Robson Green: "Simon Cowell was pestering my mother"
On my 16th birthday – December 18, 1980 – I was allowed to take my girlfriend to see The Life of Brian. I thought it was the funniest film ever. Unfortunately, as soon as Mary told the Three Wise Men they were all drunk, my girlfriend stood up and walked out. Little did I know her mother and father attended church every week: she thought it was the work of the devil.
That 16-year-old would be surprised to be an actor, given the environment he was in. I told the careers adviser: “I think I want to be an actor. I really feel I have the tools.” They went: “Oh don’t be silly.” One teacher, who will remain nameless, said: “An actor? Green, you’re a fool, and you’ll always be a fool.”
I wanted to stay on and do an O-level in drama, but I left school at 16 out of economic necessity to work at Swan Hunter shipyards as a draughtsman. I was there for nearly five years. There were about 400 of us at our boards, all in lines, building and designing beautiful ships, from Type 42 destroyers to supertankers. But instinctively I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in that place. I had to get out.
I’d remind that 16-year-old that luck is part of the equation, but that hard work makes you luckier. I was still at the shipyard, but I was doing a play called The Long Line and there was a casting director called Jane Arnell who, instead of going to the Theatre Royal, decided to see a local play. She came and saw me afterwards and said: “There is a series on TV called Casualty and we are looking for a new character.” I took the bus to Bristol for the audition. It cost me £15, but they gave me expenses so I flew back home.
I would warn that 16-year-old that there should be a sign – Danger: Actors at Work. I’d tell him to beware of anyone who takes acting too seriously. It isn’t mining. It isn’t saving lives. It’s a job. You are telling stories and that’s it. I hate it when anyone calls Ricky Gervais or someone a genius. They aren’t in the same league as Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton, so just shut up.
That 16-year-old could never have thought I’d help Simon Cowell make his first millions. I refer to that time as my own personal Vietnam – The Song! [Unchained Melody, with Jerome Flynn]. Soldier Soldier was one of the most popular shows on British TV, watched by 17.8 million at its peak. There was an episode where the band don’t turn up and we sang The Song, but it was two years before we released the single. I didn’t want to go on Top of the Pops. I was travelling the world and I was already being paid a fortune for what I was doing.
But Simon wouldn’t let it go. I didn’t have an agent, so he was pestering my mother – all the time – wanting me to sing That Bloody Song with Jerome. I got a lawyer to stop him ringing her, then I called him myself and told him: “If you do it again I will take this to court. This is harassment.” Then he went: “Can I just say, I will give you THIS amount of money if you will just go into a recording studio and record the song.” The advance he was talking about was in seven figures. Come on, put that 16-year-old in my shoes – of course I said yes!
I’d tell that 16-year-old to invest in others, not yourself. And if you were going to do something, to really commit to it. It doesn’t matter if it is a job, running a marathon, or a relationship. Commit – and good things will come from that.
In 1980, the year Robson Green turned 16...The USA boycotts the Moscow Olympics... The Iranian embassy siege takes place in London... Robert Mugabe is elected as prime minister of Zimbabwe... Kristin Shepard is revealed to have shot JR...
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