Joe McFadden has defended his Strictly Come Dancing rival Alexandra Burke against claims that she’s a diva.
Last month, X Factor winner Alexandra, whose mum Melissa died on the show’s launch day, posted a video claiming trolls had accused her of behaving like a diva and “playing the victim card” during the 2017 series of Strictly, which Joe eventually won.
There were accusations of feuds with other contestants and fights, but she was told to stay silent about the constant speculation.
Joe, who beat Alexandra, Gemma Atkinson and Debbie McGee and their partners in a thrilling December final to take the Glitterball trophy, was adamant the sniping was far from the truth.
He said: “I have only ever known Alexandra to be hardworking, professional and a really lovely girl.
“The unfortunate thing about social media is everyone has an opinion.
“I’ve never known her to be any of the things people were saying at the time. She always had a positive and happy soul and was a pleasure to be around.”
Joe, 44, is one of the nicest people in showbiz, where he made his first appearance, in Taggart, aged only 12.
A glass-half-full character who has worked solidly since his big break in Take The High Road as Gary McDonald in 1991, he has become a favourite in shows like The Crow Road and Heartbeat and the film Small Faces.
He also played hunky doctor Raffaello di Lucca in Holby City, but was secretly killed off before waltzing around the Strictly dancefloor.
Now, three years later, he’s making a comeback – as a ghost. In Tuesday’s episode he will appear to his still-grieving wife Essie Harrison (Kaye Wragg) as a figment of her imagination, as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that her cancer has returned and she is terminally ill.
Joe said: “It was a really nice way to say goodbye to the Holby City viewers.
“Raf’s exit was so sudden and people tell me they are still upset by it all these years later.
“I haven’t been back on Holby since I won Strictly so for me it feels like it’s closure and a thank you to Holby viewers who helped me win Strictly.
“The episode feels like a proper goodbye.”
Joe was the show’s hot-shot doctor for four years before his dramatic exit. Raf was gunned down by the son of his boss, who went on the rampage in the hospital while mentally ill.
Raf’s name is still mentioned in the show and there is a memorial to him in the hospital garden, but Joe was surprised when he got the call before lockdown to return.
He said: “It was very unexpected. I’d drawn a line under Holby and moved on.”
At the time, he was touring with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The musical was at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend, so he could perform in drag in the evenings and film Holby at Elstree during the day.
He said: “It worked out very well. It was strange and lovely going back to the Elstree wards and wearing my scrubs.”
The scenes where Raf tries to help Essie decide how she will go forward made Joe feel “like I’d never been away”.
He also got to act in a scene with his old friend and fellow Scot Dawn Steele, who currently stars as Ange Godard in Holby.
He laughed: “Well, we got to act in the same scene, but she couldn’t see me which was a bit of a shame.
“Going back reminded me of what a great job Holby was and a great production team and crew.
“But I have no regrets leaving.
“I never really look back and regret stuff. It was the right thing to do at the time and I’ve luckily gone on to do other things I’ve really enjoyed.”
This isn’t Joe’s first ghost. He was also a spook in his first post-Strictly job – the play The House on Cold Hill, and in the Ghost of Albion webseries.
“I’ve got form,” he laughed. “But Raf isn’t really a ghost, he’s a figment of Essie’s imagination.
“I don’t think it’s unrealistic. Lots of people still talk to those that have passed away and others have a feeling people are still with you.
“Personally I haven’t seen a ghost but I do think people hang around. I don’t think when you die, that’s it. But I’m pretty agnostic about the whole thing. I’m prepared to believe it happens but don’t have any firm proof.”
Joe has spent much of the past three years on stage. And like many in the industry, he is waiting and hoping theatres won’t take too long to open and find their feet as restrictions are lifted.
But he added: “People aren’t going to go until they feel it’s safe, and I totally respect people’s instincts to protect themselves.
“If people are going back to pubs and going on flights it shouldn’t be too long before they are going back to theatres. Certainly people are more restrained in theatres and won’t be putting their arms around each other like they might after a while in a pub.”
The ever-upbeat Joe has just got on with lockdown. He grew a beard, then chopped his hair off. “I’ve also watered the plants,” he laughed, “That’s about as exciting as it got.”
He’d been on the tour with Priscilla for seven months when Covid-19 stopped the world, and hopes to complete the last three, including a stint at The King’s in Glasgow.
He’s also waiting until he’s back in Scotland to visit his dad and sister. They’ve been using FaceTime to keep in touch. “In the meantime,” he says, “keeping ourselves safe is the priority.”
● Joe is back on Holby City on Tuesday, BBC One at 8pm.