RICHIE Hayes, veteran of 1,000-plus pantos in the Gaiety, was in an upstairs room of the venerable Dublin theatre when he saw a poster for Lionel Blair and Beauty and the Beast - to take place in July.
The panto, he discovered, now a Christmas institution, had, in years gone by, also been performed in summer. From the poster, the performer - who had his own stage school in Waterford for eight years - got a glimmer of an idea.
“I know it is a Christmas tradition, but there is very little mention of Christmas in panto,” laughs Richie, who has been starring in the UCH extravaganza for three years.
“I saw the poster and asked about it, because it was well before my time, and I was told that there used to be summer shows. So hence the whole summer thing is not totally out of the ordinary,” he laughs.
Hayes, who became a household name in 2012 when he appeared in the Voice of Ireland and Celebrity Bainisteoir, and who has directed panto at the Gaiety and his native Waterford, is to run a summer panto camp in the UCH this July, together with wife Erica.
Fittingly, he met his future wife through the Dublin pantos.
“There is only a handful of people that have hit the 1,000 mark in the Gaiety - and I was one of them, which was an honour. It was a job at the end of the day but panto is my thing - I am known as a panto head. I met my wife in panto,” he explains.
The camps will cater for children and young teens - aged 7-16 - and are described as the “perfect platform” for budding stars who love to sing, dance and act. But they will also help to build confidence, adds Richie.
“It is not about having a big personality,” he says, “there is a difference between cockiness and confidence.
“The camp is a real confidence builder and the kids are in safe environment. We create an environment that they need not be embarrassed if they are a little bit introverted or if they are a little bit colourful. They enjoy themselves and go home with a smile on their face because they have been doing something they enjoy all day.
“Erica and I are two big kids ourselves, we jump into the middle of them all anyway! We have the fun with them,” he adds.