8:00am Monday 5th December 2011
By Nione Meakin
Things not to do when speaking to Nigel Havers; number one, suggest he has something of a predilection for playing charmers. “It’s not true,” he retorts huffily.
“If you look at what I’ve done over the past 42 years, you’ll see quite a crosssection of paths. All my roles are different. People might think I’m playing the same part but I’m not really.”
He has, of course, played many roles over the decades – he was in Chariots Of Fire, A Passage To India, Empire Of The Sun and countless TV dramas. But somehow (and his private life probably hasn’t helped), it’s the silvertongued toffs that have stuck.
Still, he can’t be finding ladykilling too much of a bind – at Christmas he will appear in a special edition of the phenomenally successful period drama Downton Abbey as Lord Hepworth… a handsome aristocrat who attempts to woo one of the Crawley sisters. He’s filmed the part already but can’t talk about it. “I’ve been told I’ll be dead if I tell anyone what happens.”
It’s that serious?
“It’s very serious.”
Havers has known creator Julian Fellowes for years and is delighted at the success his pal is enjoying. “When Julian and I started [in acting], period drama was what you watched on telly. It was wall-to-wall. Then the people who wear suits decided the public didn’t want it, but I don’t think that was true. There are millions of people living in this country and I can’t imagine they asked them all.”
He’d like to see a wider revival.
“I think there should be a great wedge of period dramas on all the time, telling great stories. I’m fed up of watching things that are real. Personally, I blame Simon Cowell. He’s ruined theatre and the telly.”
Before that airs, he’ll be wrapping up a role in Nick Fisher’s touring comedy Basket Case before donning wig and velvet breeches to play Captain Hook in Crawley theatre The Hawth’s Peter Pan.
Why does he keep returning to panto? “I enjoy it. It’s a chance to behave badly on stage.” It is, he says, as simple as that.
Havers doesn’t choose roles particularly – “I do whatever I fancy when it comes my way. I very rarely turn anything down, to be honest.”
He’s returning to Coronation Street in 2012, to reprise his role as duplicitous male escort Lewis Archer, who set hairdresser Audrey Roberts all a-flutter last year. “I love that programme so it was only natural I’d want to appear in it. I loved doing it.”
I’d read he got some rather racy fan mail while appearing in the soap? Disappointingly, he says that wasn’t true.
“I get very nice people saying, ‘Will you send me a signed photograph?’, which I do.”
But he’s ruled out any more reality TV after his stint on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… last year, which ended when he flounced out of the jungle in objection to an electric shock trial, having made his distaste for fellow contestants including former MP Lembit Opik more than clear.
What did he hope to get out of the show?
“I just had a gap in my schedule,” he says. Had he thought it might come off more fruitfully though?
“No, not at all. It came off great I thought.”
But you walked out?
“Oh, I was never going to stay the whole time. I was going to leave whenever I felt like it and I did.”
Still, it was a pay cheque, eh?
“Yes… no, no, it was just because I had a gap.”
At least he made a friend out of it. No one could have foreseen the bond that developed between Havers and former Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder, though he can’t understand why not.
“I don’t know why it should be seen as unlikely.
So people are only friends with people from the same background as them? That doesn’t work with me. I just go on what people are like." Are they still in touch?
“All the time. I saw him a fortnight ago actually, we went out and had a few cocktails.
He’s turned into a good friend.”
Presumably the same can’t be said for his other jungle inmates.
He said of Dom Joly: “His overriding sarcasm and confidence could bug me and I had to slap him down a bit” and worried he would have “decked” Opik had he stayed on in the jungle. Has he run into them since? “I haven’t but I’m looking forward to it.”
Havers turned 60 earlier a bit” and worried he would have “decked” Opik had he stayed on in the jungle. Has he run into them since? “I haven’t but I’m looking forward to it.”
Havers turned 60 earlier this year – surely something of a shock to the system. He admitted not long ago he was in denial about his age and still felt 37 in his head. “I might have said that then but it depends very much on which day you ask me. It hasn’t changed things. I don’t feel any different at all – it’s fine.”
He is still in the early years of his third marriage to Georgiana Bronfman (they married in 2007), which is keeping a smile on his face.
“I’m terribly loved up,” he told an interviewer earlier this year.
What does his wife make of his panto appearances? He’d said in the past she isn’t terribly impressed by the acting world and thinks it’s all “a bit superficial and fatuous”.
Apparently she makes exceptions for pantomime. “She loves me appearing in panto. As long as it’s good she doesn’t mind. She just says, ‘Don’t do anything that’s rubbish’, which is fair enough.”
I wonder what’s next for him when panto season ends, but he’s not telling.
“It’s a well-guarded secret.”
So there’s no truth in the rumours he’ll be penning a second volume of memoirs, to accompany his 2007 biography Playing With Fire?
“Oh, I have plenty of living to do before then,”he says with a laugh.
* See Peter Pan at The Hawth, Crawley, from December 9-31.
For tickets, call 01293 553636.
* The Downton Abbey Christmas special will air on Meridian on Christmas Day or Boxing Day (TBC).
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