Craig Revel Horwood: Arthritis agony left me barely able to walk

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The famously acid-tongued dancer-turned-TV judge, 53, was on stage in 2013 performing the role of the Wicked Queen in Snow White when a single high kick left him with agonising pain shooting down his leg.

“I assumed I’d ripped a ligament, he says. 

“I knew it was never going to get better while I was doing panto and shortly after that finished I had the Strictly tour. Then I was going to Australia for six weeks so thought I had plenty of time for it to heal. I kept going with a mixture of off-the-shelf painkillers.”

However, by the time Craig arrived back in the UK he was in constant, debilitating pain.

“Normally ligament damage fixes itself, every dancer knows that, but this was a mystery. I was doing all the right things – resting and stretching – but it was getting progressively worse.”

Soon, Craig was struggling to walk more than the shortest distance. At a loss as to what to do, he booked an appointment with a specialist who arranged an MRI scan.

“When it came back the surgeon asked me, ‘How on earth have you been walking?’ I told him, ‘Painkillers, darling. I was working, I had to keep dancing’. Like a lot of dancers, there have been many times when I have danced with a lot of pain. You get a higher pain threshold, pain becomes normal.”

Craig was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and told he needed a hip replacement. He had the operation on a Sunday and was back on the Strictly set the following Saturday.

“I was as high as a kite on morphine. I gave everyone eights and nines. It was the happiest I have ever been,” he laughs.

Craig Revel Horwood (Image: Ray Burmiston/ BBC)

Craig is one of 8.75 million people in the UK who suffer from osteoarthritis. 

Joints are exposed to a constant low level of damage from movement but in most cases, the body repairs the damage itself.

In osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint.

Bony growths can develop and the area can become inflamed and very painful.

FAB-U-LOUS: After two hip replacements Craig still managed to keep pace with his fellow judges (Image: Guy Levy/ BBC)

For many years it was thought to be caused by prolonged wear and tear and studies show young dancers sometimes have early signs of damage.

More recently scientists have discovered that other factors can contribute, particularly inflammation and genetic inheritance, meaning the cards were stacked against Craig as both his parents had hip replacements in their 60s and his mother has battled rheumatoid arthritis most of her life.

Earlier this year, five years after the first operation, Craig had to have a second hip replacement.

“The second time around, I knew what to look out for. When I had the first operation the surgeon said the other hip would go after two years. I lasted five but I was in pain for two of those years.”

Now pain-free, Craig is passionate about raising awareness of bone and joint health and is patron of the National Osteoporosis Society.

“I wanted to support a charity that could make a difference,” he explains.

“There is nothing you can do to prevent osteoarthritis but that’s not the case with osteoporosis. Dance has given me an amazing platform and if you encourage kids to dance it builds up a bone bank for the future.”

Diet is also important for bone health, particularly ensuring adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D. However, Craig is the first to admit that for many years his diet was dreadful.

Like Craig, 8.75 million people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis (Image: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock)

“As a child I was short and fat and for many years I struggled with body dysmorphia. I starved myself and ate nothing but lettuce. I even went to see a doctor to ask if they could shave two inches off my hips.”

Dance was his “salvation” as a chubby child, but it also encouraged his demons. “I was always judging myself,” he says.

“As a dancer you constantly see yourself in a mirror wearing next to nothing.”

When he was 22, Craig won a role that meant appearing naked on stage and says: “Not only was I worried about having everything on display, I didn’t want an inch of fat on me.”

Now Craig, who went to a personal trainer only to be told to eat more protein to restore muscle lost to dieting, now eats what he likes when he is dancing but is aiming to lose a stone after Christmas in readiness for playing Miss Hannigan in the UK tour of the musical Annie.

“It sounds dramatic but it’s actually quite simple, I just reduce my food by half. Everyone knows chocolate is naughty and copious amounts of bread make you fat.”

He applies the same discipline to alcohol, saying: “I like a drink but I try not to overdo it.”

Having grown up with an alcoholic father, he knows the damage it can do.

JUDGES: Shirley Ballas and Craig Revel-Horwood (Image: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

When he moved to a Hampshire manor house recently he found his new home is built on chalk.

This makes it perfect for growing the grapes for champagne, so Craig is planning to add a special vintage to his wine cellar.

“Could there be anything better than making your own champagne?” he asks. “Right now, I have one word for my life. Three syllables. Fab-u-lous!” ?

Craig’s latest book, In Strictest Confidence, has just been published by Michael O’Mara Books, £20.



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