Chatting With Christopher Biggins About Panto And Type 2 Diabetes

Christopher Biggins in a black and silver suit

Christopher Biggins is currently supporting the Don’t Miss a Beat in Type 2 Diabetes campaign. To find out more about cardiovascular risk in type 2 diabetes click here.

1. You were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010, what led to your diagnosis?

I was doing a play, almost a one handed play for Edinburgh Festival, and I found it very difficult to concentrate, very difficult to learn the lines. I was nodding off, I just wasn’t myself. And so, in desperation, I went to the doctor and she carried out some tests. When I went back for the results, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which was a shock. My body had been telling me that there was something wrong but I just thought I was tired! My diagnosis might be different from others. There are other symptoms that could be a sign of type 2 diabetes; including needing to go to the
toilet, being really thirsty, losing weight without trying to or blurred vision to name a few.

2. Before your diagnosis, did you understand the seriousness of type 2 diabetes and that you could be at risk of developing it?

No, and I definitely didn’t understand it’s linked to things like heart attacks and strokes. I never considered I could have type 2 diabetes. There’s no big thing in the family, but I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

3. Since being diagnosed, what changes have you made to your lifestyle?

Not as much as I should and I think that is true of most people. But I’m 70 this year and I really want to get myself together for however many more years I’ve got left. I feel very healthy but I do know that I have to improve things. So, I want to do something about it. I have started to eat much less recently and I don’t drink as much as I used to when I was younger. But I know I could do

4. Before the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes campaign, did you know that having type 2 diabetes increased your risk of having a heart attack or stroke and what the risk factors are?

Yes, I did know, but it was a long time after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I found out. Had I known how serious the risk was, I’d have done things differently. That’s why the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes campaign is so important as it’s giving people the right information so that they know what they can do to lower their risk. At the end of the day, like anything you may have done, it’s down to you.

5. Now that you have seen the ‘don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes’ animation and risk information, how do you feel about your own risk of cardiovascular disease?

It hit home to me recording the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes animation voiceover. Knowing that I’m twice as likely to have a stroke or a heart attack because I have type 2 diabetes is sobering. I know I want to make changes before I turn 70. I don’t even know what my targets are for blood pressure, cholesterol and HbA1c, which I realised when I couldn’t answer most of the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes online risk questions. It’s shocking isn’t it, but I have to be honest to help others.

6. Now that you know more, what action will you take to reduce your risk?

Every day things. Like when you go to a restaurant, before the meal even comes, you eat bread. I’m going to stop that. I don’t drink a lot. In fact, if I’m at home, I don’t drink at all. But, of course, I’m very rarely home! And I’m going to look at the sugar I’m having. I don’t have a lot of sugar but there’s sugar in everything, of course. Sugar is everywhere, it’s lurking. I’m also going to make sure I know exactly what my targets should be and work hard to meet them! I have tests twice a year with my healthcare team, but they can’t move in with you, of course, so there is the problem. You have to want to do it yourself the rest of the year.

Christopher Biggins

7. Can you explain how you manage your type 2 diabetes on a daily basis?

I always ensure I take my medication when I’m supposed to, that’s definitely one thing I do well. I’m always busy so I keep active that way, especially when I’m doing pantomime.

8. You are known for being a big personality on and off the stage, how has living with type 2 diabetes affected you and those close to you?

It really rather depressed me and I very rarely get depressed. It depressed me as much as I thought, “Oh dear, this is the sort of the beginning of the end.” I think I was just turned 60 or something.
I didn’t want to worry my family so I didn’t ever really tell them but my partner has always been aware and he gets very anxious about it.

9. You are about to appear in Christmas pantomime, how do you manage a busy schedule and performing every night with your type 2 diabetes?

Christopher Biggins as Panto Dame

What I tend to do in pantomime is have a good healthy breakfast, which is really important for me to manage my energy levels. We do two shows a day with only one day off, so it is a bit like being an athlete. Every year I have so many costume changes, and this year is no exception with 12! So, if I’m not on stage, I am busy changing into the next costume, which definitely helps me keep active. I prepare myself as best I can; I take vitamins and I had my flu jab yesterday. I take my medication every morning and evening and I sleep in between shows. After the matinee, I have something to eat, go to sleep, then I wake up, tart up my makeup and then go on again for the second show. I have to be careful with my diet as I often have friends in the audience so we’ll go out for dinner after the show. But I balance it with what I eat in the day.

