ANDY Gray recalls his arrival home from hospital earlier this year to discover his sister had stuck a Post-It note on his front door.

“It read, ‘Welcome home, Mandy!’” he laughs very loudly, indicating the actor had been at one with the sentiment. Which he had, it transpires.

But it makes me wonder, Andy. Could neighbours have spotted this and assumed the actor to be in the post-operative stages of gender realignment?

After all, he has played a few camp roles. And he’s been a woman on stage more times than Cinderella has lost slippers.

He grins again: “No, I think the neighbours had a idea what was actually going on. But the ‘Mandy Gray’ label was entirely appropriate and you’re right to hint at gender realignment because in a way I had become a woman.” How so?

“You see, my own DNA was gone as I had been given my sister Michelle’s stem cells. For a couple of months I was my sister.”

A light bulb appears in his head. “And isn’t that a good plot for a comedy play?”

It certainly is, and there is little doubt Gray could carry it off. The actor has been making us a laugh fit to burst since he exploded onto the theatre scene with Perth Rep back in the early 1980s, his Borderline Theatre work a delight to behold.

And who can forget his contribution to BBC Scotland sitcom City Lights, or indeed his more recent work playing a grown-up artful dodger in River City.

The temporary sex change, of course, needs explanation. Last summer Gray had begun his run at the Edinburgh Fringe, starring alongside best pal Grant Stott in a new comedy, Junkies, when the final curtain almost came down for good.

After just one performance, Gray realised he was ill. Very ill. “During the Fringe I felt so bad I couldn’t climb stairs and I assumed it was heat stroke. Then when I went home after just one after-show glass of Prosecco I knew there was a serious problem.”

He adds: “That all came on top of problems while working on River City. I have quite a strong work ethic but I was having a sleep in between scenes, then when I got home I was exhausted.”

Gray’s career had been defined by his madcap energy, on stage and in real life, which is reflected in his speech; he’s too busy rushing through life to deal with diction. But that fateful Wednesday, a doctor revealed the worst fears.

“He told me I had MDS [Myelodysplastic syndromes, a group of disorders in which a person’s bone marrow does not produce enough functioning blood cells].

“It’s a form of leukaemia. And as he told me this I found myself listening to the detail of it all and what would happen – or not – and I heard myself saying ‘Yup, yup.’

“After the diagnosis was complete he said to me, ‘I think you’re being very stoic.’ But he didn’t know the reality of what was going on in my head. Or what I would be like when I went outside. And sure enough that was a different story.”

Outside the consulting room the tears flowed. Andy Gray was aghast. He could imagine the BBC obituary compilers pulling together a tribute, containing clips from the likes of Naked Video, Two Thousand Acres of Sky and Rab C Nesbitt.

Andy Gray didn’t do thoughts of mortality. His birth certificate may have said 59 years old but his head told him he was 28.

“I had to then go away and phone my daughter Clare who had just had a baby girl. She said, ‘Well, Dad, now it’s my turn to take care of you,’ and that cracked me up.

“I then called my sisters and partner, who were so supportive and then on the Saturday Grant called me and he began to cry. And he couldn’t stop. I was the one who was talking him down. Then I had to cancel my Fringe show and panto and call River City and tell them I wouldn’t be coming back. It wasn’t easy.”

Meanwhile, doctors were encouraging, prescribing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Yet Gray was (as you would expect) terrified. He says it made him think about when his late mother got cancer and had chemotherapy.

The doctors also told him about the risk that comes with the transplant. “At one point I wondered if I should just stick with the chemo. And I asked what would happen if I didn’t have the transplant; what would be the prognosis?

But when they told me I had about two years to live at that point it became a no-brainer.”

He adds: “I also came to realise my mother’s chemo situation had come about ten years ago when these transplants were not really available to people over 50.”

He sighs: “I was so lucky as well in that my sister was a 100 per cent match.”

Andy Gray is feeling great now. He’s keen to talk to an audience about his incredible life and times. He will go back into River City, but only to sign-off his character. Gray is also heading back to panto this year, starring alongside Grant Stott and Allan Stewart in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And despite having much of his sister’s DNA, Gray won’t be starring as Goldilocks.a

He is also working on a new stage play, Chemo Savvy.

“But I want to focus more on what I do,” he says. “I’m going to be a bit more choosy because I’ve certainly realised life is all too short. And I want to spend more time with family and friends and my partner, Tamara.

“One of the things I’m doing in January is taking my daughter and granddaughter to Disneyland in Florida.”

And the change in Gray’s anatomy has been a small price to pay? “I’ve been very happy to be a Mandy,” he says, laughing. “She’s kept me alive.”

An Evening With Andy Gray at the Penny Cars Stadium, Airdrie on November 8 at 7pm.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, November 30 to January 19.