THE golden rule for actors is never work with children or animals.

But a former Bridgewater High School student has enjoyed putting smiles on youngsters’ faces so much that he has put his career on the stage and screen to one side to run Warrington-based Magic 4 Children.

Craig Whittaker, who has appeared in the likes of Vikings, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Coronation Street and The Last Kingdom, has become the new owner of the kids’ entertainment business.

The 32-year-old is a familiar face at Magic 4 Children as he has performed there for four years as ‘Freddie Fantastic’.

But he has now swapped the small screen for small business ownership, taking over from Ken and Colette Kelly, who had run the company for around 25 years.

Craig said: “I’ve had to hit the ground running but it’s been brilliant really.

“It’s been a lovely opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and try something completely different.Warrington Guardian:

“I’m very used to performing and being in front of an audience but all the day-to-day running the business stuff is what I’m now having to get to grips with.”

Craig, whose stage school journey took him from CODYS to Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), met Ken by chance at Costa Coffee in Stockton Heath.

It was one of a number of part time jobs Craig had in between acting roles but being offered an opportunity at Magic 4 Children stopped him in his tracks.

Craig, who has also worked as a wedding singer and guitar teacher, added: “The more they told me about what they did, what they offered and what their aim was the more appealing it sounded.

“It got to the point where I was turning down auditions because I was booked for parties and I wanted to do that more.”

Fast-forward four years and now Craig is a bit of a Warrington celeb...well at least among those in primary school.

The former St Thomas CE Primary School pupil said: “It’s quite funny because there are times when I’m in Warrington and a child will recognise me.

“I was in Lidl once and I was talking to an old teacher of mine and this child literally sidestepped into our conversation.

“I knew from the way he was looking at me that he’d seen me from a party so I slipped into that character.

“The only problem with that situation was that when the mum walked around the corner and saw her son talking to this 6ft 3in bearded, tattooed bloke in his gym gear. I had to do some explaining because she didn’t see me at the party but it all clicked when I said I was Freddie Fantastic.”

Craig also gets to run the business with his fiancée Claire who plays the role of ‘Doodle’.

She left her job at easyJet to join Craig, drawing on her experiences studying performing arts at uni.

Craig said: “This is her first time working with children and, in the same way I did, she has absolutely fallen in love with it.

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“There is something quite special that Magic4Children used to be run by a couple and it will be the same for us as well.”

Craig hopes to return to acting in the future but is currently devoting his time to being hands on at the business.

“Being in Vikings was probably my proudest moment,” he added.

“It was six weeks filming in Ireland.

“It was high budget with all the luxuries you would expect with that as well.

“I got to do some pretty cool things like learn how to row a longboat and do some axe training and shield training.”

Craig was also a prison officer in Corrie back in 2011 when Fiz was behind bars.

He said: “Because of my size and look I either get cast as the extreme bad guys or the extreme good guys.

“So I’d be your police officers and your soldiers or your abusive boyfriends or nasty prison officers – which was the case for Coronation Street.”

Then his biggest stage role was as orc chief Azog in a six-month tour of The Hobbit.

He added: “What I really look back on fondly is when I performed at the Palace Theatre and the Royal Exchange and all those theatres I remember visiting on school trips when I was a lad. That was special for me.”

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Craig’s best friend is a fellow actor – Warrington’s David Hunter who is best known for TV series Superstar and starring in Kinky Boots in the West End.

And he reckons Warrington deserves more credit for its performing arts community.

He said: “I do believe more needs to be done to support the arts in Warrington but that is true of most places.

“One thing that gets overlooked is that there are a lot of talented people in the town.

“Everything I’ve learnt to get me to where I am now began by me growing up in Warrington.

“So when I was seven I began to go to the Parr Hall to a summer group called Stagestruck.

“I was also part of CODYS which is an incredible amateur dramatic group for young people.

“They’re still going now and they’re actually trying to raise money so they can buy their own building and theatre in Warrington which I think would be amazing.”