Danny Dyer doesn’t do breakfast. That is the first revelation. It’s 10am when he arrives in the interview room, backstage at EastEnders. He’s already filmed some scenes, powered by a double espresso. “I don’t eat breakfast, me. A coffee and pony. Coffee, snout, pony,” he says, taking his seat. Next to the Olympic torch.
Dyer, we are told, does not want to talk about politics this morning. No David Cameron. No Brexit. But over the next hour, he will talk about all three – and so much more – before leading us to the Queen Vic and showing us his kingdom.
At 41, Dyer is riding high. It’s been quite a year for the actor and his family. While his daughter Dani won Love Island this summer, Danny captured the public mood with his colourful rant against David Cameron – overnight becoming the UK’s most in-demand political commentator. Now, as the rest of us prepare to put our trotters up for Christmas, he has never been busier.
In December, he stars with Dani in a musical adaptation of Nativity! At Christmas, Dyer celebrates five years in EastEnders – just as soon as his character Mick Carter gets out of jail and back to Albert Square. He kicks off 2019 on stage with Martin Freeman in The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache – the final plays of the Pinter at the Pinter season, marking 10 years since his great mentor died.
Then his BBC history series, Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family, will inform, educate and entertain us about British history. After discovering, courtesy of Who Do You Think You Are?, that he is a direct descendant of Edward III, he is stepping into his forebears’ footsteps – while simultaneously reinventing history on TV.
Here at EastEnders, he’s already king of all he surveys, stopping to chat with everyone he passes. With Westminster in turmoil, he says he’s ready to use his royal blood to take over. So what are we waiting for? Welcome to the wisdom, wit and worldview of the wonderful Danny Dyer. Out of the Queen Vic steps the once and future King.
‘I don’t think there are enough father figures going on’
I have had a pretty incredible year, to be honest with you. It has been the year of Dani Dyer, not me! My incredible daughter. And I’m not going to lie, it certainly gave my career a boost. It has engulfed my whole family. You learn a lot. How maybe I didn’t do a bad job of bringing a child up. You are always questioning that as a father. It is a very important role. But I don’t think there are enough strong father figures for our youth today. Which causes a lot of problems.
Dani was lost before Love Island. She was working hard in a pub, a struggling actress, she’d had a few failed relationships where she wasn’t treated the best. There was something missing within her life. And she went and found it within a fucking reality TV show. I mean, fuck me, who would have thought that would be the ultimate therapy? Going to sit in a villa with loads of young people and talk bollocks.
I didn’t want her to go in, of course I didn’t. I had never watched Love Island but had heard about it. I knew she wanted to be an actress and thought it was going to close every door possible. I thought it would end in disaster, voted off, which wouldn’t have been good for her little sensitive brain. She is very sensitive, like her dad. So I got it wrong.
‘Dani gets her strength from her mother and she gets her wit from me’
She went out the weekend before she left, didn’t come home for three days, had fun with her friends, then put her case in the motor. I just gave her a cuddle, said, “I can’t advise you, just do whatever it is you need to do. But fucking win it!” Then she was gone. I became a viewer like everybody else. Which is really interesting. Not many parents get to see their children away from them, socialising with their peers. You see stuff she learnt from me, from her mother. If you have strong parents, you take stuff you need to carry you forward. And we saw it. It was incredible. Dani gets her strength from her mother and her wit from me.
‘I might get involved in a little tiny bit of singing’
We are going to do Nativity! Something really festive but not pantomime – not knocking anyone who does pantomime, I know that is a difficult gig. I thought, you know what? I have never been part of a musical, that is a box I need to tick. And it was based on a successful film that Martin Freeman was in – and I am about to work with Martin. Then they rolled Dani into the job, which is so lovely for us. Because I don’t see her a lot now. Me and her are going to be working together every night. She has more than me to do in it. She is going to have to learn a song and I might get involved in a little, tiny bit of singing.
They said I can play the Hollywood producer and still be an English Danny Dyer-type. They wanted someone with a bit of power, a bit of clout, who is a bit scary when you first meet them. Last year he was played by Louis Walsh and, no disrespect, I think he struggled slightly. That stagefright thing. Which is interesting, considering he sat on a panel telling people how good or shit they were. You put him in the mix and he panics. I just want to bring Danny Dyer to it, that is what people will probably love. A bit of warmth.
‘I always sob my heart out’
We didn’t do that twee nativity stuff when you were brought up in a place called Custom House in East London. A very deprived area, it just wasn’t the thing, you know? But it is nice that I can watch my kids doing it. They are quite middle class now, my kids, because I brought them up in nice areas. They had a little spell in private school, which I had to take them out of because it was driving me mad. But I have experienced nativity plays through my little ’uns. I always sob my heart out. Whether it was my little Dani doing a dance show or Sunnie standing up in assembly – I am in absolute bits. So fuck knows what I’m going to be like on stage with Dani. I am going to be holding on for dear life.
