Authors: Craig Revel Horwood
The abuse continued as I was left in the fridge with sauce all over my face. I was still confused and was even more nervous about getting mixed up, so really I learned nothing except to hate him. Every single thing I did was flawed. That job left me so stressed.
The one highlight of my spell as a trainee cook was making a dessert for Suzi Quatro. At the time, preparing her pudding was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me. I dined out on that story all my life – until September 2007, when, bizarrely enough, I ended up working with her on
The World’s Greatest Elvis
, where she and I were judges in a contest to find the best Elvis impersonator.
Suddenly, there I was sitting next to Suzi on a BBC1 programme. I couldn’t resist. I leaned over and said to her, ‘You probably won’t remember this, but you once performed in my home town of Ballarat and I was doing an apprenticeship as a chef, so I made your dessert.’
It was wonderful meeting Suzi and relating that coincidence, which she thought was hilarious. She’s a total star.
My career in the catering industry lasted just three months, and then Fred Fargher rescued me from a future of kitchen serfdom. It wasn’t until the ‘tights’ episode at ballet that I had seriously considered dance as a career, but after that it became my dream. I just couldn’t work out how to combine my study of the art with a paid job. Fortunately, Fred gave me the opportunity to make that happen, and he also made me believe in myself. For that, I will always be grateful.
One day, he came into the restaurant and said, ‘You should work at the TV station while you’re training. I’ll get you an interview.’ True to his word, he arranged a meeting with Gavin Disney, the head of BTV6, and I got the job. I was to start as a cable boy and trainee cameraman under the tuition of the great Neil Sloan, one of BTV6’s best cameramen.
On my first day at the station, I didn’t do very much. I was
shown around and met people, and then I was taught how to roll up cables. Later, they trained me to drive a forklift truck, so that I could move sets around. I was basically the odd-job man and I didn’t get near a camera for ages, but I enjoyed it because it didn’t feel like work. It was shifting and building scenery, which was fun. It was so exciting to be part of the studio that I would have laboured for nothing in all honesty.
One of my responsibilities was to feed the autocue to the newsreader, whose name was Craig Campbell. It was a Jurassic piece of machinery: pieces of A4 paper, Sellotaped neatly together, had to be fed by hand into an overhead projector that placed the script in front of the camera. Half the time my pages would get all scrambled and mulched up, and I’d be panicking horribly while Craig struggled to read the words.
I also worked as a sound recordist on the news team, which was fascinating. I moved around all the different departments, doing whatever was needed. All in all, it gave me a fantastic grounding in the business.
Even though I was just sixteen, I left home and moved to Black Hill, where the TV station was based. I shared a flat with two girls, one of whom also worked at BTV6. I was slowly finding my feet as a grown-up: earning a wage, creating a home, striving to achieve my goals. In addition – and not before time – I was about to experience a sexual revolution of my very own.
rom quite an early age, probably about nine or ten, I knew that I was different, but I didn’t know exactly what it was, or why. I tried to avoid it and convince myself nothing was wrong, so I still had girlfriends at school.
In grade five of primary school, I had a crush on a girl called Mary, but she was really mean to me. I found a gem and I stuck it on one of those rings you get in craft sets, then I put it in a little case and gave it to her, but she made fun of it, so that was clearly not a match made in heaven.
In grade six, aged eleven, I was supposedly ‘going out’ with Margaret Yellowchef, mainly because everyone said we were together and I went along with it. It was one of those ‘Margaret Yellowchef – she’s your girlfriend’ taunts in the playground and I’d just say, ‘Oh, all right.’
Unexpected drama arose from my ‘relationship’ with Margaret, though. Another girl, Lorna, imagined
was going out with me, so when she found out about Margaret, she attacked me in the playground and dug her nails right into my hand. I still have the scars. She scarred me for life!
Lorna wasn’t the most attractive girl in school, while Margaret had a nice face, but was a little on the weighty side of thin. Mary was most definitely the prettiest girl I knew and that’s why I went for her. Not that I ever really felt anything, deep inside. I just thought I should.
