Kulvinder Ghir is a cake-loving Bollywood prince in the Lyric's production of Dick Whittington and his Cat. The Goodness Gracious Me star tells ROBERT CUMBER how his first panto in almost a decade will also be the first time his children get to see him on stage
KULVINDER Ghir knew he was in for a challenge when he signed up to play a greedy Bollywood prince in this year's Lyric panto - in which he sings a version of the Slumdog Millionaire theme tune Jai Ho, with the words changed to 'Feed Me'.
But he hadn't reckoned on what would happen when he brought his nine-year-old daughter Ava along to rehearsals to introduce her to his first love, the theatre.
"She loves it and she's already decided she wants to be an actress but she's really strict about getting me to learn my lines and get the song right," he says.
"Panto's very important for young children, because it's often their first experience of the theatre, so it means a lot to be to be performing in front of Ava and Louis (his five-year-old son) here for the first time.
"Ava's seen me on TV a few times before but Louis has never seen me perform, so this will be an ideal occasion for him to see what his dad does - to see him being silly."
As you would expect with a Lyric panto, Dick Whittington and his Cat is an updated version of the classic tale in which the titular character comes to London seeking fame and fortune.
Dick is joined by Kulvinder's prince, feisty heroine Alice and panto dame Sarah the Cook as he battles to overcome the evil King Rat.
As well as the prince's take on Bollywood, the show features adapted versions of modern hits by the likes of Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys.
Kulvinder says of his character: "He just wants food all the time. He feels he needs it to keep his sexy figure and to maintain his royal status. There's a shipwreck on his island and he discovers these lovely pink cream cakes and wants more.
"Last year there were 40 Bollywood films made in the UK and there's a lot of eastern influence coming to the West."
Kulvinder was born in Kenya and came to England aged seven, spending a year in Hounslow before moving to Yorkshire, where he decided to become a performer after impressing his school pals with impressions of their teachers.
After entering a number of talent competitions he started doing the rounds of the local working men's clubs while still a teenager.
"They were quite surprised to see a 4ft 2in Asian guy doing impressions of Margaret Thatcher and Frank Spencer," he says.
"I've always enjoyed making people laugh. I knew how hard my mum was working when I was a kid and she was a big Jerry Lewis fan so I loved being able to do an impression of him and make her smile."
Kulvinder has since appeared in a host of comedy shows and dramas, including the Lyric's 2009 production of Terry Griffith's Comedians.
But he is best known for the series Goodness Gracious Me (GGM), which poked fun at Indian stereotypes, with sketches like the famous 'going for an English' proving a hit with people from all backgrounds.
Kulvinder is currently writing a screenplay about Indian soldiers during the First World War, which he hopes will hit screens in time for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting.
"About one-and-a-half million Indian soldiers came to fight for the British Empire during the war, and about 4,000 of those ended up in hospital in and around Brighton, which was the first significant Indian community in this country," he says.
"It's important to cement our stories, and those of our parents, from the past 40 years, because it empowers our community and asserts people's right to be British."
Kulvinder still hopes to reunite the GGM team, including Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia, for a new show, but says it is difficult for them all to find the time.
"The desire's there and I think it would be sad if it doesn't happen. There's always been talk of a
GGM film, especially now with Bollywood's growing popularity in the West," he says.