When I was 16, I was at boarding school in the Midlands, close to my grandparents. My folks had just moved back from the Far East. We’d moved there when I was nine.
I was secretly plotting to audition for drama school. I didn’t tell my mates or teachers. I did about 18 plays at school, to the detriment of my exams. I felt happy making people laugh. I have always been quite shy – at my sixth birthday party I hid from my friends. But there was something tremendously releasing in being able to say someone else’s words.
I look back at my younger self affectionately. I was never one of the lads but I was a fairly sunny individual. I wish I had worried less about what people thought of me. I would get paroxysms of anxiety, but actually people don’t really care. It takes a while to learn it is not a good idea to drink five million glasses of white wine and smoke yourself to death to feel less nervous.
I would tell my younger self he should stop smoking. He wouldn’t have listened, though. You feel invincible at that age. I really smoked a lot. When I stopped properly in my early 30s it was so hard.
I really smoked a lot. When I stopped properly in my early 30s it was so hard
My shyness manifested in aloofness. I auditioned for Manchester Poly and afterwards this lovely lady pulled me to one side and gave me a mini bollocking: “You should become an actor but you can’t come in with this attitude.” I was shocked. My nerves turned into seeming rude. At RADA, when casting directors and agents would come for the final showpiece, the first years used to pour the wine. I was on the drinks station and was very rude to Anthony Hopkins because I was crippled with nerves.
I am amazed by how callous I was about relationships in my teens.. I think you have a natural selfishness at that age, that is part of being a teenager. But it is fascinating and horrifying looking back.