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Tunbridge Wells: EastEnders star Michael Greco stars in Aladdin at the Assembly Hall Theatre

By Angela Cole

As panto season starts at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, EastEnders star Michael Greco talks Christmas, panto traditions and his poker playing ways.

If you see actor Michael Greco off stage this Christmas during his starring run in Tunbridge Wells, whatever you do, don’t suggest playing any games with him.

It’s not because he’s no fun and won’t play – it’s because he will beat you hands down. Or he’ll try to.

Members of the Aladdin cast Picture: Phil Lee

“I’m very competitive at whatever I’m doing and playing,” he admits. “Whether it’s poker, pool or even Scrabble – I want to win. I can’t help it.”

It’s not surprising then, to hear that after leaving EastEnders, where he played Beppe di Marco from 1997 to 2002, he became a professional poker player.

He travelled the world as a company-sponsored pro and did plenty of winning.

“It’s still what I do when I’m not acting,” he says. “I have quite a few strings to my bow and that’s one of them. I just like to take risks. I’m a professional risk taker.”

Former EastEnder Michael Greco

He’s also a written a pilot about the world of poker, which he admits is seen as a fascinating and glamorous world by many.

Michael has had his share of glamour in his life, after spending the last 10 years living in LA, where the environment of health conscious, body beautiful was a constant pressure.

“The competition was so furious, you have got to look a certain way,” he says.

“You have to become a bit of a gym rat. I was always fit but I needed to be much more so there. I’m vegetarian but I could never be a vegan. I don’t miss meat at all, except for Christmas Day when I have to have turkey. I cannot sit around at Christmas and not have turkey when everyone else is.”

Although his EastEnders days were some time ago, there are still plenty who remember him as Beppe.

“When I was on EastEnders there were viewing figures of 20 million because there were only four or five channels. There wasn’t Netflix or anything like that.

Michael Greco (right) with Mark Rhodes and Jess Robinson

“It was an amazing part of my life. But I know the show’s in good hands and Danny Dyer is in it now. Anyone who is 20 or under though won’t know I was on there.

“I do still get Beppe-ed though,” he says.

During his decade in LA, he picked up a number of roles including his favourite, Western drama Hatfields & McCoys (alongside Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton).

“I never wanted to be famous, I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be Ben Kingsley. On Hatfields & McCoys, I looked completely disgusting. I was able to get away from Michael Greco. I have done acting and theatre for 30 years now so I have been there, seen it, done it. But more importantly I just want to be remembered for good work.”

Michael gets his Abanazar on Picture: Phil Lee

He can’t wait to do some of that good work in panto in Tunbridge Wells (and also to meet up with his on-screen mum, Rosa di Marco, played by Louise Jameson, who now lives in Tunbridge Wells).

“Panto is as English as you can get. I spent 10 years in the sun, but there is something about England that is like nowhere else in the world – our sarcasm, our humour. And Christmas is a perfect time in England.”

DETAILS

Starring alongside Michael in Aladdin at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, will be Britain’s Got Talent and CBBC star Jess Robinson, with Celebrity Wipeout star Mark Rhodes plays Aladdin with Basil Brush Show Chris Pizzey and Quinn Patrick.

It will be the first time the panto is directed by the theatre’s own director, John-Jackson Almond. It runs until Wednesday, January 3. Tickets from £10. Call 01892 530613 or visit assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk.

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