‘There was something magical about this place as soon as I walked on set’
Boxing Day 2013 was the first time I was on screen in EastEnders. My wife had our third child two days before I started filming. I walked out on to the Square, everyone was there, and I had a scene with Steve McFadden where I buy the pub. The lights were up, the big tree in the middle – here we go! Really intense. I was like, I’m part of it now, hopefully I can find my feet here. There was something magical as soon as I walked on set. There was a lot of press around me coming in. I wanted to be a success more than anything. But you have to put the graft in, and I understood that.
I was blessed with a really good character. My first big storyline was my son coming out to me and me being really understanding about that, just putting my arm round him, going, “It’s all right, boy, I love ya.” Being an alpha male that wears a pink dressing gown, I loved that idea. And coming straight in to be the landlord of the Queen Vic? That is a big gig, mate.
‘If they are struggling to find a king I’m your man!’
I have got a history show coming out [Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family]. Some of the comments about the BBC dumbing down because they are using someone with a working-class accent? Your David Starkeys of this world? I think people are a bit bored of some posh fucker standing there spouting out what happened in history. Why don’t you go on a journey with me, the everyman, somebody people can associate with and learn a little bit about our British history? I have spun this history bollocks on its head.
With Rollo the Viking, my first ancestor, I navigated a longboat, lived in a Viking village and ate fermented shark. Horrible! Some people are still fucked off that I am related to royalty. How dare I be related to these people? It is still a revelation to me. But the paperwork is there. There is a direct bloodline to King Edward III and William the Conqueror. I am about 110,000th in line to the throne. I met a royalist sort of fella, he was explaining it to me. I’m long way down, but if they are struggling to find a king I’m your man!
‘We are living in an age of foodbanks. How did that happen?’
King Danny, what would he do? I would tell everyone to calm down. We need to start showing each other a little bit of love. We are a very polarised nation. We need to come together and try to help others. I don’t believe there should be any human being on this planet who can’t afford water or to eat.
Some people are getting richer and fucking richer while others get poorer and poorer. That divide? I don’t know how you help that as king, to be honest. I would put some people running the country that give a fuck about it, not just themselves. The politicians have all been exposed as inadequate people that talk shit constantly. That is why a generation of young people is completely lost. There is no connection. They see them in their suits, and Theresa May, bless her, just got that job by default. Boris Johnson running around with his stupid haircut spouting bollocks. Young people look and think, if these are the people running the country, why shouldn’t I go and loot and riot? They just don’t give a fuck. This us against them-type vibe has got worse. We are living in an age of foodbanks. How the fuck did that happen? Seriously.
Danny V Dave – ROUND 2!
[Politicans] are floundering around. They have been given this thing called fucking Brexit because of one man. One man. Who we voted in to be our Prime Minister, who purely for his own ego decided to call a referendum just to get rid of Nigel Farage. Farage, another prick in a suit who tapped into something – and I suppose it is that white working-class, middle-age man who lost his voice slightly. He tapped into what he felt maybe they wanted to say and twisted it. He got a bit of a following, so Cameron decided to call a referendum just to get him. Well, fuck you, Cameron you posh twat. Sorry. It backfired on him didn’t it? And what does he do? He fucks off. He doesn’t like the way it went and he fucks off. Look where we are now. If our leader is willing to say, ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered’, where is our structure? Where is the foundation?
‘There is nothing for the youth to focus on because it has all been cut’
You need different people in power. This government has cut police forces and youth centres. Ex-gang members who have been in prison want to come out and tell their story, say that crime and violence isn’t the way – but there is nowhere for them to speak. They have shut all these places. There is no opportunity and they are cutting funding for performing arts. When I was young, academically, I couldn’t really do it.
But I am quite creative. In the early Nineties I could go to a little place, Starline School, where they did a drama club. I could either sit around smoking weed getting off my head or go and do this thing that really makes me feel alive inside. I could express myself and felt really proud when I walked out of that drama club.
‘I had to lie. I was living two separate lives’
I was told from a young age, what are you going to amount to? Unless you get into boxing or football there are no avenues for you. Grow a ’tache and work in a factory because that is what we do? No thanks. Coming from an area like that is all about being an alpha male. I was also doing something that can be seen as quite a ‘gay’ thing to do, drama. But when you find it in your soul, none of that matters. I had to lie. I was living two separate lives.
