Waiter from Benidorm finding his feet in panto

Damian Williams and Jake Canuso in Mother Goose at the Lyceum, Sheffield
Damian Williams and Jake Canuso in Mother Goose at the Lyceum, Sheffield

As a Swiss Italian who plays a Spaniard on TV, Jake Canuso is getting to know a peculiarly English institution as he takes part in his third pantomime, playing Demon Vanity in Mother Goose at Sheffield’s Lyceum this Christmas.

The dancer-turned-actor who plays the philandering bartender Mateo in ITV’s Benidorm, observes: “We didn’t have pantomime in Switzerland, it’s not a part of Swiss culture. For children, we really only had puppet theatres that would come to town every year.

“I was only really introduced to pantomime in the UK when I got my first job on the last Les Dawson Show – he was a truly legendary British Panto Dame.”

He now finds himself alongside another formidable presence in the shape of Damian Williams who celebrates his 10-year anniversary of pantomime in Sheffield this year

“We both have a naughty streak in us and have been doing everything possible to make one another laugh on stage. It’s a great celebration for him, and such an achievement so it’s my absolute honour to be able to perform alongside him - a Sheffield panto legend!”

Born in Switzerland to Italian immigrants, he began his stage career at 16 as the youngest member of a contemporary dance company in Zurich.

‘I’m still surprised people think I’m Spanish after all these years’

After coming to the UK via Paris and New York he fell into the world of commercial dance, as a choreographer and dancer on TV (Top of the Pops, the Les Dawson show), along with pop videos and touring with the likes of Take That and Prince.

“I had been touring with the Spice Girls for a year and was offered another tour with Kylie Minogue but I turned it down,” he recalls. “I had always wanted to act, my English was good enough, and I decided then was the time to go for it.”

There were the odd spots on Hustle, Heartbeat and Casualty before Benidorm came along in 2007. None of this might ever have happened. He was caught up in the tsunami in Thailand in 2004 and nearly drowned. He didn’t go back into the water for two years and took part in TV diving reality show Splash! to exorcise the demons.

For the past 10 years Benidorm has taken up five months of his year

Jake Canuso as Demon Vanity in Mother Goose at the Lyceum, Sheffield

Jake Canuso as Demon Vanity in Mother Goose at the Lyceum, Sheffield

“Mateo is so much fun to play, he is so stupid,” he laughs. Do people recognise him all the time? “Yes, certain women want to grab my bum, the drunker they are, the worse they are.

“Mateo is very popular with a wide age range, but definitely more so with the mums. I often get young fans asking me for pictures or autographs for their mum.”

One of the things about Mateo is his faltering English and people tend to be surprised that Canuso doesn’t sound like that. Indeed not only is he fluent in English but four other languages.

“I’m still surprised that people think I’m Spanish after all these years, having been on various chat shows and programmes without the accent,” he says. “I guess I take it as a great compliment that they believe I’m truly Spanish – it means I must be doing a decent job.”

The 10th series of Benidorm goes out on ITV in January and an announcement on whether an 11th season will be commissioned is expected then. A national tour of Benidorm Live! Is due to start in September.

After sunny Spain, snowy Sheffield must have come as a shock. “I think the sunshine always beats the snow. Saying that, I adore the snow. I was brought up in Switzerland and I’m used to lots of it, and am prepared for when it does come.”

Mother Goose runs at the Lyceum until January 7