actor Greg Wise would love to be able to blame his flamboyant samba costume for his exit from Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday.
The ruffled sequinned shirt and pale blue slacks, let’s face it, did him absolutely no favours — especially when combined with, oh my eyes, twerking and hip thrusts to the macarena.
‘I think we have to blame the legs under the frilly blouse,’ admits Greg, 55, eliminated in the dance-off against comedian and Loose Women presenter Judi Love.
Week one had given us Greg in a top hat and tails for the American Smooth, week two a disco number for the couple’s choice and week three his James Bond-themed Paso Doble.
But the Copacabana-inspired confection was, ahem, something else. Not to mention whatever was going on beneath the waistband.
Or as judge Craig Revel Horwood cruelly put it: ‘You look like you just came out of a double hip replacement operation, very clunky.’
Given Greg’s calibre as a serious actor – he shot to fame as the dastardly Willoughby in the 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility and most recently played Lord Mountbatten in The Crown – surely that deserved a luvvie flounce at the very least.
But despite his credentials as one of our most high-profile thespians and husband of Oscar-winning national institution, Dame Emma Thompson, Greg is a surprisingly good sport.
Actor Greg Wise would love to be able to blame his flamboyant samba costume for his exit from Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday
‘I don’t think the judges necessarily appreciated what I was bringing to the party, but last Saturday I messed it up and you only get one chance,’ he says cheerfully.
‘But look, I had the most glorious time. I am not a dancer, but I went out and did a big, silly number which made everyone giggle and that was great. I’m really pleased Judi went through. It was my time to go.’
Greg, quite literally, got off on the wrong foot, from which he never recovered despite the heroic efforts of pro partner, Karen Hauer.
‘My first three dances on the show, I was completely calm, while it was my wife, Em, who was very anxious,’ explains Greg, who was also supported by proud daughter Gaia, 21, and adopted son Tindy, aged 35.
‘I don’t know why I was suddenly struck by the fear. I’ve done a reasonable amount of stage work and having a few nerves is useful because it keeps you sharp, but — oddly — I’ve never had nerves quite like that.
‘I got jittery and it pulled me up short suddenly. Maybe it was just the omnipotent force upstairs saying “It’s time to leave, Mr Wise”,’ he says, referring to God rather than the BBC powers-that-be.
‘But it was fun, it was entertaining, it made people laugh and I got to twerk! It’s just a shame I never got round to getting the fake tan. Not even for the samba, maybe that would have shifted it for me.’
So what was the thinking behind Greg’s post on social media after he was given his marching orders, showing a wooden sculpture of a hand giving a two-fingered salute?
‘I carved that a million years ago for my dear lady wife and I posted it the other way round earlier on as a sort of victory sign when I got through the first part of the competition,’ he laughs.
In a similar jokey fashion, so unperturbed was his wife about the notorious ‘Strictly Curse’ that Emma packed her husband a couple of condoms as a joke before he set off for rehearsals.
‘Em put together a package which consisted of blister plasters, fresh breath spray — because if you are dancing up close you don’t want any chilli breath,’ he laughs.
‘She added deodorant, muscle spray, physio tape and, as a gag, a couple of condoms. That was funny. I gave them straight off to my son Tindy.’
For all Greg’s good grace and humour, there is one person he knows, for sure, who would never have let Craig get away with his mean-spirited hip operation jibe — Clare, his ‘most protective big sis’.
For it was Clare, who died from cancer in 2016 aged 51, who inspired Greg to take part in Strictly, with the sole ambition of raising (against all the odds) the glitterball trophy in her memory.
The pair shared an unbreakable sibling bond, forged as children growing up in the north of England with their architect parents, and Greg was the first person Clare turned to when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.
Determined to survive, Clare started a humorous and uplifting blog charting her ultimately heart-breaking battle.
