Dancing on Ice judge Robin Cousins
PUBLISHED: 12:15 18 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013
Robin Cousins, Olympic Gold medallist and world free skating champion, talks to Jess Alldred about childhood memories of Southampton, his love of the New Forest and the glorious Mayflower Theatre
Robin Cousins began skating aged nine when his family were on holiday just along the coast in Bournemouth. He had a go and found that not only could he stand up, but he really enjoyed it and within three years he had won his first national title before going on to become junior champion at 14. Since then Robin has won Olympic gold at Lake Placid in 1980; he is four-time British Champion; winner of the 1980 European gold medal and World silver medal and was honoured to be awarded an M.B.E. by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1980 for his services to sport.
Treading the boards
Robin is currently touring the country in the hit stage musical Grease, as Teen Angel, which comes to Southamptons Mayflower Theatre in July. He has been a regular visitor of the Mayflower for many years both as a performer and indeed as part of the audience.
"The Mayflower is a beautiful theatre," he says. "I know it well from doing Cats a while back and two years ago I did panto there too. It's a lovely place with a special quality; it's vast, it's big, it's open and cavernous, but it is somehow comfortable and intimate. I have felt this when sitting in the auditorium watching a show and also when on stage as a performer. Even before the curtain even goes up there is a good atmosphere, an excitement and a feeling of genuine anticipation which is not always the case in some theatres."
Grease is a fast and frantic musical full to the brim with iconic characters and infamous songs. Robin will be playing Teen Angel and says he is so looking forward to, "getting into the groove". He continues, "I love theatre and can't wait to quiff my hair and step into that white, spangley suit and my silver shoes. From the moment I put on the costume I am that character. I take on a whole new persona even when I'm not near the stage. You can't help it, you walk differently, talk differently, its brilliant fun!"
Robin has always loved the showmanship of theatre and would have taken the stage as a full time career had he not been such a successful skater. He agrees it's a short leap from the rigours and glamour of skating, to the energy and performance of theatre, "At times I have skated in front of 8-10,000 people so no theatre is ever going to be too big for me. It's easy to project to the audience because I had to project in places like Radio City Music Hall and Wembley Arena."
Quoting Gene Kelly as one of his all time heroes and somebody he aspired to be as a child, Robin now feels that he is finally on the right path. He continues, "I am a real theatre-lover and always have been. So, if I'm honest, skating took me sideways for a few years and now I get to do something I had always wanted to do. But are people surprised to hear he has a voice?
"They are! They think I can only skate. But I do have a voice and have toured in many musicals before. Only when the audience looks at the biography in the programme do they say, 'oh, so you sing?' But, I suppose it doesn't matter what they think of me when they arrive at the theatre; it's what they think when they leave that matters!"
Rocky Horror Show, Cats and the panto Santa Claus and the Return of Jack Frost are included in Robin's theatrical credits. He is also a hugely successful choreographer and director of ice dance shows that have toured worldwide. Although Robin grew up in Bristol he spent a lot of time during his childhood travelling south to Brighton and Southampton in skating competitions.
"Southampton was part of the competition circuit so I knew it well as a child. The Top Rank Rink at Southampton was unique in that there were no barriers around the rink at all, so spectators could see right across the ice. It was a very different feeling for a skater to have no barrier edging the ice; the ice literally went straight onto the carpet, so it felt more open and vast. From a public skating point of view people did prefer a barrier so they could hold on while learning to skate and grab on if they felt they were losing balance."
Often, after the competitions were over, Robin and his family extended their stay in Hampshire and spent time in the New Forest. They would choose a bed and breakfast or small hotel or on one or two occasions, his parents hired a camper van and they camped in the forest. He remembers, "As a child I loved it. It's such a vast wild space and I still find it remarkable. You can feel lost only 100 yards from the car park, following paths and wild ponies. When you spend your life very busy and working it is good to go somewhere remote and unpopulated sometimes. I like to get in the car occasionally for a drive and a wander amid the trees and natural open space."
Off the ice
Robin is incredibly busy. This year alone he has appeared for the sixth consecutive year as Head Judge on ITV1's Dancing on Ice. He also directed Holiday on Ice - Spirit, an ice dance show that was a huge success touring the country in the spring. He then toured with the Dancing on Ice show and with just five days to recover in between, he started in Grease.
When he is on tour Robin has to eat out in restaurants a great deal. He explains that he tries to seek out cosy pubs and country restaurants rather than the anonymous, vast caverns of a chain hotel restaurant.
"I do actually enjoy eating out but for the good company of friends and having a tasty meal, rather than to eat fancy food. I like the atmosphere of a pub, finding somewhere to sit in comfort and relax in a corner. Hampshire has some great little pubs hidden away. I like that."
Robin lives towards the eastern side of Brighton. His lovely home overlooks the Marina and he has a garden that's ideal for entertaining. He describes, "I often enjoy just eating at home and I am happy to prepare a BBQ or a meal for friends. More and more I suggest a meal where we all contribute. I love the idea because if you don't see your friends as often as you like, you really do not want to be in the kitchen all evening missing the action. You want to talk, have some fun and socialise, not stir gravy!"
Working in Winchester
In 2000 Robin formed his own company, Cousins Entertainment Limited, which is an entertainment and event production company, also supplying and managing both real and synthetic ice rinks. He explains, "The ice rink business really started off as a teaching tool. Synthetic ice is a bi-product of Teflon. However, with the advent of winter ice rinks its become even more popular. We are particularly proud of the Winchester Ice Rink that goes up next to the Cathedral. It's a stunning setting for an ice rink. Most importantly the cathedral has benefited, the community has benefited, the local people love it and it's now part of Winchester's annual calendar. Everyone really looks forward to it and we are absolutely delighted with its popularity.
He explains the appeal of skating for families, "There is something unique about going out as a family and skating on ice. Regardless of the weather, it is just a wonderful experience. Kids love it; the parents love it. The weather doesn't really affect the ice, if it's raining it gets wet, but you can still skate on it. It's quite a robust medium."
It seems that the whole city embraces the winter ice rink and Robin is particularly pleased with its location.
"It is set in the most perfect spot. At dusk, when it begins to get a bit dark and a bit chilly, all the lights come on and the sight is just heavenly."
Having access to more and more ice rinks and with shows like Dancing on Ice there is a whole new audience being introduced to ice skating as Robin says, "Kids are surprisingly good at skating. As we get older, we are more mindful of what could happen but kids are fearless and that's brilliant for skating. I have been in Winchester when the rain is pouring down and no one is on the ice except for four or five kids body surfing and whizzing around having an absolute ball. That's what it's all about!"
To see Robin in action buy tickets now for Grease at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre from the 5-16 July. www.mayflower.org.uk