If you have spent any amount of time with a child under the age of eight, chances are you have heard of – or watched – Mister Maker.
Screened in more than 100 countries and dubbed in several languages, Mister Maker’s crafty approach to children’s entertainment transcends culture and age.
Phil Gallagher is Mister Maker, the larger-than-life presenter who encourages children to use their imaginations in fun and creative ways. It is 2am on a crisp London night when Weekender catches up with him. The first words out of his mouth are an apology for “sounding nothing like Mister Maker at the moment”.
Gallagher has a reputation for being a nice guy and deserves every compliment. He is friendly, polite, chatty and overwhelmingly humble. There are no airs and graces here, let alone ego.
“I’m in the middle of a pantomime in the UK but we’ve done so many shows. This weekend we’ve done five already. And I had quite a long journey home. It’s the first time I’ve been home in about two months,” he explains.
“With all the singing and dancing I’m doing I’m a little bit croaky but I’ve had about 12 cups of tea so I should be fine. I really wanted to come back home and spend some time with my mum and dad.”
Gallagher is close to his parents, and mentions them frequently.
His father has been in hospital (“for a little procedure that went well”) and his mother is prone to scolding him for being far too busy.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, and I’m nearly 40, but my mum still gets annoyed with me and tells me that I’m working too hard and not getting enough sleep,” he says.
“I don’t have much time to myself, that’s true, but I’m really lucky because I love my job so much. I feel so lucky and privileged to be doing it that I would work 24 hours a day if I could [laughs].”
It has been 10 years since Gallagher applied for the Mister Maker role.
“I was in a pantomime at the time and I remember sending off the application and keeping my fingers crossed all through Christmas, and then I heard in early January 2007 that I’d got the first audition,” he says.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams what has happened since, really.”
Gallagher is a showman from way back. As a child he was crafty and loved making things and drawing pictures, as well as “putting on a show” for his parents in the lounge room.
“I used to push the sofa forward and get all my cuddly toys and puppeteer them from behind the sofa,” he explains.
“I’d put on this annual Christmas show and my poor mum and dad, and all the family, would have to watch. And believe me, the show used to go on for quite a while. It had all these little sketches that I’d write, and then there’d be a song and dance bit and my cousin used to be the DJ, playing records.
“My mum was joking with me the other day about it, saying that was 30 or so years ago and nothing much had changed.”
Gallagher is a huge hit with adults because he can command children’s attention and educate them in an entertaining way without them being any the wiser.
Although it can get messy.
“I’ve had lots of parents or grandparents coming up to me, whether it’s at the stage door or writing an email, saying they all watch the show together and the kids are wonderfully quiet but why so much glitter and glue?,” he says with a laugh.
“So I do apologise if glitter has found its way into your living room and the rest of the house.”
Gallagher is firm friends with Jimmy Rees, better known in Australia as Jimmy Giggle and the host of ABC TV’s popular children’s show, Giggle and Hoot.
“He’s a top man. One year on tour we managed to get him up on stage with us,” Gallagher says.
“A close friend of mine who I worked with in London, Natalia, was actually the co-creator of Giggle and Hoot. They searched for quite a while for the Jimmy character. One day Natalia rang me and said ‘This guy has come into the audition room and blown us all away. It’s funny, he reminds me so much of you, Phil’.
“I’m pretty chuffed with that.”
Mister Maker is returning to Australia following a sold-out 2016 tour and, for the first time, will visit regional areas. You can catch the show at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on Friday, January 20.
It will be packed full of arty adventures and there will be a big “make” to take part in, songs to join in with, a fabulous supporting cast and, last but not least, The Shapes. Mister Maker's colourful all-dancing friends Circle, Square, Rectangle and Triangle will be there too. Tickets are on sale through Ticketek or at the venue’s box office.