So unperturbed was his wife about the notorious ‘Strictly Curse’ that Emma Thompson (right) packed her husband a couple of condoms as a joke before he set off for rehearsals
When the cancer spread to her bones, Greg cared for his sister full-time for the final months of her life, taking over the writing of the blog when she became too ill to do so.
No-one who has read the resulting book, Not That Kind Of Love, published in 2018, could doubt the sincerity of Greg’s motivation for taking part in Strictly — which, for him, was never some kind of ego trip.
Clare — a high-achieving, single career woman who rose through the film industry to become a vice president at Universal Pictures — was better known to her family as a fun-loving free spirit nicknamed the ‘disco diva’ due to her love of dance.
At her funeral, Clare’s ‘glitterball coffin’ was carried in to the strains of the Bee Gee’s Night Fever and, 45 minutes later, she left them to be cremated to Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem I Will Survive.
‘So many people have said to me, “Thank you so much for talking about stuff that doesn’t get talked about on Strictly often”,’ he says.
‘I wanted to show that grief is actually fantastically healthy. The grief you feel equals the love you felt. The fact that I could talk about something which is still raw and then go out and, rather than do a gentle, little sad waltz, do a big disco number is just great.
‘You never get over the death of a loved one. It’s like the bough being ripped off a tree in a storm. There is a gaping wound but, over time, that wound is softened and scars over.
‘And though something horrible has happened, altering your shape, you’re still alive and life continues.’
Greg’s favourite dance was, of course, week two’s couple’s choice to If You Could Read My Mind by Ultra Nate, Amber and Jocelyn Enrique, which he emotionally dedicated to his sister.
‘Clare was sick for so long, it took quite a time for her to revisit me in my dreams as the happy, vivacious, funny, bouncy sister I remembered from before she became ill,’ he says.
‘This particular song is about lost love and how, when those people who have died come back to you in visitations, there can be moments of joy before they disappear off again.
‘Clare is still front and centre of my life in so many ways and she would have had a ball watching me dance on Strictly, so I felt very privileged — my wife Em did as well — that I could briefly tell our story.
‘All her chums have said to me, “Oh God, Clare would have been thrilled to bits. She would have been tickled pink” and I’m honoured that such a glittery programme allowed me to look at darker things.’
Had he stayed in the show, would he have taken off his shirt? After all, daughter Gaia had promised, ‘He has a six-pack and will take his top off if he is needed to’
As for risking possible ridicule in the process, he adds: ‘It was useful for a lot of folk to see me messing up, with feet of clay like everyone else.
‘Failing is one of the things I champion for my daughter, Gaia. I tell her, “I will always fight to the death for your right to be an idiot, your right to fail, your right to mess up”, because it’s the only time we learn anything.
‘So much these days — especially the social media side of things — is about success, about living your best life, so for me to go out there in front of the whole nation and mess up hugely is great, really healthy.’
Had he stayed in the show, would he have taken off his shirt? After all, daughter Gaia had promised, ‘He has a six-pack and will take his top off if he is needed to’.
‘I don’t think that would have been very appropriate for a 55-year-old,’ he says.
It has been reported that Mrs Wise had made discreet enquiries as to whether her husband could bring the dashing James Bond costume home with him … So, Greg?
‘It was only a polo neck! I think I’ve already got one of those,’ he says. ‘Even a mate up in Scotland said, “I hope you kept the Bond outfit, going up and down the track on your quad bike in that would look good”.
‘Most of the comments from my mates, after I got kicked off last week, were, “I hope you got to keep the frilly shirt at least”, but I think I’m going to grow a beard now and live in a cave.’
Strictly journey over, Greg now plans to head off to the family’s small-holding in Scotland where there is no TV, let alone wifi signal, although he will return for the group dance in the final.
‘I spend all my time in Scotland walking round with a chainsaw, dragging trees down mountains, and accidentally setting fire to my hair, I am endlessly having large bonfires. Most of the time I look absolutely feral and wear the same pair of old jeans and T-shirt.’
