If you missed Graham Cole being made an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, you were not alone.

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Mr Cole was honoured under his real name of Graham Coleman-Smith, so most people were left in the dark.

He was made an OBE for his voluntary and charitable work, and he said it was the culmination of a life spent mainly doing what he loves – acting.

He added that his charity work was also his way of putting something back into the community, and in gratitude for the relatively trouble-free upbringing of his two children.

He was just eight years old when he knew he wanted to be actor, but his father wanted him to do something more serious, so he trained in orthopaedics.

But he finally got his way and he has never looked back.

Best known for his role as the gentle giant PC Tony Stamp in ITV’s the Bill for 25 years, he’s now starring in Aladdin at Norwich Theatre Royal.

And, as he lives in Wroxham, it also means that for the first time as a panto star he was able to spend Christmas Day and New Year’s Day at home.

And he’s enjoying life within the peaceful surroundings of the world-famous Norfolk Broads.

He said: “A tawny owl flew across the road on my way home the other night, and on Christmas Day, as a family, we went to see the seals at Horsey. The sun came out and to be so close to nature was the best way to spend Christmas Day.”

Rock musician and fellow Norfolk resident, Rick Wakeman was instrumental in his coming to live in the county.

That, and the fact that his wife Cherry is from Leiston in Suffolk, so she knew the delights of East Anglian life. He also enjoyed holidays in Norfolk and on the Broads as a child.

He added: “If you already live here, you probably don’t realise how friendly the people are.

“People here ask you how you are, and then wait for the answer, whereas elsewhere they don’t wait.

“My missus is always saying she cannot believe that you have chairs in shops, which shows that they want you to stay. Roy’s of Wroxham is such a friendly place.”

Another reason he’s enjoying life so much at present is the great success of Aladdin at Norwich Theatre Royal.

He plays the baddie, Abanazar, who is Aladdin’s wicked uncle, and he said: “In 40 years I have never played to so many full houses, so it’s great not having to perform for just Mr And Mrs Wood, as we say.

“We had a couple who came all the way to see it from Leeds and then went back again. The atmosphere is amazing and you get so much back from the kids.

“I think Norwich Theatre Royal has taken over from Birmingham as a really traditional panto venue. It’s so vibrant.”

Mr Cole is an old-hand at pantos, but when he was on The Bill the actors were often told that they could only appear in the London area. He said it was hard work starring in The Bill, often shooting scenes six days a week, and sometimes being involved in extremely traumatic storylines.

He became so associated with the role that he was made a member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers last year.

He said: “I always tried to put the heart in the uniform. I did all my own stunts and even trained with the Met. I did their driving course eight times and I hold a race licence.”

Despite leaving the show in 2009, he is still recognised wherever he goes, with many people believing him to be a real policeman.

He said: “I was driving through Brixton in south London once, and we heard this loud booming music when we came to a traffic lights. There were these four guys in the car, and as soon as they saw me, they put their seat-belts on.”

Since leaving the programme, he has kept busy, and a film he made in Thetford, called The Haunting of Harry Payne, is set to be released this year.

He said: “That was filmed in Thetford Forest and I play a policeman, and I don’t mind the typecasting. It was really scary in the forest.”

Earlier in the year he also starred in a new play called Soap Opera, with Leslie Grantham, who played the infamous Dirty Den in EastEnders. He is also a big fan of Twitter and has 1,000 followers.

He has been an ambassador of Childline/NSPCC for 25 years and is a member of the showbusiness charity, The Grand Order of Water Rats.

He is also president of the National Holiday Fund, which takes sick and disabled children to Disneyland in Florida, and is involved with numerous other charities and organisations.

Aladdin runs at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, January 19. More details on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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