10. What is the one thing you want others to know about living with type 2 diabetes?

I want them to know that it’s never too soon to make changes! I wish I’d realised that when I was first diagnosed instead of now, as I’m approaching my 70th birthday. But it’s also important to not think you’re too old either. The best way to make changes is to find a way of managing your type 2 diabetes as part of your normal routine. You have to look at it in a very positive way and
find a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re depriving yourself. You still have to live life, of course, but it’s important to find a way to do that, that is going to help you reduce your cardiovascular risk.

11. What’s your biggest fear about type 2 diabetes?

Having a stroke. It has such a devastating impact and to lose control must be ghastly. For me, it would mean no longer being able to perform and do what I love. I think I also fear that because there is treatment now, people don’t take their risk seriously. I think I’ve been guilty of that. The fact that only 40% of people living with type 2 diabetes are meeting targets, is a horrifying statistic
when you realise how much that’s increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

12. Why did you decide to get involved in the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes campaign?

Don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes is a very important campaign. People don’t realise the inevitability of what can happen to you if you don’t manage your cardiovascular risk. Suffering a stroke or heart attack can be life changing. The statistics in the don’t miss a beat in type 2 diabetes campaign are shocking and we don’t want to die several years before we necessarily would, when there are
simple steps you can take to reducing your risk. Raising awareness of cardiovascular risk in type 2 diabetes is so important.

13. Is it important for you to get involved in campaigns like this?

Incredibly important. People look to celebrities or whatever you like to call us and they like to know what they are doing. By speaking about cardiovascular risk and type 2 diabetes, I hope I can give people the incentive to make changes themselves.

14. How important do you think it is for people living with type 2 diabetes to have someone in the public eye raising awareness about the issues faced by people living with the condition?

Well, I think for anybody who lives with a condition, for someone with a high profile to talk about it is very good because I think it makes them listen. To hear a familiar voice, it hits home, I think. So, I think that that’s what personalities or celebrities can do. They can convey that message to people and if they see a result in them, hopefully they will think, “If I do the same thing, I can get what they’ve got.”

 I’ve never played an ugly sister and you’ll understand that, because I’m far too pretty!

15. You’re about to appear as Widow Twankey in Aladdin, what do you love most about performing in pantomime?

Christopher Biggins

I’ve done pantomime for over 40 years and I absolutely love it, I find it so exhilarating. It’s exhilarating to go out to an audience that are there to enjoy you and the show. I also love that I’ve gone on stage for my first entrance, and on the front row there was a woman breastfeeding her child. And then next to her was their grandmother. So, the age range is from a baby right up to someone
who’s 99. And that is what is so wonderful. Children get entranced by it, the parents get entranced by it, but they also get entranced by watching their children, it’s the whole thing. I also love that pantomime is a breeding ground for audiences. Pantomime is accessible and if they have enjoyed the pantomime, they will come back the following year. Not only that, but they’ll see what else is on.

 Christopher is starring in Aladdin at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford from December 8 to January 20, 2019. To find out more, click here.

16. Who’s been your favourite panto character to play?

I must say I’ve loved playing Buttons but my favourite pantomime character, which is so rarely done, but it just so happened that 42, 43 years ago, it was the very first pantomime I ever did, was Mother Goose. Mother Goose is wonderful because it’s all about her, she’s the star. Nowadays, I’m the only pantomime star who plays a dame. The dame is sort of something extraordinary and I feel proud of the fact that the whole of my career I’ve starred in pantomimes as the dame. Which I love.

