When Rufus Hound asked his agent to get him back on TV, he had one condition: “I’ll take ANYTHING but Dancing on Ice ”.
But fast forward a few months and the comedian is gliding across the rink in front of millions.
He is earning high praise from the judges and even got the first golden ticket of the series, sending him straight through to skate another day.
But in a huge blow, his place in the show is now in doubt after he was forced to pull out of today’s line-up and self-isolate for 10 days following contact with someone who has Covid-19.
As his run hangs in the balance, why did he have his change of heart about taking part in the contest anyway?
“I’ve got to feed my kids,” the father of two confesses.
“I’m a freelancer and that pressure is jarring. I would never have chosen to be on this show. When it was just me, I didn’t care at all.
“I’ve slept on night buses, in shop doorways, on the floor of people I’ve met 20 minutes beforehand. I’ve never really cared.
“Then you have kids and that pressure and responsibility makes you do it. You look at your empty diary and wonder what you’re going to do.”
That pressure has been felt more acutely than ever since the lockdown put the arts sector on ice, meaning Rufus’ planned tour could not go ahead.
So when Dancing on Ice came calling, he had no choice.
Rufus, 41, explains: “My agent will tell you the conversation. It was me going, ‘Please find me anything other than Dancing on Ice.
“But if nothing else comes up, I suppose I’ll be contractually obliged to get off my backside and do something that will help me’.”
With stars appearing in this series earning between £20,000 and £100,000, it is thought Rufus is being paid around £50,000.
Rufus was due to perform as part of the group number today – and in his individual skate next Sunday, which is also off now.
Sources say he has tested negative for coronavirus and is isolating at home, while pro partner Robin Johnston has also been advised to stay away.
It is yet another setback for Rufus.
His tough year as he lost income became tougher still when his 12-year marriage to wife Beth – with whom he has son Alby, 13, and daughter Hilda, nine – broke down.
Rufus says: “Everything I know about myself is how to earn a living. Stand in a room full of people, tell some jokes, play a part.
“As much as I don’t understand what’s going on in the world, at least that existed. Then, last March, that didn’t exist anymore.
“But it was OK as I was married. Then, no, that was no more. It hadn’t been great for a while and we had to address that. Over the past year, the world just stopped making any sense.”
The stress Rufus has been under came out on last Sunday’s show, when he made an impassioned speech about the Government’s recent failure to provide free school meals to the poorest – and later admitted he’d been “emotionally unstable for the past year”.
While many praised his outspokenness, almost 400 people complained to Ofcom. But Rufus has no regrets.
He says: “When our Government whips its members, largely constituted of the most privileged people in the country, to vote against feeding hungry children, what is going on?
“The backlash I’ve had on Twitter is largely people saying, ‘Well, my mum and dad never had a penny but we never went hungry’. Well, great for you.
“The idea we’re going to punish these children – they have no part to play in their hunger. It doesn’t feel to me that saying that in any forum should be controversial.”
Rufus is through to the second round after impressing judges Ashley Banjo, 28, John Barrowman, 53, and skating legends Jayne Torvill, 63, and Christopher Dean, 62, with his Mario Brothers-themed performance.
He is up against stars including Jason Donovan, 52, Myleene Klass, 42, Denise van Outen, 46, and Rebekah Vardy, 38.
And Dancing on Ice is not Rufus’s first reality show – he won the Strictly Christmas special in 2013.
He has also been a regular panellist for Celebrity Juice and appeared on shows including Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
And he made a name for himself in stage musicals like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Boy in the Dress and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
So is self-confessed grump Rufus now glad he said yes to Dancing on Ice?
“As a person, I’m sad and angry all the time.
“I’m less sad and less angry for being on this show. The kindness Robin has shown me teaching a grumpy, hairy, middle-aged fat man how to ice skate.
“And now the judges saying it’s not a complete abomination has definitely had an effect that makes me feel a thousand times better than I did 10 months ago. It knocked me for six (getting the golden ticket).
“It’s a semi-popularity contest. On that show, I was the least known. I’ve got probably the smallest fan base and I’m not the best skater. I thought, ‘It’s fine, I’m just going to be in the skate off’.
“Robin and I had practised it. All day Sunday, I felt wretched. I was showing millions something I’m not very good at and thought I was going to fail my way through. The fact that I got the golden ticket means I’ve got to drop that now.”
Rufus says the pressure is now well and truly on – and promises to bring the entertainment factor to his performances.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. I’ve got to up my game,” he says.
“It started with frustration and internal self-loathing. Robin has gone from, ‘Bless this poor guy’ to ‘We’re done with the bulls*** phase’.
“I promise to push the most ridiculous things possible on the ice.”
But it is not yet known if he will be back after his self-isolation.
ITV said: “This week, Rufus came into contact with someone outside of the show who tested positive for Covid-19.
“This means, following guidelines, he will isolate for 10 days.
“We are hoping to welcome him back to the ice soon.”
- Dancing on Ice is on Sunday at 6pm on ITV