Duncan James says Nikki Grahame struggled at not going to the gym before death

The West End actor and star of The Circle, 43, on living his best fantasy in drag, getting vaccinated, and his memories of friend Nikki Grahame.

Where are you today?

I’m in Oxford Street. It’s absolutely rammed. It’s like everybody and their dog is out, like we’ve been caged animals for the last God knows how many months. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen London so busy.

Do you live in town?

No, I’m a Surrey boy. I made a decision to move out of London a few years ago. I couldn’t stand all the taxis and congestion zone.

I would accidentally drive into a congestion zone and then forget and end up getting hundreds and hundreds of pounds’ worth of bills.

Also, house prices are just so expensive in London. If you go a little bit further out you get so much more for your money. You can catch a train straight to Waterloo and be there in 30 minutes. I’m so happy now.

You tweeted a lovely photo of you and Nikki Grahame when she came to see you in Chicago. When did you last speak?

I spoke to Nikki near the end of last year. I asked, ‘Are you all right?’ She said, ‘I’m just fed up, Dun. We all are, aren’t we?’ She was quite upset at not being able to go to the gym. I know she liked that release.

It made her feel when she had worked out that she could then have a good meal. I was so sad to hear she had lost her battle with anorexia. She was such a lovely, caring, beautiful person. Every time I met her she would give me the biggest cuddle and tell me she loved me.

She used to ask whether I would be her sperm donor for IVF treatment. ‘Why are you gay?’ she would say. I was like, ‘Sorry, I can’t really change that one.’ She had a huge heart. My heart goes out to her family.

How do you feel about reopening the West End with the Proud Cabaret All Stars?

I’m just grateful to be able to get back onstage. Denise [Van Outen] is a good friend of mine. She came to me last year and asked if I’d like to do the show at Proud. She needed somebody who could hold the night themselves as a host and be able to sing and perform.

She was like, ‘You’ll smash it.’ Alex Proud has been very proactive in his being one of the first venues to get back up and running and to get performers back in work.

Will you have a new tattoo to celebrate?

No, I haven’t had a tattoo in years. I do love a tattoo, as you can probably tell.
I think when you hit 40 you don’t really give a f*** any more. I’m in full operation dad bod at the moment.

What will you wear at Proud?

I do a little bit of a drag thing, with a nod to Rocky Horror and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert – shows I’ve been in that I loved. I get in all the make-up and wig and suspenders, the heels, the corset, the whole shebang.

I’m living my best fantasy. It’s a far cry from performing in my double denim with Blue. I think people are quite shocked when they see me on stage now. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, what the f*** is Duncan James wearing?’ I love that.

Do you have a drag name?

No, not really, but my lifelong ambition is to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race either
as a Celebrity All Star – sign me up, b**** – or let me be a judge at least so
I can sit alongside Michelle Visage.

I’m a little bit obsessed. I’m actually going out for dinner tonight with Manila Luzon so I’m very excited about that. She’s over here filming stuff.

How far back do you and Denise Van Outen go?

I’ve known her for 20 years. She was one of the first people who interviewed Blue back in the day. Me and her have always gone into the West End and done shows. We’ve sung on various things together for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I don’t have lots of friends in the industry, I’ve always kept myself to myself, really, but she’s one of the people I would call a good friend.

How has lockdown been for you and your partner, Rodrigo?

Rodrigo’s with me now, actually. He came over from Belgium a couple of weeks ago. He had to go into quarantine for 10 days, which was pretty tough. He had to do God knows how many Covid tests. It’s been really great having him with me.

Have you been vaccinated yet?

I got the Pfizer. I was absolutely fine afterwards. There is a lot of controversy about it all but I’m of the attitude that I’m in my forties, I’m asthmatic and I’d rather be vaccinated than not.

I lost a friend recently to Covid. He was 31. He went to hospital, was put on a ventilator, had a heart attack and died. It’s really scary when it happens to someone who is fit and healthy. So I’d rather have the vaccine and feel protected and also to protect others.

Finally, why should people go to see Cabaret All Stars?

You’ve got some incredible burlesque performers and aerialists. It’s one in a million. It’s a really enjoyable night out, which people need right now.

James is starring in Cabaret All Stars at Proud Embankment from May 20. Tickets at proudcabaret.com.

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