In his teenage years, general knowledge wiz, CJ de Mooi’s life was very different from the one he lives now.
Back then, the star of BBC’s Eggheads quiz show was homeless and living rough on the streets of Amsterdam.
In a fairytale-style rags-to-riches tale, he was discovered by a model agency scout, who turned his life around.
CJ’s story is so dramatic that I tentatively suggested to him a film should be made. “I’m auditioning actors to play me,” CJ joked as we chatted at The Deco theatre in Northampton, where he is currently starring as the villain Fleshcreep in the panto, Jack And The Beanstalk.
He recalled: “It was very hard. I spent my last three teenage years sleeping on the streets, mainly in London and Amsterdam. I then jumped on a train from Amsterdam to Cologne, I didn’t buy a ticket as I couldn’t afford it. The second night I was in Cologne, a guy came up to me and said ‘have you ever thought about modelling?’ My reaction was ‘what are you on about?’ But it turned out to be perfectly genuine. I went along to his office two days later and he offered me a job and I stayed with them for four and a half years and that is the way I got off the street. But that is such an incredibly lucky and unusual story. So I now devote myself to campaigning to help the homeless.”
His pathway into appearing on the quiz show, Eggheads, was again just a case of being in the right place at the right time.
He said: “I had done a few quiz shows as a contestant and got noticed. One TV executive put it in terms of ‘my forthrightness of opinion’. What he meant was ‘my big gob.’ Because of that I got noticed and just as I did my last show, they all started inviting me on. It was like ‘we want this guy on screen as he is a decent personality’. I got a call from someone saying ‘we would like you to do this show, are you interested?’
“After nine years, in terms of episodes, it was the third longest-running quiz show of all time and it has now been announced that I will be returning to Eggheads as they have asked me back. I have had two years off, but they have asked me back so I’m going to go back.
“Acting will always remain my first love, but before the problem was that because of filming schedules, I couldn’t do my other work. As long as we can balance the two, I think it will work out quite nicely.”
In the last few years, CJ has been building up an impressive acting CV. He said: “You give up a high-profile job to go into a fairly nebulous world with high unemployment rates. But fortunately I have a decent CV now. I have done musicals, a couple of West End plays, so I’m actually doing really well. Panto is one of those things that so many actors denigrate, whether they look down on it because they simply can’t... If you think about it you have everything, you have singing, acting, dancing, audience interaction and ad libbing.”
Although he may appear a serious character on Eggheads, he relishes the challenge of appearing in a fun-filled panto.
He said: “The first time I did panto, my agent was absolutely amazed I wanted to do it, but doing live theatre has always been my dream. For me, panto is the hardest pursuit you can do when you are doing live theatre.”
Jack And The Beanstalk will run until Friday, December 27. See www. thedeco.co.uk