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Brought up in Sheerness, Kent, he began at 12 as a boy soprano, left school three years later and embarked on a career in film, stage and TV alongside such stars as Gene Kelly, Barbra Streisand, Buster Keaton, John Lennon and Steve Mc Queen.He was christened Michael Patrick Dumbell-Smith, and only discovered years later that the Battle of Britain pilot Arthur Dumbell-Smith – known as Smudge – who he believed to be his dad, was not in fact his father.But he ended up suffering two crippling falls and eventually had to have a hip joint replaced.Then came The Woman In White (also a Lloyd Webber musical) – and disaster.'Four months into the run, I began to feel really unwell.It got so bad I had to pull out of the show, but no one seemed to know what was wrong.'By the time I got to Sicily and spent two weeks with the grandchildren, I was so fired up with the fun I was having with them that it actually persuaded me I wanted to do it,’ he says. They had seen me as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, but they’d never seen me perform on stage, so I really did it for them.‘They came to watch one of the previews and they were speechless, because they’d only ever known a sort of serious Poppa, which is what they call me.
He had arranged to rent a villa in Sicily and invite his extended family – his two daughters, Emma and Lucy, his five grandchildren, and his ex-wife Gabrielle, with whom he has remained friendly since their divorce in 1975, and her two sons from a previous relationship.I just seemed to get better when I’d taken my mind off things.’ His association with Lloyd Webber had begun when he took on the title role in The Phantom Of The Opera in 1986.Crawford then had a five-year run in Las Vegas in the multi-million-pound solo spectacle EFX, another outstanding success that earned him a fortune.‘What I thought had been flu turned into a physical meltdown.I went for all sorts of brain and body scans until ME was finally diagnosed.
'I was told by the doctors that it was all down to the Count Fosco suit.