Nigel Harman: From EastEnders bad boy to Olivier-winning thespian to Strictly Come Dancing contestant

Strictly Come Dancing is back, with a new roster of celebs in the spotlight.

Among the names lined up for the 2023 series is Nigel Harman, the Olivier award-winning actor best known for his role in the BBC soap EastEnders.

Born in Surrey in 1973, Harman acquired an interest in performing through his parents, who were involved in amateur productions with the Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association.

He started out as a child star, featuring in the BBC One drama Tenko at the age of 11. Harman also worked extensively in theatre, and appeared in the original cast of the hit Abba musical Mamma Mia!.

As an adult, Harman, now 50, initially struggled for regular work, and was employed as a driver for Sainsbury’s supermarket when he learned he had been cast in EastEnders.

Starting in 2003, Harman began playing Dennis Rickman in the long-running soap opera, the “bad boy” son of “Dirty Den” Watts.

Dennis became a major character on EastEnders, until he was sensationally killed off during an episode on 30 December 2005.

Speaking about the memorable scene in a recent interview with Inside Soap, Harman explained: “I had a very strong instinct that I wanted to draw a line underneath the character. I think that’s why he’s resonated for so long.”

Nigel Harman at the Inside Soap Awards in 2003 (Getty Images)
Nigel Harman at the Inside Soap Awards in 2003 (Getty Images)

“I wasn’t aware [how popular Dennis was] at the time. People still come up to me 20 years later [and that’s when] I’ve noticed the impact that Dennis has had,” he continued.

After leaving EastEnders, Harman enjoyed renewed success on the stage, appearing in productions of shows including Guys and Dolls and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

In 2011, he played Lord Farquaad in the West End transfer of Shrek the Musical, taking home the award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical at the 2012 Olivier Awards.

He would sign on to direct the touring version of Shrek The Musical in 2014, and starred opposite Mark Benton in a touring production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.

Harman with wife Lucy Liemann in 2015 at the premiere of ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’, Playhouse Theatre (Getty Images)
Harman with wife Lucy Liemann in 2015 at the premiere of ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’, Playhouse Theatre (Getty Images)

Harman’s other screen credits include main roles in the TV series Plus One and Hotel Babylon.

In 2013, he played the role of Green in Downton Abbey, and starred as Bradley in six series of the Sky One comedy Mount Pleasant, between 2013 and 2017.

This year, he returned to the world of soap operas with a role in the popular medical programme Casualty. In September, he announced that he would be leaving the part – of Holby ED’s clinical lead Max Christie – in February 2024.

Harman is married to The Bourne Ultimatum actor Lucy Liemann, with whom he shares a daughter.

Speaking about his dance credentials ahead of his Strictly Come Dancing appearance, the actor told Radio Times: “I did a diploma in musical theatre when I was 16. So we used to dance. I wasn’t in the top stream. There was A, B and C and I started in C and ended up in B.”

Nigel Harman posing for ‘Strictly’ (BBC/Kieron McCarron)
Nigel Harman posing for ‘Strictly’ (BBC/Kieron McCarron)

“When I left college, I was on a cruise ship for six months as dancer, I hasten to add, not just doing the bingo,” he explained.

He continued: “We were you know, there’s levels of cruise ship. We weren’t the best one. Well we tried hard and I used to have to wash the costumes in the shower. And this is the truth, I didn’t tell anyone for five years because I was too embarrassed because I was trying to be, you know, successful and I knew it had a stigma to it, but now I’m proud of it.”

In a statement released ahead of Strictly’s premiere, Harman said: “I’m amazed, excited and terrified to be doing Strictly. As an armchair fan of the show, I have watched in awe as people have twirled and gyrated across the screen. And now it’s my turn... gulp!”

You can read about the rest of Strictly’s 2023 line-up here.

Strictly airs on Saturdays and Sundays on BBC One.