Katherine MacAlister talks to Jake Wood about his stint on stage in Oxford next week with his son Buster

With so much going on, how Jake Wood is going to fit in a week long musical in Oxford is hard to fathom.

Yes, he’s on a three month break from playing notorious hard man Max Branning in EastEnders, but he’s more than filled it with his enormously successful boxing podcast, an appearance in Strictly’s Christmas Special and now this, a week-long turn in West End success Nativity! The Musical.

As if that wasn’t enough, his 10 year-old son Buster is starring alongside the soap star, making his stage debut, something his father is hugely looking forward to.

“I know! I’m going to be together with my son on stage for the first time, talk about making memories,” Jake says.

“But I’m not worried about him. He’s been acting for a while now and is very confident on stage.

Jake Wood will be playing the role of Hollywood Producer when Nativity! The Musical comes to the New Theatre from Tuesday.

It also features local children chosen from open auditions, to star in the stage version of the enormously successful film. Join teacher Mr Maddens and his crazy assistant Mr Poppy at St Bernadette’s School as they struggle to stage a musical version of the nativity, with sing-a-long favourites including Sparkle and Shine, Nazareth and One Night One Moment.

So how did it come about? “Well I took a few months off from EastEnders to get my boxing podcast Pound For Pound off the ground.

“I’ve been talking about it for a while now and it’s doing really well. We’ve had a million views and are often the number one podcast of the week.

“We get guests in, and have had Tyson Fury on several times,” Jake says, before adding quietly, “he should have won hands down at the weekend, but he’s still unbeaten.”

So is this a new hobby? “No, I’ve loved boxing since I was a child, and am a massive fan. It’s a real passion of mine. So while I haven’t seen a fight in Vegas yet, I see as many as possible here in the UK.”

Quite a change then from boxing fanatic to musical star?

“Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been on stage and it seemed like such a great opportunity to do something a bit different.

“So when Nativity came up, it was perfect timing really.”

And after Jake’s stint on Strictly four years ago, will Jake get the chance to do a bit of dancing again?

“Maybe, I think there’s the opportunity for a bit of singing too. Some of the other people who’ve performed my part over the years (aka fellow EastEnder Danny Dyer and X Factor’s Louis Walsh) have spoken the words to the song rather than sung it, but I think I’ll have a go and sing it.

Can Jake sing? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s my forte,” he laughs, “but then I didn’t think I could dance either and look what happened?”

Good point. After all, he reached the Strictly semi final with partner Janette Manrara.

So is the Saturday night dance show everything it’s made out to be? “Strictly is really hard work and mentally and physically exhausting.

“The further you get, the more the pressure mounts. And as I’d never danced before, I really took myself by surprise.

“It was an incredible thing to go through though and a real privilege. But I was always going to go back to EastEnders afterwards.

“It was so much fun and I love a challenge so I’m really pleased to be going back for the Christmas Special.

And then he shrugs, “Yes I know. I am spoilt. I know that. And I am very appreciative.”

We speak in between rehearsals for Nativity! The Musical and a race to get to ITV to appear on Loose Women in time, so Jake is as in demand as ever.

But all of next week, he’ll be Oxford’s. So is he nervous? “No, I did panto nine years ago, as well as Strictly, so I’m used to being in front of an audience. I’m really looking forward to it actually.

“I spent a lot of time in theatre when I was younger, at The National, so it will be nice to get back up on stage.”

You must know you’re important though when the script writers of the country’s most famous soap, write the plot around him: “Well I’ve been there for 12 years now so it’s nice to have a break and spend some time with my beautiful kids and family.

“But I’m very happy on EastEnders. I’ve had some massive story-lines and I am very lucky that they facilitate me. It really is the job of a lifetime. It’s just such a great show.”

Nativity! The Musical runs at the New Theatre, December 11-15. 0844 871 3020 or atgtickets.com/oxford