'I’d try on dad’s wigs and hats and play with his make-up' - Clare Gray remembers her dad, Edinburgh panto legend Andy Gray
To generations of theatre goers, TV viewers and pantomime lovers, Andy Gray was a man who had funny bones, a skilful performer who made making people laugh look easy. In part one of a two part interview, actress Clare Gray remembers the legendary funnyman who, to her, was simply dad.
On January 18 this year, following complications caused by Covid-19, the King's panto favourite passed away, aged just 61. If that robbed Scotland of one of its best loved showmen, more importantly it took a father, grandfather, partner and brother away from his family.
This week, the King's Theatre announced that Andy's legacy would live on in this year's production of Sleeping Beauty, with the return of his daughter Clare to company. The 30-year-old, who previously appeared alongside her dad on the Old Lady of Leven Street stage in Cinderella and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, will join regulars Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Jordan Young, to play Narcissa in the annual festive spectacular.
"It was a lovely announcement but bittersweet," Clare admits, before explaining, "A few months ago, Grant, who I am close to, broached the subject with me. At first, at the thought of dad not being there, I was like, 'Oh, I don't know.' I wasn't sure if it would be too tough, but then I thought, 'My dad would be absolutely thrilled,' and it is definitely a way of carrying on his legacy."
She continues, "An important thing for me was that I was really looking forward to panto this year because my daughter, Anna, is now three and at the age where she would have been more aware that it was her 'Baba' on the stage. I was looking forward to seeing that so I thought, 'Well, the next best thing is seeing her mum up there'."
Clare too was brought up watching her dad perform. As a child she would join him backstage and watch from the wings. It's where her own love of comedy and theatre was sparked.
"Kids, when they are growing, say, 'I want to be a doctor,' or 'I want to be a chef'. I never had a moment like that, I only ever said, ‘I want to be an actress’. My love for acting and comedy came from my dad. I would see the panto once or twice from the front and then watch him from the wings, loving being around the magic of it all. It was so special.
"Sitting in dad's dressing room too was fantastic. I'd try on his wigs and hats and play with his make-up. Even in the last panto we did together I'd come down and ask, 'Dad, have you got any eyeliner?' My dad was my inspiration to go into theatre and for my love of comedy. It's such a thrill to make people laugh."
Making people laugh was something Andy could do with a single word or just a glance. It's has been said he had 'funny bones' but it was a mastery of his craft that allowed him to make it look easy.
"He was one of the best because he made it look so effortless but I knew a lot of work went into it and saw how much joy it brought my dad. He did have funny bones but he was good at his craft. During rehearsals he could sense if something wasn't hitting... he'd go very quiet, pace around, then say, 'I've got it.' He then changed whatever needed changing. He had a knowledge of what he was doing."
Clare did panto with Andy at the King's twice, the first time was Cinderella in 2017, she played an ugly sister.
"I was so thrilled when Maureen Carr and I got the Ugly Sisters. It was one of the best days in my life. I could not believe that such a huge successful company had cast me and I knew that dad was so proud.
"On that first panto together, dad had been doing it for so long but was so strict with himself, there was no, 'I'm Andy Gray and I've been doing this for years.' He knew what he had to do and was so professional, which is an aspiration of mine as well. He was very supportive but he also wanted to give me my space in rehearsals. He didn't want me treated differently because I was his daughter."
Famous for his ability to corpse other actors, making them laugh on stage, Clare quickly discovered she wasn't immune to Andy's pranks either, although she had a secret weapon the rest of the cast didn't.
She recalls, "On stage he did everything in his power to make me laugh and did a couple of times. But I could give him a look... one that made him go, 'Oh, better not push it any more'. Grant and Allan would say, 'You wouldn't stop if we did that.'
"I perfected that look," she laughs.
In the years before his passing, Andy had battled blood cancer and was in remission shortly before his death. Throughout it all his glass half full approach to life kept him and those around him smiling.
"He was always a glass half full man and that is something that I have taken from him, even more so since he passed away. God, I've taken so many wonderful things," says Clare.
After a moment's thought, she continues, "When he tested positive for Covid, my instant thought was terror, absolute fear. I was in Ireland at the time with my mum. Dad was meant to come over for Christmas when the panto he was doing went down in Milton Keynes, but the rules had changed and he said, 'I'm going to follow what we are being told to do'. So we did lots of Facetimes, he was always like, 'I'll be fine, don't worry. I feel great.'
"On Christmas Day he had a couple proseccos, had his fillet steak meal and was fine. The next day he started to deteriorate.
"It was all so quick. From his diagnosis with leukemia to pulling through. The fact he was in remission was like, Here we go!' He was so thrilled because it was like a second chance at life and then this pandemic comes along and takes that all away... but there are so many people in the same position. It's heart-breaking."
In part two: Andy Gray, the incredible granddad