Given that Greg hasn’t watched TV since 1985 — he just fell out of the habit — did he even know what he was letting himself in for by accepting the glittery, sequinned invitation to appear on Strictly?
‘We spent most of lockdown in Scotland without a telly, but came back to London and saw the last three shows because last year’s winner Bill Bailey is a top chum of ours. We even filmed a little good luck video for him,’ says Greg.
‘He was extraordinary, and having gone through the process, I’m even more in awe. He told me it was relentless but the experience was, in his words, “top japes”.
‘We knew Strictly was a phenomenon, almost a public service, bringing a little bit of light and joy during what had been a very bleak time during the pandemic.
‘Even before lockdown, I’d started thinking, “I want to mix things up a bit more. I’ve written books, made documentary films, done a bit of acting, let’s just shake things up.”
‘I get bored quite easily, so I want to be able to stretch myself. I could think of nothing better than something like this, but it was absolutely motivated by my sis Clare. I had to do it for her.’
In the process, he also surprised his wife. ‘Em is just one of the warmest people on the planet, but I think I surprised her by doing this and it’s lovely that after 26 years you can still surprise your partner, isn’t it?
‘Em and I are rare in our profession to have been together so long and I was lucky, early in my career, to meet this director of photography on a TV series,’ Greg says. ‘He said, “Greg, I’m successful, on a show in big demand, but I haven’t seen my kids, I haven’t got a wife, I’m divorced and go from job to job. I haven’t equipped myself particularly well over the years and it’s not worth it”.
‘You know he was probably already preaching to the converted, but I’ve never forgotten it.’
Greg adds: ‘Em was already an Oscar- winning actress. I was a scruffy drama school graduate when we met on the set of Sense And Sensibility. In many ways I’m still that scruffy graduate. I don’t really have any ambition.
‘I take jobs that come up if they interest me, but when Gaia was young we both couldn’t work at the same time and Em was the higher earner, so it made sense to send her off with a packed lunchbox.’
As devoted to Emma as the day they met, there was never any prospect of Greg falling prey to the ‘Strictly Curse’.
‘In any world where people are thrown together in a high-octane way, there’s a possibility but, let me tell you, on Strictly you simply don’t have the time or the energy.’
He can only speak for himself, of course. The Strictly glitter is famously seductive with some celebs falling for their pro dancers and vice versa, leaving a trail of heart-broken real-life partners in their wake.
Certainly, there were no rumours swirling around Greg and Karen, whose praise for his fabulous home-made lunches during training couldn’t have sounded more wholesome.
He brought lunchboxes filled with scallops, ceviche and bilberry sauce, plus plenty of healthy greenery because, he says, carbs cause him to ‘crash like crazy’ and nod off — not so good when you are trying to master a rumba.
‘I’m fortunate in that we have a lovely chap from Grimsby who comes down in his van every Monday with fish, so I can make three or four meals. Because I get up at 5.30am I have the time,’ says Greg.
‘More people have asked me about my recipes than the dancing, so I’m thinking of writing a cookbook now.’
Indeed, Greg was a bit of a ‘feeder’ on the Strictly set — giving each of his fellow contestants a pot of homemade damson jam from the fruit tree in the garden of his Hampstead home in London.
There was also jam for presenters Tess and Claudia, but none for the judges.
It wouldn’t do to stand accused of bribery and corruption. Perhaps he forgot the wardrobe department, too. But he regrets nothing — not even the frilly shirt.
‘I did four different routines,’ he declares. ‘I got to be James Bond for just under two minutes. Come on! That’s not rubbish is it?’
Above all, though, he hopes he made his sister Clare proud.
Greg is an ambassador for the end of life charity Marie Curie. Pledge to take part in the National Day of Reflection on March 23, 2022 at mariecurie.org.uk/dayofreflection. Or get free information and support by calling the Marie Curie Support Line on 0800 090 2309.