In later years, my debutante date Angela might have thought that I was her boyfriend, but we never became an item. I used to go round to her house and roller-skate, but nothing ever happened between us, although I think she may have wanted it to.
Instead, I went out with Christine, the girl next door, whom I cruelly finished with when I realized it wasn’t working for me. We used to kiss and pet, but we never went further than that, except one time when I fondled her left breast. We would sit on the fence under the pine tree in the south paddock, where we kept Snowy the pet goat, and we’d snog for hours.
Christine went to a different school, but as she was our neighbour, we used to play together as children and things kind of progressed from there. She was quite short and of solid build, and she had massive boobs. It lasted about eight months and then we had an argument over something, I don’t remember what, and I said, ‘Right, you’re dumped!’ She was very upset, but that was it for me.
After Christine, I went out with a girl from school and it was the first time I’d ever been on a proper date. I took her to the pictures and, in the classic scenario, tried to pluck up the courage to put my arm round her. I was terrified. I have no idea what the film was about because I was concentrating so hard on getting my arm around her shoulders. It took me roughly an hour.
Although snogging Christine had taken up a lot of my time at the age of fourteen, the earth had never really moved. By the time I was sixteen, I’d worked out why.
After I started work at the TV station, I met an older man – let’s call him Mr X. He made it clear he fancied me, but although I enjoyed his company, initially I kept him at arm’s length. Instead, I fell straight into the arms of a young, good-looking colleague called ‘Eric’.
The result, unbeknownst to me, was a love triangle going on between Mr X, Eric and myself. I had no idea that Eric was having a sexual relationship with Mr X when I started dating him,
but then, we weren’t betrothed to each other. We were just having fun. I was sixteen and he was eighteen, and he became my first lover.
It all started when his parents were away and he invited me over to his place. We began playing a game of strip poker, led by Eric. We both ended up in our underwear – and then I lost the next game and had to be the first to get naked.
Eric then removed all his clothes too and began to masturbate. I was in such a nervous state that I couldn’t get an erection, but I was so highly charged that when he touched me, I prematurely ejaculated. That was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me. I was mortified beyond belief. He said it was OK and then, on my recovery, we were at it all night. On the stairs, the couch, the floor, the bed – all over his parents’ home. It was amazing! I was in love!
I fell madly and deeply, only to discover that he and Mr X had something going on. That was the end of us. I’d wanted Eric and me to be exclusive. In truth, I felt totally betrayed by the both of them, and the thought of Eric with Mr X made me sick to my stomach. I felt stupid, used and worthless.
Although I’d known that Eric was bisexual and could cope with him being with girls, the idea of him with Mr X was somehow a different matter. I think I felt that his sleeping with women would be all right because I believed that, in contrast, what we had was special, untouchable, unconditional love, both sharing a deep dark secret. With hindsight, that perceived clandestinity probably made our relationship that much more exciting.
It was my first experience of heartbreak and I became quite bitter about it. Little did I know that by no means would it be my last.
At this time, Mr X was still pursuing me, but I kept refusing him. We began to see more of each other, but only on a platonic level. The first time I got really drunk, I was with him. We were in Melbourne to see the Australian Ballet perform. I drank two
large glasses of wine at dinner before the show and, after those, I could hardly walk! I had to be taken back to the hotel before the curtain even rose and I was throwing up the whole night.
I was only sixteen, and I wasn’t used to drinking at all. As kids, Sue, Di and I would have a glass of spumante, but no more than that. We used to think we were off our heads on Brandavino (a foul wine that cost A$1.99 a bottle) after one swig, but I was probably just pretending to be drunk.
This time, it felt like I hadn’t drunk anything and then suddenly it hit me and I couldn’t stand up. It was really frightening because I didn’t know what it was. I thought I’d been drunk before, but this was horrendous.
Of course, these days, it takes two bottles!
