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​Strictly champ Joe McFadden: Taggart was my big break but watching it now is murder!

Katya Jones and Joe McFadden with the glitterball trophy (Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire)
Katya Jones and Joe McFadden with the glitterball trophy (Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire)

ON a dizzying night in December some 13 million viewers watched Joe McFadden lift the Strictly glitterball.

Winning the show, at a stroke, made the former Holby City star the hottest name in showbiz.

However, it was anything but an overnight success as the Glaswegian actor’s first steps to glory were taken exactly 30 years ago.

And he’s told iN10 how he’ll never forget his earliest days, cringing when he recalls an early role in Taggart.

Joe was just 12 when he got the part in the iconic STV cop show.

“I was really lucky to get that job because you’ve no idea what you want to do at that age,” says Joe.

“As a kid in Glasgow, going to the school I did, I didn’t know anyone who had acted before.

A young Joe McFadden

“Taggart was such a huge show that I just remember being in awe of everyone. It was Mark McManus, Jim McPherson and Blythe Duff.

“We were filming at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 and it was so exciting. There was actually a wrap party on a boat, which was amazing.

“Now I look back and think how awful I was. You see young actors now that are amazing in shows like Stranger Things but back then I’d never really thought about how to act.

“People post clips of it and I can’t bear to watch.”

It was the best part of a decade before the young Scot really reckoned acting was something that could be a long-term viable career.

By that time he had spent five years on the shores of Loch Lomond learning his trade as Gary McDonald in the soap Take The High Road.

And acclaimed BBC drama The Crow Road, based on Iain Banks’ book, helped set Joe on his way.

“I can still remember reading the scripts and being so hooked,” he recalls. “To work with Bill Paterson and Peter Capaldi was amazing, but I did think I was going to get shown up as I still didn’t really know what I was doing next to them.

“It was so well received and people still come up to me in the street 20 years on and say they enjoyed it.”

Self-effacing, engaging and open, Joe is every bit as easy going in person as he was every week on Strictly.

Joe McFadden, Laura Fraser (October Films/courtesy Everett Collection) (Alamy)

His routines with professional partner Katya Jones won over the nation until he made the final and eventually came out on top over Debbie McGee, Alexandra Burke and Gemma Atkinson.

On that magical Saturday night he was probably the most famous person in the country. “I suppose I was,” he concedes, before moving things on with an embarrassed laugh. The day itself, he insists, wasn’t as nerve-racking as you might imagine.

“It was actually a really nice day. We were having to do three dances, so we were all a bit exhausted.

Joe McFadden says Strictly Come Dancing experience has given him a new sympathy for Dancing on Ice contestants

“I felt it was going to be a great show. I was proud just to get to go out there with the other three finalists as their level of dancing was phenomenal.”

While his ever more spectacular routines had seen Joe installed as the bookies’ favourite, not once did he ever think he was going to win.

“I think you could tell that from my reaction when we actually won it,” he reveals. “Every single Monday when I was shown the steps I thought this was the week I was going home because I couldn’t do it. And if people had seen the dance on the Monday they would have said the same thing.

Kevin McKidd, Marc Warren, Joe McFadden, Jake Wood, 1998, (Polygram Filmed Entertainment/courtesy Everett) (Alamy)

“It was such a steep learning curve with a whole new set of challenges. To be expected to go out and do it on a Saturday night felt completely overwhelming.

“Each week I’d prepare my exit speech as I was sure I’d be going home.”

Even the famous cantilever move in the Argentine tango – where Katya lifted him from the floor – was “really risky because it had gone wrong a lot of the time in rehearsals”.

But Joe’s dedication and world champion Katya’s refusal to accept anything but perfection drove the pair on to glitterball glory.

The pair have been happily reunited for the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour which started on Friday.

Joe’s three fellow finalists as well as Susan Calman, Davood Ghadami and Jonnie Peacock will be performing alongside him at big arenas all across the country.

Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli and Darcey Bussell will be doing the judging.

It includes four shows at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow from February 2 to 4.

Joe McFadden and Shirley Henderson on the set of the BBC drama Bumping the Odds May 1997 (Alamy)

“It’s such a great spectacular with Craig directing it,” says Joe.

“Seeing the people who voted for us is lovely as is getting together with everyone again.

“Glasgow is the venue I’m looking forward to the most as all the pro dancers always say the audience there is the best.”

There is, of course, a real homecoming feeling for Joe who says he’d love to get back working with the National Theatre of Scotland again or fulfil a dream of appearing at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow now he’s left Holby City.

He doesn’t get back to Glasgow as often as he’d like but his passion for his home town shines through, something that was evident when he paid a visit to his old school during the Strictly run.

Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow was where it all began with drama teacher Camille Skilling recommending him for the Taggart role.

“It was funny being back,” he adds.

“My dad used to live opposite the main gates and I’d looked in for years wondering what it was like and whether it was any different.

“It had changed a bit, with a diner in the middle of the playground and a different uniform. But it’s still the same old place.

“It brought back lovely memories, wandering the corridors and thinking back to the plays I did. And people I was there with are still friends now in London.”

Strictly Come Dancing Live UK tour will be at the Glasgow SSE Hydro February 2 to 4. For tickets visit