River City actor and Edinburgh panto star Andy Gray has returned to the stage to declare he has been given the all-clear after the “sledgehammer” blow of being diagnosed with leukaemia a year ago.
The former City Lights and Naked Video star broke down in tears at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as he recalled pulling out of the event after just one performance of a new play with regular stage partner Grant Stott.
More than 350 fans packed out the BBC’s pop-up venue at George Heriot’s School to see an interview with Stott to be broadcast in December.
Perth-born Gray, 59, said he had approached having cancer as if he was taking on a new role after stopping work and “concentrating on getting better”. He revealed how he has had a bone marrow transplant from his sister Michelle after being“really lucky” when tests discovered she was a 100 per cent match.
He said: “I’m in the early stages after the transplant. What they’ve just said to me is that I don’t have leukaemia anymore and I have a healthy bone marrow. I’m very pleased. I’m getting there. I’ve got to polish off a few thing and get back to strength.”
The entire run of Fringe play Junkies, which he was starring in with Stott, was cancelled and he pulled out of future episodes of River City on the same day. In October it emerged he would not be appearing in the King’s Theatre panto.
Gray recalled being worried about this health when he had difficulty climbing the stairs to the rehearsal room.
He said: “I actually thought I had heatstroke because it was such a good summer. My doctor wanted me to get a blood test and I actually asked if I could wait a couple of weeks as I was in rehearsals. I got it done and the doctor called on the Monday before the show to say I needed to get more done because I had abnormal blood. I actually thought that was quite good!
“We did one show and it went quite well. But I knew something was up because when we went to the bar afterwards and after one glass of prosecco I said I was heading off. The next day I was diagnosed with leukaemia. The doctor said to me: ‘You’re being very stoic.’ I said: ‘Wait till I get outside.’ True enough, when I got outside, I burst into tears. I knew there was something wrong with me. When you are told it is a bit of relief, but it hits you like a sledgehammer.”
Stott, who admitted he had a “horrible feeling” about Gray’s health last summer, said: “Once the dust settled and you knew the journey that was ahead of you, I remember you saying: ‘The only way I can get my head around this is to treat it like a job.’”
Gray said: “It became a role. The only difference was I was experiencing a first night, a rehearsal and getting a script on the one day. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next. I know people who have had cancer and others who have been affected by it but, until it affects you, you really don’t know how you’re going to react. I felt bad about turning down work and letting people down, but slowly but surely the need to get better became more important than anything. Everybody was so understanding.
“I was really overwhelmed at all the support I had. The whole journey has been really emotional. There have been a lot of ups and downs. I’ve laughed a lot, but I’ve also cried a lot. Often the crying has been because people have been so lovely, including how well I’ve been looked after by the NHS.”