As my friendship with Mr X progressed, it became clear that he wasn’t taking no for an answer. He was determined to have me. One day, when a group of us had gone out for a meal, Mr X took me to one side and told me he had a proposition for me.
‘Craig, I want you to travel the world,’ he said. ‘I know you want to be a professional dancer. I want to take you to see the best theatre this planet has to offer, so that you can appreciate exactly what you’re aspiring to.’
He told me he would buy two tickets for a six-week trip to America and London and pay for everything, but there was a catch. ‘The only thing is that you need to sleep with me before we go,’ he said, adding, ‘I want to take you over the top.’ I knew what
I must have had my head screwed on, even then, because I replied, ‘No. I’ll come away with you, but I will only sleep with you once we get there.’
When I told Eric about it, he said, ‘Oh, it was meant to be me who was going. Why’s he offered it to you?’
Obviously, I suspected that Mr X had already got what he wanted from Eric and although he’d promised him this adventure, he dumped him and now planned to go with me instead. Unlike
Eric, though, I had learned to hold out. I also laid down some ground rules there and then and told Mr X there were things I would do and things I wouldn’t. It was a proposition and I saw it entirely as a business deal, so I negotiated my own terms.
For a start, I couldn’t go away for a while. Spurred on by the increasing confidence that my ballet classes had given me, I’d recently attended my first audition. At the TV studio, there was a troupe called the Channel 7 Dancers, who performed on all the programmes. I’d heard that they were auditioning for new members, so I took myself along to the try-outs. Unfortunately, I believed I was a lot better than I actually was. In fact, I thought I was fantastic!
When I turned up at this audition, my first professional one, I walked in and just breathed, ‘Oh. My. God.’ There were dancers doing all these incredible turns and steps, and I thought, ‘This is unbelievable. I am so out of my league. How did I ever think I could do it?’
After the humiliation was over, I came out to the car, where my mum was waiting, and I was so disappointed. I told her, ‘That was shit. I was shit. I’m going to have to train much harder.’
Fred Fargher, who had taken such an interest in my early career, kindly paid for my first year at Tony Bartuccio’s, a new theatre school that had recently started up in Prahran, Melbourne. I adored going there. I was one of the first students after it opened.
Tony was married to Caroline Gillmer, an actress from
Prisoner: Cell Block H
, and he managed the Channel 7 Dancers. That’s how Fred knew him, and about his school. Fred thought it would provide a good all-round education in dancing and theatre, so that I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket and limiting myself to Latin, ballroom or ballet.
At Bartuccio’s, I learned classical, tap, modern, jazz, drama and singing, so it was similar to stage school in the UK, but that broad curriculum was a relatively new thing in Australia at
that time. There was a major dance craze exploding across the country because of films such as
Saturday Night Fever
(1977) and that made such opportunities slowly more accessible – even more so now because of shows like
Strictly Come Dancing
. It’s come completely full circle.
Bartuccio’s was a full-time college, but because I was working at the TV station during the week, I had to take the part-time course on a Saturday. I travelled down there by train every weekend, a two-hour trip each way. Every Friday and Saturday night, I stayed with a guy called John Link. He’d been in
with me in Ballarat and, fortuitously, lived round the corner from the school.
Staying with him was beneficial to me in many ways, but the fact he was openly gay was an unexpected inspiration. By this time, I was leaning that way too. I’d been with Eric, of course, and I was prepared to agree some sort of deal with Mr X, but I was still quite confused about my sexuality, so it was a long time before I fully came out.
I loved Bartuccio’s. It was brilliant working with all these inspiring people who could drive me forward. The singer Toni Basil led a class there soon after the success of her hit song ‘Hey Mickey’, while cast members from
taught drama. My teachers included Val Lehman (Bea Smith) and Maggie Kirkpatrick (Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson); Caroline Gillmer, who played Helen Smart, was my main acting coach.
The school had a great canteen, which the Channel 7 Dancers used, so I was constantly star-struck. The college environment made me feel up there and on it, fierce and fashionable and involved, and that really drove me to want to turn professional.