The veteran performer gave his “100 percent” backing to the Daily Express’s campaign to Raise The Curtain and ensure the nation’s world leading collection of theatres emerge from the financial black hole into which they have been plunged by the enforced lockdown closure of their stages. Russell said: “All my life my whole world has revolved around theatre and the stage. I made my professional debut in 1969 and there is barely a city in the country that I have not appeared.
“What the Daily Express is doing with its Raise The Curtain is so crucial to the future of the very heart of British cultural life and I am 100 per cent in support of this fantastic campaign.
“There are so many things young people learn about the world and have their horizons broadened by what they see on stage.
“The thought of losing this is just heart-breaking, I simply cannot envisage a world without all the fun and joy the entertainment of theatres give us and that is why it is so important that the Express’s campaign succeeds.”
Born to parents who both worked at Pinewood film studios, becoming a performer was inevitable and Russell made his stage debut aged just five.
In a glittering acting career running parallel to his astrology, he has regularly delighted West End audiences complementing his annual pantomime appearances.
But with no Government timeline for how and when theatres will be able to welcome back paying audiences to shows, the 69-year-old admits his concerns are growing day by day.
He admitted: “I have been talking to friends in the industry and we just don’t know what the future holds.
“I’m a positive person but I really don’t think anything is likely to happen until the spring of next year.
How many smaller theatres in the regions can survive that long without any revenue?
“It’s a huge fear that once it’s gone we will never get it back – I can’t bear to think about the possibility of not being on stage again.
Russell was inundated with offers for pantomime this year prior to lockdown and was also scheduled to run a Broadway workshop, but confesses he has no idea what the future holds.
He said: “In normal times pantomimes and Christmas shows are vital.
“I’ve appeared in panto every year for over 30 years, they start in November and can run through until February.
“It’s two or three shows every day and there is never a spare seat in the house.
“Theatres are packed with schoolchildren during the week, families, friends and couples on an evening but all those big audiences help provide the money to ensure the theatres remain financially viable for the rest of the year.
“If they cannot open again this year then it will be catastrophic.”
The actor, who was catapulted back into the West End after winning a new generation of fans when he was shot from a cannon in the 2011 series of Strictly Come Dancing, pointed out how the festive visits also provide many children with their first experience of a live stage show fostering a lifelong love of performance art.
He added: “After watching Jack and The Beanstalk it may be that they persuade their parents to take them to see a musical show such as Glee or Six and then it becomes a regular treat.
“That might lead to watching a cult show, Shakespeare or one of the wonderful self-producing theatres we have in this country.
“Everything in theatre feeds into each other and I just hope the government and the public take on board the true extent of the danger the entire industry is in.
“The culture secretary must listen to the Express campaign and act so we can all get together again and once again share the amazing experience of live theatre.”