17. What does a Biggins’ Christmas look like?

I love Christmas! I’ve only done one Christmas at home where I cooked. And I’ll never do it again. It was a nightmare, I can tell you! My dear friend and his mother came. She was wearing a paper hat and as she leant over to get up from the table, she caught the candle in her hair! She was OK, thank goodness! But that was the highlight of that Christmas, it was hysterical. Now, I’m lucky enough to go to my godchildren’s parents in Oxfordshire and it’s just fabulous. We have dinner on Christmas eve, and then Christmas morning, we have breakfast, go to church, come back, have champagne, vodka and caviar, whilst opening the presents. Then, we have a wonderful lunch and we watch a movie. That’s exactly what it looks like and it’s wonderful, it’s really wonderful.

18. What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?

I love giving presents! Because of pantomime, I’m restricted on time, so I’m very organised. All year, whenever I’m abroad on holiday or away somewhere, I will see something and get it. I have a present cupboard and then just before Christmas, we only need to buy the odd thing.

19. You’ve been on screen and on stage for over 40 years, what’s your secret?

I think the secret, without a doubt, is my enjoyment. I think if you enjoy what you do, I think it comes over to the audience. And mainly, after 54 years in the business, I’ve really enjoyed everything. I love it and I’ve been very, very lucky. When I look at my CV I think, my God, the things I’ve done. And it’s very interesting, as you get older, you become more and more of a sort of icon. I think people like the longevity.

20. Do you get nostalgic and do you look back and look at your CV, do you stop and take stock of your success?

I do and I do take stock and I’m really thrilled by what I’ve done. I’m always amazed, funnily enough, how people perceive me and how people like me because I don’t think to myself, “Yes, that’s my secret.” I just love it when people still come up and they mention I, Claudius or Poldark, you know stuff where I’ve acted really well. And then, of course, my personality stuff.

21. It’s over a decade since you won I’m a Celeb – what’s your advice for this year’s contestants?

People come to me for advice when they go in and my advice is simple and it’s absolutely acute and that is to be yourself. If you go in with an agenda and you start acting, it’s a disaster because you can’t keep it up for three weeks, and the public know that. When you’re in there, you have no idea how you’re being perceived and they, of course, edit 24 hours into one hour. Every morning when Ant and Dec come in, you think you’re going to be evicted. You’re on the edge of your log!

22. Who would you like to see in the jungle?

I’d love to see Joan Collins in there, which would be hysterical. She would never do it. But, I would like to see Joan Collins. I would like to see her Majesty the Queen, I’d like to see Prince Harry. Oh, and I’d like to see David Beckham take his clothes off, that would be fabulous!

23. You’ve just won the Comedic Acting award at the Legends of Industry awards, how did that feel?

Oh, it was fantastic. I know it sounds awful but it’s wonderful to be acknowledged for what you’ve done. And this, again, is the longevity thing. To be honoured in that way was fantastic and an amazing group of people, there were different categories obviously. There were sports, there were political, there were all sorts of things and it was wonderful. Jimmy Tarbuck was there receiving an award. It’s very, very exciting. For the last couple of years, I’ve hosted the Pantomime Awards and the very first year I did it, at the end they surprised me with a lifetime achievement award.
That was so thrilling, it’s wonderful when people acknowledge what you’ve done, it’s fantastic.

24. What are you most proud of from your long career?

You may be surprised by this, but I have to say and I always say, ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. To win that as a 60 year old, gay man was extraordinary. And to find the love and affection of the whole country behind me was extraordinary.

25. What part do you wish you’d played?

Well, funnily enough, I’ve never played an ugly sister and you’ll understand that, because I’m far too pretty! But I would have to say, there was a series about the Prince Regent and I would have loved to have played that part. The actor who played it had to be padded and he had to have his calves padded. Well, I wouldn’t have needed any of that, I’ve got the perfect calves!

26. What’s next for Biggins?

Well, I’ll tell you what is next, career wise, which is interesting. I don’t want to act anymore because I find it very difficult learning lines and the trouble is now, there’s no rehearsal. There is a bit in theatre, but in film, you go on the set, you’ve never met the other people, and you’re expected to know it. Well, I don’t like that. And I find it fearful so rather than be fearful, I’d rather not do it. I love reading, I love doing voice overs, I love presenting things, there so much work out there, and I’m so busy. The other thing, which is great about getting older, is you say ‘no’. No is a very difficult word for actors to say, as it is for a lot of people. So it’s about doing the right things, the things that I want to do and that make me happy.

Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!