WHEN Gary Wilmot was growing up in Lambeth he had no ambitions to become a performer. Indeed he recalls being more interested in playing football and competed in the Sunday Sportsman League for a time.
But his general good humour, twinkly smile and ability to make people laugh eventually persuaded him to make a career in the entertainment world.
And what a career it has been. He rose to fame as a contestant on New Faces in the 1970s which led to numerous television appearances on shows such as Copycats, Knees Ups, Cue Gary!, and The Keith Harris Show before being chosen to host Showstoppers in 1994.
Since then he has graced both stage and screen, more recently making a name for himself as a musical theatre man.
Indeed this year has seen him in Oklahoma! and West End show The Pajama Game and is this week back treading the boards in what he describes as a "brilliant" play, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Currently on tour it is spending this week at the New Wimbledon Theatre and in a chat between shows he says he's having a ball.
“It’s a fabulous story and such a lot of fun,” he enthuses. “It’s brilliantly written, is cheeky, very funny and mischievous and the songs are terrific.”
Gary plays Andre, the chief of police in the French Riviera who takes backhanders from high class con man Lawrence Jameson as he tries to fleece the rich women who holiday there.
However, things get complicated when a rival con man, the American Freddy Benson, known as The Jackal, arrives in the Riviera and sensing it to be rich pickings, he decides to stick around and swindle money out of all the well off ladies.
The pair begin to compete with each other to hoodwink a millionaire heiress but discover there is only room for one of them.
“My character Andre tells Lawrence when rich women come to town,” explains Gary. “He’s a handsome man of course, charming and gorgeous and gets roped up in all the mischief.
“There’s also a love interest for him – it’s a great role!
“Freddy is a small time conman who gets something on Lawrence so Lawrence teaches him the way of the con and things get interesting.”
Andre is a role Gary is familiar with having played the character before in the West End run in 2014 and when the producers asked if he would like to come back for part of the tour, he said it was a no brainer.
“It’s such a great show, a real hoot, and it moves forward all the time sucking the audience in, it’s just terrific,” he says.
“I haven’t been in a show as fun as this since Me And My Girl, so I was really keen to do it again.
“I love the New Wimbledon Theatre as well. It’s such a great theatre and it was in danger of closing a few years ago so I am pleased they managed to keep it open.
“I was last there doing Half A Sixpence and the audiences were great so I’m looking forward to coming back.”
And while these days he may have made his home north of the river he says he has fond memories of living south and is also looking forward to catching up with family and friends while he’s in the area.
“I live in Bletchley now, the home of the codebreakers but I grew up in Lambeth,” he says. “I was born off Kennington Lane and when I was three we moved to the Lansdowne Green Estate.
“I learned everything there, played a lot of football and rugby and realised it was a great breeding ground for comedy. It was brilliant and I had lots of fun,” he remembers.
“My friends and I were always laughing and taking the mick out of each other. I certainly remember the Canton Arms and the Priory Arms.
“And it’s a long time since I heard of the South London Press, though our football teams were always in your paper,” he adds warmly.
“I never really wanted to be an entertainer but my friends pushed me and said I had a flair for it even though we were just mucking around and making jokes.
“However when I left school the facilities weren’t around and anyway in those days they wanted you to be a plumber or an electrician. I didn’t last long at that!”
His big break came with New Faces and he hasn’t looked back since. And although he says he's achieved most things he's wanted to do, he says a stint at the National Theatre would be nice.
"My career has been one long highlight but I'd love to work at the National or at Chichester one day," he says.
"Jobs at the Old Vic and the Menier were great - when you do those places you work with the best people around which is brilliant.
“I always felt comfortable in front of a mic,” he adds. “I’ve had down times as well as good times and it’s tough to keep going but it’s the best job and I love it - life’s too short to do stuff that you aren’t happy with.
“I’ve been doing it for 40 years – which is amazing considering I’m only 32!”
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, until Saturday, October 10. Visit www.atgtickets.com/wimbledon or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.