Recognise this fella?
The mummies and daddies among you probably will.
Phil Gallagher has been on our children’s TV screens for almost 20 years. The past decade has seen him bringing arts and crafts to life, in his wonky waistcoat and bowtie, as CBeebies’ Mister Maker.
And Mister Maker – plus the Shapes – will be at the Towngate on Sunday, as part of a 44-theatre tour.
But as I chat to ever-enthusiastic presenter at his home in Kent, I have to ask, just where does Phil end and Mister Maker start?
“Mister Maker has become my life now,” he laughs. “But I love that I really do. The last ten years have been incredible. Since I got the job it’s been a dream. It’s a cliché but it really was my dream when I was growing up – I wanted to be Andy Peters or Phillip Schofield in the Broom Cupboard. I absolutely love it and I get very involved with the production behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. So in every single moment of my life there’s something about Mister Maker – and it’s a wonderful thing.”
Was he always a crafty chap then?
“I was always crafty and being creative,” he recalls. “And the other thing that I loved doing when I was little was putting on shows. I used to do puppet shows behind my sofa for all my family with my cuddly toys. So now I’m able to combine all those sorts of things, being creative, making things and putting on shows.
“I’m 40 and nothing much has changed in my life. In fact, my mum was laughing about that, saying that nothing much has really changed from 30 plus years ago, I was doing the same sorts of things in the front room that I’m now doing for my job.”
He is one of children’s TV’s biggest stars. Does he get mobbed my mini fans? Apparently not!
“Mostly the grown-ups recognise me first,” he explains. “I think the reason for that is I’m not walking around town in my spotty outfit, and my jacket. I know it sounds obviously, but it’s a really lovely thing because it means that the kids believe that Mister Maker is Mister Maker.
“They think of him as their friend and they know that Mister Maker wears that spotty waistcoat and he has his jacket and his bright blue trainers and if they see someone who looks a bit like Mister Maker wearing a football shirt outside a coffee shop it sometimes doesn’t make sense to little ones so much. It’s just someone who looks a bit like Mister Maker.”
The live shows are more than a little high octane. It must be tiring?
“I am exhausted,” he confesses. “But it’s great fun to do, the live shows are a lot more energetic than your average episode of Mister Maker, there’s lots of singing and dancing. The energy levels in the show ramp up from the start, when it’s very exciting and energetic and it ramps up and up and up and up. People certainly won’t have seen me and the shapes dance quite like this before.”
The saying goes never work with children or animals. Have there been any crafting disasters over the past decade?
“There haven’t really been any creative disasters as such,” he muses. “But there was one day I will always remember because it was so funny.
“When we were filming our series Mister Maker Around the World we were filming in Hong Kong down at the harbour. It was a fantastic day, beautiful and sunny, but it was also quite blustery. And it was our first time being down there by the harbour and we hadn’t realised just quite how windy and blustery it was – it was like a wind tunnel. And as luck would have it, the one make we had planned for down there that day was the tissue paper picture.
“I couldn’t even hold on to the tissue paper, let alone the small pieces that I was trying to stick down on to the picture. But it was one of those moments, that I look back on a really laugh. And we had this little boy from Hong Kong who was in the filming with me and he just thought it was the best thing ever. We had to keep stopping filming and I’d get him to run off and chase these bits of tissue paper across the harbour – it was great fun.
“It was one of those moments when it doesn’t matter how much you plan for something, sometimes something will happen and you just have to go with it.”
He must have made hundreds of craft projects now. Does he have a favourite?
“I’ve got a real soft spot for the pompom bug,” he says. “It was one of the early minute makes that we made and it’s a little bit like a fluffy spider with pipe cleaner legs and a pompom body and googly eyes.
“It’s a really simple make, but one of the things I love about Mister Maker is that you can make something that’s really cool and really extraordinary from quite ordinary materials and not very much. And I actually used to make pompom bugs with my grandad when I was little and I’ve still got one of the pompom bugs I made with him which was over 30 years ago.
“And I’ve still got it in my house now and it’s something that I really treasure because I used to love those moments when I was making things with grandad.”
The show must keep him young, I muse. He agrees, but his fans growing up certainly doesn’t make him feel young, he reveals.
“I’ve been working in kids’ TV for nearly 20 years and I used to work at the Disney channel in the late Nineties and one of my first live appearances on kids’ TV was as the postman on Disney. And last year when I was in the professional panto that I do every year, one of the dancers, the professional dancers, told me that she used to watch me on the Disney Chanel when she was a pre-schooler and she remembered me as the postman. It was one of those moments that really made me feel as though I’m getting old!”
But what can we expect from Mister Maker & The Shapes Live! this weekend?
“Expect the unexpected,” he instructs with mirth. “There’s lots of the catch phrases and characters and songs from the show, but also a lot, lot more.
“We wanted to make it a genuinely funny show for all ages. It’s a show for the whole family – in fact one of the songs says it doesn’t matter if you’re one, 41 or 101 then we’ll have some fun – and that’s what we want to do.”
I get the feeling Phil doesn’t know how to be anything else but fun…
Mister Maker & The Shapes Live! is at the Towngate Theatre on Sunday at 1.30pm and 4pm. For tickets, call the box office on 01268 465465.