STICK ON a bra and it changes a man, says a man who should know.

“People think playing the dame in panto is just a bit of a laugh, but they couldn’t be more wrong,” explains Dean Park, star of countless festive favourites across Scotland over the decades.

“I’m deadly serious. Once you’ve fallen down the stairs in heels a couple of times, once you’ve tried to deliver your lines in those get-ups, you come to understand that.”

He smiles: “Panto is a tightly-controlled, skilled performance. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to experience it all.”

December in Glasgow is usually a joyous time, awash with giant beanstalks, magic carpets and evil fairies.

This year, as theatres remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city is a very different place.

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“It is very sad,” says Dean. “Throughout my whole lifetime, and before, this city has always had panto at Christmas. It just won’t be the same.”

Dean, who lives in Simshill with his partner, singer Karen Logan, can still remember the thrill of appearing in his first ever panto.

“It was the Gaiety in Ayr, 1977,” he recalls. “I was Principal Boy in Mother Goose, and the late, great Johnny Beattie was the dame. It was actually Johnny’s daughter Maureen who first suggested I should do panto. I’d been singing for a while, doing the nightclubs, Opportunity Knocks on TV.

“She came to see me at the Golden Garter, where I was doing cabaret five nights a week. After the show she said to me, ‘why aren’t you doing panto?’

He smiles: “I said – no-one has ever asked me. The next thing I knew, Gaiety boss Bernard Cotton was on the phone, asking me if I’d do it, so I though, ach, why not?”

His performance was a hit, and for the next 34 years, Dean appeared in countless pantomimes across the country. Playing the dame was not on his radar, he says.

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“In 1985, I was up for a part in Aladdin at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness with Tom O’Connor, but when I got there and heard Tom was Wishee Washee, I thought that was it,” he says. “They said – no, we want you for the dame. I was amazed. But I did it, and I loved it.”

Dean stepped into the high heels of acting legends before him, such as Beattie and Jimmy Logan, with ease.

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“By this time, my career as a singer and performer had really taken off, so I was in the fortunate position to have met some of these stars, and of course, I asked them for advice,” he says. “Stanley Baxter gave me a great tip – he told me, always remember you are a man in a frock and the audience know that and love you for it. I learned so much from all of them.”

He has performed in theatres all over Scotland, but the Pavilion in Glasgow has always held a special place in Dean’s heart.

“It’s a special place, a great theatre for panto,” he nods. “The audience are practically on top of you and they love to join in.

“The Glasgow punters are amazing. They always stop me to ask if I’m doing the panto and that’s lovely, to think you’ve had some kind of impact on people.”

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Dean grew up on the south side of Glasgow, the son of two singers who instilled in him a love of music and performing. In 1962 he was Boy Soprano Of The Year and by the end of that decade he was performing in a group in dance halls across Scotland. In 1974 he went solo and a year later turned professional, before switching to stand up. He was a Radio Clyde DJ for 23 years.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“Basically, they had to remove the tumour and build me a new cheek,” he says. “Afterwards, I went back to work too quickly, I know that now. So I had to take some more time off to recover properly.

“That’s when I stopped doing panto.”

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He grins: “But I’m not saying I’d never do it again… I want to work. I was planning a Christmas show tour until Covid happened, and now I’m hopeful, all going well, we can do it next year instead.

“And who knows? It’s a matter of pacing yourself, isn’t it? I might be back in panto one of these days…”