“The missus has something planned for my birthday,” says the Stafford-born actor. “I’ve just been too busy. It’s a bit secret but I don’t feel like I’m turning 50. I still feel I’m 21... I just can’t run as fast.”
Luckily, he didn’t have to do any running filming new BBC2 thriller Line Of Duty in Birmingham last year. “My character had a limp,” he grins. “I was the only one who didn’t have to run anywhere.”
There’s also talk of a new sitcom on the cards and Neil, whose career includes Rocky in Boon, the voice of Bob The Builder and Waterloo Road, says he has one piece of advice for Brian Conley when he takes over as Fagin – get fit.
“I was huffing and puffing the first few shows and you need to drink plenty of water. You’ve got to be in top shape to be Fagin.”
* Oliver! opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday and runs until April 21. Box office 0844 338 5000.
1. Glue back hair and pull back everything from the face with eight or nine hairgrips and then cover. “Every single day is geared to getting the job done,” says Neil.
2. Put on Fagin wig and paint out forehead so the hairline blends in. “I just sit here and watch,” grins Neil. “I slowly get the thieves’ pale pallor and the wrinkles are painted on. The wig is made of real hair.”
3. Apply black waterproof mascara to eyebrows and glue on the three pieces that make up the moustache and beard. Neil says: “It goes rock hard on the eyebrows. I’ve never worn so much make-up in my life before for a part, but Fagin is such a specific look. I take down the razor a peg as well and the bristles act like Velcro for the beard.”
4. Fix on microphone. “I takes a bit of getting used to and goes down the back. It can get very, very itchy – but you can’t scratch it. Luckily, I don’t think about it once I’m on stage. I have TF – Team Fagin – pit-stops during the show for water, glue and spirit gum to make sure everything is in place.”
5. The costume is the final part of the transformation. “The coat is very heavy and I sweat buckets. I also have blue braces and red braces. I love them even though no-one ever sees them.”