Arts

Alexander Armstrong steps into 'giant' Brucie's shoes

Alexander Armstrong has stepped in to host televised festive variety show Bruce's Hall Of Fame after medics told Bruce Forsyth to stay off work after a fall at his home. Comedian, quiz-show host, singer and now dancer Armstrong talks to Kate Whiting about his crazy year

Bing there, done that – an incredibly busy Alexander Armstrong found time to pay tribute to his idol and present Bruce's Hall of Fame

THE festive season is always a reflective time, when we think about the year's successes – as well as those things that didn't go to plan. When Alexander Armstrong takes a moment to reflect before the New Year, there's going be a lot on that first list.

He has – literally – become the all-singing, all-dancing face of family entertainment, succeeding David Jason as the voice of Danger Mouse (something he confesses has earned "massive kudos" in the eyes of his four young sons), recently wowing viewers with his moves in ITV's The Sound Of Music Live, and with a debut album, A Year Of Songs, topping the classical charts when it was released last month.

To cap it all, he's stepping in for Sir Bruce Forsyth to host Bruce's Hall Of Fame, set to air on January 2.

"One's life fills up with real pinch-yourself moments and I've had a few this year, I've just found myself thinking, 'I can't... am I really going to do this?' And this was one of the big ones," he says of the variety show, which sees celebrities from Catherine Tate to former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, paying tribute to the performers who inspired them.

The father-of-four took over presenting duties on the pre-recorded show at the last minute after 87-year-old Forsyth had a fall in October.

The experience has given Armstrong (45) renewed admiration for "showman of the first order" Sir Bruce.

"I tell you what, that man is just incredible! Having done Hall Of Fame, I now know what stamina Bruce has. The man's a giant, he's a machine! It was knackering, it was one of the most exhausting and terrifying and thrilling and exhilarating things I've ever done – but wow!"

Among the line-up is EastEnder Shona McGarty paying homage to Aretha Franklin, magician Jamie Raven emulating Tommy Cooper – and the Pointless presenter himself pays tribute to crooner Bing Crosby, who he calls a "phenomenal presence".

"He was one of those voices one grew up with, really, a very comforting part of one's childhood," he says.

Like his idol, Armstrong appears to have had a charmed career. Born in Northumberland, he went to Trinity College Cambridge on a music scholarship, singing baritone in the college choir, and joining the famous Footlights theatrical club.

He joined forces with fellow funny man Ben Miller and, in 1996, the pair were nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which led to four series of their show, Armstrong And Miller.

But having started out as a singer, he was secretly harbouring a desire to make an album.

"I can't say it's been part of a grand plan, I've just been waiting for someone to ask me, that's all, but it's taken a bloody long time for anyone to get round to it," he says with a chuckle. "It's been a real joy and lovely to be right back in the thick of music again. It is where I started out and if I'm entirely honest with myself, it's the one thing I can do, the thing from childhood I've taken pride in, and it's a real treat to be allowed to do it.

"It's been an enormous gap in my life actually, so it's wonderful to be back."

So what's on Armstrong's list for 2016?

"God, it's all packed in," he starts. "We're touring [the album] for two months in January and February, then Pointless starts at the end of February. I film that with a gap in June to go off and film some documentaries, until the end of July, then I take all of August off."

It's already looking like a busy year, but rather than his heavy schedule being driven by naked ambition or a strong work ethic, Armstrong insists he's just "very bad at saying no to things".

"I hate being idle and I really enjoy the work I do – it's not like work," he says. "A lot of things that held genuine fear for me – I'm doing Have I Got News For You this week, for example, or standing up performing to large numbers of people – they're all things that I find quite easy to deal with now.

"In the muesli of what I do, there are some tough nuts and some sweet raisins and I find that, by and large, there are fewer things that I dread and more and more things that I just love doing," Armstrong concludes.

"It's difficult to organise, I don't envy the people who sort out my diary, but God I love it."

:: Bruce's Hall Of Fame is on BBC One on Saturday January 2.

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