Absolutely Education interviews actor Danny Mac, as he reveals his journey into acting and why Strictly remains one of the scariest things he’s ever done

Where did you go to school and when?

Bognor Regis Community College from 1999, and at 16 I moved on to Chichester College.

What was it like?

To be honest, Bognor Regis Community College (BRCC) was pretty terrible. It was very big, the main local school, and when I joined it wasn’t doing well. When I was about to begin my GCSEs I’m pretty sure it failed its OFSTED inspection. One great thing was that it had been given a Lottery Grant and had a state-of-the-art sports arena with rock climbing wall, tennis courts and AstroTurf for football and hockey, etc.

Did you love it or hate it?

I didn’t love it or hate it – it was just school. All my friends were there and my brother had been there so I wanted to be grown-up and follow in his footsteps. I didn’t really enjoy taking lessons though – I was there for break times and to see my pals mainly – although I had a fantastic upbringing with incredible parents. Making them proud was a huge influence for me. The school has gone now, replaced mainly by housing and a new school (with a new name) has been built close by that I hear is very, very good. The sports facilities are still there too, which is great.

What was your favourite subject / activity there?

Among academic subjects it was English, without a doubt. I also loved PE, Drama, Sports and Art. I also loved RE, but that was because of the teacher.

And what was your least favourite subject?

I hated French but was forced to take it and drop Art because the school insisted on us doing a language. They made me go to the class so I used to sit at the back and stage a silent protest by never doing any work. The following year the rules changed. I doubt that had anything to do with me but I like to think it did!

Who was your favourite teacher?

It was definitely our RE teacher Mrs Woodwood. She was younger and she treated us like young adults. She commanded our respect in return for hers. She also taught social education and would do a lot of her teaching through games and scenarios, rather than from books. We would be asked to act things out, be interactive, and so the classes were fun. She could also discipline us really well. If we were misbehaving she would stop all the fun and make us sit and do paperwork!

Danny Mac

How did the teacher influence you?

Mrs Woodwood made us grow up and she treated us with respect. As a teacher she got you – understood you – but she wasn’t your mate. She never crossed the line. What most influenced me was that she opened my eyes to social etiquette and treating others how you want to be treated yourself. I think in those days people weren’t so aware of ADHD and autism and some children in the school really struggled. If they were being bad in other classes the teachers would send them in to see her because she was the only one they would listen to.

Where was your favourite place/space at school and what did you do there?

I loved being out on the field and playing football with my friends. But around the school I liked the quiet spaces – when things are quiet things move on to a special level. I wasn’t a huge reader but really liked the library. Books held a fascination and I’ve been drawn to bookshops ever since. I love wandering round them.

What beliefs do you think school instilled in you?

The key belief was you get out what you put in. I was quite academically gifted naturally and didn’t have to try too hard, but I always put the effort in with my coursework and homework. I did that to the best of my ability to get the grades as it meant the sit-down tests didn’t require such a high mark. Doing well in my GCSEs meant I could move on. I didn’t want to stay at Bognor for sixth form I really needed a change of scene and community in order to develop further.

What was your proudest school moment?

Getting my grades in my GCSEs was one. The other was being chosen as Prom King in Year 11 – not because I was ‘liked the most’, it just meant that I’d probably ‘offended the least’, and that was still quite an achievement.

What was the most trouble you got into?

I guess I was one of those annoying kids. I was old before my time and I hated being talked down to, so my attitude usually got me into trouble. I also often got told off for distracting others in class – teachers would catch me messing around and ask to see how much work I’d done, so I’d go up and show them and I would usually have finished it. Then they would separate me from my friends because they hadn’t finished theirs, which use to really anger me. Things got better later on when I went to college and drama school because then I felt I was surrounded by people who were on my level or better than me at something I really cared about. Then it really pushed me. That’s why I love being an actor – I’m always surrounded by people who I admire and feel are much more talented than me and it pushes me to grow and develop with every opportunity.

What is your most vivid memory, looking back now?

Our school was very closed off, segregated into groups that didn’t talk to each other. One day I was in year 9 and someone from another ‘group’ was coming straight towards me down an empty corridor and it was the strangest feeling. I could have carried on going but I lifted my head and said ‘Hello’ (like any normal human being). They smiled and said hello back. And it felt like a really grown up exchange and made me feel so good inside yet it was the smallest of moments. After that I started saying hello to anyone – and suddenly everyone just seemed equal to me. I feel that was the first moment I really began to grow up.

Were you ever too cool for school?

Maybe. I think I always felt too mature at school, too old to be treated like a child. I was definitely too cool at one point though. I had been a chubby kid and my older brother used to tease me. Because of that I refused to wear the school jumper ever, even after I slimmed down a bit. This meant that even in the middle of winter I’d just be wearing a slim fit shirt and jacket, no tie and no jumper!

Danny Mac

When and how did your interest in acting and singing take root?

I was one of four children and my parents quickly discovered that one way to keep me quiet was to put me in front of something like James Bond or Bugsy Malone. When I was about six I saw my first stage show, Grease, and I was hooked.

Who encouraged you?

My parents saw the love of performing in me early and although they never pushed me they were amazingly supportive, taking me to auditions and encouraging me – I was very lucky to have that. I kept it private from my school life, so none of my friends knew. If it was football trials they would have been interested, but this was acting so I wouldn’t have dared tell anyone.

Do you remember your very first performance?

I’d done school Christmas plays but my most memorable early performance was with Selsey Operatic Society, where I played Kurt von Trapp in The Sound of Music. I fell in love with everything about that show – I loved everyone and I loved it. I was probably horrendous in it! I started acting professionally around the age of 9, which meant I spent a lot of time around adults, who treated me just like an adult. My first big role was Gavroche in the Southampton production of Les Misérables UK Tour, and then a year later I took on the same role in the London production of Les Mis.

And were there any performance disasters?

Well, there was a very early school production in year 2. I can’t even remember what it was but something to do with British history and Henry VIII was involved. I was due to go on and I felt physically sick. It hit me like a train and I burst into tears and had to be carried off. It happened again the next night – exactly the same sensation. It was stage fright. Thankfully, in time I overcame that – give me a character and I’m comfortable – but I still struggle performing as myself. That is why the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my professional career was Strictly Come Dancing – because it was me being me. Even something like karaoke I find sickeningly terrifying.

When did you first think acting might become your career?

I didn’t ever deviate from the idea that it could be, but always wondered if I’d be good enough. I still do, every day! But then that’s the life of an actor. You never stop trying to be better, or wanting to. I’m in too deep now though, there’s no turning back I just have to keep swimming!

What do you feel about your school/college experience now?

My school is no more, but I’ve still got my friends from those days thankfully and they are the making of me and always keep me grounded, as do my family. Sixth form at Chichester College was an eye-opener. You had every different type of person there, all of them wanting to act, so we had a lot more in common. The experience made me much more open to life, to different people and opinions.

What’s coming up next for you?

I am in the middle of rehearsals and about to play the role of Edward Lewis (made famous by Richard Gere) in the new stage production of Pretty Woman, opening in February in the West End.

How would you sum up your school days in four words?


Further reading: Author Robin Stevens discusses her school days