I couldn’t get excited about it around my friends because they wouldn’t understand. And when they found out, they would say, ‘Oh, here she is.’ Especially the older mob at the working men’s club. It changed after I became famous, because they all want to be your mate after that, don’t they? We have got to focus on giving young people an opportunity if they want to be artists and express themselves and their anger through a form of performing arts. I am walking, living proof that it can be done.
‘We are the hardest-working actors and crew in the business’
I know what EastEnders is like when it is on top and it is brilliant. There is no other show like it. I don’t care about the glitterati snobby actors who look down on what we do, we are the hardest-working actors and crew in the business. It is 24/7. We do 205 episodes a year and it is intense. If you are involved in a big story, you are learning 35 pages a day. That is a film a week. And every now and again we come out with stuff that is really important and relevant.
Our knife crime storyline was very important. It was right in the heart of what was going on, and it has just started up again, hasn’t it? We were saying, with violence, there is a whole group of people that it affects. The mothers, the friends, the family, communities – you think you are chasing someone to get a bit of respect or status, but what you are doing is destroying so many lives. Mick Carter found someone in an alleyway, and the devastation it caused him. We tackled it really well.
Britain's voice of reason. We get to know the real Danny Dyer in next week's Big Issue.
‘During the World Cup something happened to the country’
During the World Cup something happened to the country. We had a bit of unity for once and forgot about all this shit going on – other than if you are Scottish or Welsh and couldn’t wait to see England get knocked out, understandably. But we were getting behind this young man Gareth Southgate, who if you are a certain age you remember crying his eyes out after missing a penalty.
Like always, we fell at the final hurdle, but there was a good vibe going on for a month. And then it stops and you go back to being miserable fuckers. It coincided with Dani in Love Island, so our little family was walking with our heads held high.
‘Harold Pinter would set me up a camp bed, buy me a six-pack of lager and educate me’
I love my dad very much but he wasn’t much of a father figure. You don’t realise. You just get used to your dad not being around and being brought up by a very strong woman. But then Harold Pinter came into my life. I didn’t realise who he was when I first met him. Which is why I got the job in Celebration in 2000. The other actors – there were some big actors in the room – were petrified. I walked into the audition, Harold is sitting there, a geezer with a beard. I walked up and said, “Hello, son, how are you doin’?” I felt the room go, oh fuck. But I got up on stage, did really well and got the part. I played the waiter, all my stuff was big monologues where I come in, talk absolute bollocks, then fuck off again.
I wasn’t that excited. Much as I love plays, they drive you mad after week three. But when I started working with him I realised how much he gave a fuck about me. He could see I had some flaws, that whole ‘I’m bulletproof’ kind of vibe, and he got hold of me. I stayed at his house a couple of times. He wanted to teach me about the people I was talking about in the play, WH Auden, these famous poets. He would set me up a camp bed, buy me a six-pack of lager and educate me. I got really close to him. I loved him. I loved his intelligence and I loved being around him.
He gave me a cuddle and put his arms around me. He used to tell me how much of a brilliant actor I am and that I needed to lose a few people in my life. And he was right. And then he got cancer. I need to feel connected to this man again. It has been 10 years since he died. There is a generation of young people coming up that don’t know who Harold Pinter is. And I have this great platform now because I am in a soap. So me and Martin Freeman will bring them in and they can learn how important he is. His work should never die.
‘Jude Law said I was the luckiest actor on the planet’
At that time I was a bit of a loose cannon. And I was doing stuff I probably shouldn’t have been doing. I was around people like Jude Law and that, who was my friend for a while as part of that Primrose Hill set. They were really excited for me, Jude Law going, “You are the luckiest actor on the planet, I can’t believe you are going to work with Harold Pinter, what is he like, what is he like?” I said, “You are fucking Jude Law!”
‘What a bird that Gaga is’
I have not got involved with Bodyguard yet. Killing Eve is another I want to watch with the missus. But I did watch A Star Is Born, what a piece of work that is. I’ve got to say. I was absolutely taken aback with the beauty of it and the tragic love story. That is a great film and Lady Gaga, what a bird that
Gaga is. Fucking brilliant!
‘I can do a nice roast but hopefully I can swerve it this year’
We are going to have all the family over and they are going to stay Christmas Eve. The mother-in-law, father-in-law, a lovely Christmas Day all of us. We are going to host it – we’ve just had a lovely new kitchen put in. Me and my Dani will be on stage around that time so it will be a strange old Christmas. I can do a nice roast but hopefully I can swerve it this year to be honest. I’m not going to lie, hopefully the missus will come to the front. But I’ll score the brussels. That’s a good line to end on.
EastEnders airs on BBC One. Nativity! is at London Apollo, December 19-31. Pinter at the Pinter season is at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London
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