There’s no place like home for panto king Neil

Neil Hurst outside the Victoria Theatre
Neil Hurst outside the Victoria Theatre

Entertainer Neil Hurst has been doing the maths - and he has already worked out that he will notch up his 500th appearance on the Victoria Theatre stage during his run in the pantomime Dick Whittington this Christmas.

Neil, who earned his acting and singing spurs with amateur groups in Calderdale, has called the Halifax panto ‘his favourite gig of the year’ and for him the Victoria Theatre stage is like a home from home.

Neil Hurst with Vernon Kay and Louise Cole on Family Fortunes

Neil Hurst with Vernon Kay and Louise Cole on Family Fortunes

Dick Whittington will be Neil’s fifth Halifax panto and this year he’s taking the comedy role of Idle Jack.

Talking on a hot summer’s day, Neil was enthusiastic in his praise for the most traditional of wintertime entertainment. “I just love panto. Christmas is my favourite time of the year - any excuse to be very loud, very silly and get very messy!

“The best thing is that you’re never 100 per cent sure what’s going to happen next. Every performance is different, it really keeps you on your toes.

“The reaction of the kids is great. They really get involved and believe everything they’re seeing. For a lot of children, panto is their first experience of live theatre and it’s important to keep it magical for them.

“I think I’ll have to have a little celebration when I reach my 500th performance at the Victoria, perhaps have a glass of bubbly.”

Neil grew up in Greetland and went to Brooksbank School in Elland. He was in his first show at the age of eight and as a teenager he appeared regularly in shows with Halifax Light Opera Society, Halifax Amateurs, Stage Door Studio and Halifax Thespians. He was taught by music teacher Michael Hampshire and dance teacher Sandra Whiteley and dreamed of a career in show business.

“I thought I was going to be the next Michael Ball!” said Neil. “It didn’t exactly work out like that but I went to London and did some musical theatre and a few shows down there.

“But my family is up here in Yorkshire and my management company is in Halifax so it makes more sense to be based here.”

Neil has toured with Cannon and Ball and spent a couple of summer seasons in Blackpool with Billy Pearce. More recently he has enjoyed nationwide TV exposure as Vernon Kay’s comedy sidekick on ITV’s All Stars Family Fortunes as well as appearing in the BBC drama series The Syndicate, written by Kay Mellor.

“In all, I was on the screen for about ten seconds as Frank, the bingo caller,” said 31-year-old Neil. “But I enjoyed filming and it all helps to get my profile out there.”

Last year Neil was on hand to help out at the official launch of the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France in 2014, hosting the Welcome to Yorkshire party.

“It was a great occasion - though my joke about Lance Armstrong didn’t go down too well!” said Neil.

Neil and his wife Emily live with their two daughters near Leeds and five-year-old Katy has already been up on stage with her dad.

“We’re always dancing around and joking about at home.”

And Neil won’t be the only member of the family to be on stage at the Victoria Theatre this year. In September wife Emily will be appearing in ‘Our House’, the Madness musical, with Halifax Amateur Operatic Society.

Dick Whittington runs from December 14 to January 5. Tickets are now on sale at the box office on 01422 351158.