The Grown-Up Test: Stephen Tompkinson

16 November 2018

The actor who rose to fame in Ballykissangel is 53. But, asks Pam Francis, how old is he in his head?

What was your childhood nickname, and do you still have it?

Tomo and, yes, a lot of people still call me that, and I’m happy to answer.

First car?

I didn’t get my first car until I was in my twenties and joined the cast of Drop the Dead Donkey. I bought a Fiat Uno from the guy who did the catering on the show. Apparently it used to belong to Arlene Phillips!

Twitter, yes, no or what?

Yes I’m a new Twitterer. I’m getting my head round it slowly. My eighteen-year-old daughter Daisy encouraged me and got me on there. Because I’ve been on tour recently with a play called ART, I like to thank the audiences for coming.

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What was the last public complaint or protest you made?

My complaints are usually to do with transport and rail services... or lack of.  There’s either no heat or no catering or the computers have no record of the seat I booked, or they cancel the train.

I think the rail industry is pretty shocking and I use trains a lot when I’m touring. I write the email version of the stiff letter.

When did you last send a text message?

This morning to my brother John to let him know what time train I’ll be on. He’s four years older than me and a lollipop man, and I’m very proud of him.

When was the last time you broke the law?

I was intending to buy a train ticket, but the barriers were open, so I just got on the train, no one came to check and at the other end the barriers were open. So I got a free train ride which is technically breaking the law. But they’ve had umpteen pounds off me and I’m still waiting to get some refunds!

Your memories of childhood Christmases?

Being with the whole family in Stockton-on-Tees. We travelled around a lot because my dad was a bank manager but for Christmas we’d always congregate back in Stockton. It was very traditional. My dad had a lot of brothers and my mum had a lot of sisters. In fact dad’s eldest brother had married my mum’s eldest sister. So it was a very big family affair.

The tradition then was singing around the piano, watching Alistair Sim’s Scrooge and anything with Laurel and Hardy.

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Best ever present?

A very miniature snooker table when I was six which I think my brother still has somewhere. I play snooker, still as badly because my eye sight’s gone a bit now. But it’s still something I enjoy.

How will you spend Christmas this year?

I will be on stage playing Scrooge at the Old Vic in The Christmas Carol.  I am very excited and somewhat petrified. Scrooge is one of the greatest redemption stories ever written, and very special to be doing it in such an incredible theatre. My family will making the trip, down from the North East. I think we may get Christmas Day off. I’ll probably be asleep for most of it with a lot of luck.

What makes your heart sink?

Negativity. I’m a half glass full person. It’s very easy to be negative and anonymous. I think if your glass is half full you have to stick your head above the parapet and be counted. I prefer being around those sorts of people.

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What’s the silliest thing you’ve done?

I was on tour in Moliere’s play Tartuffe and I was waiting in the wings. The other actors were supposed to look off stage and see me coming, so I had the opportunity to put on various disguises to make them all laugh.

It started quite simply with a pair of glasses, but we did over a hundred performances and once when they looked off into the wings I was wearing a full elephant’s head that I’d got from a joke shop.

It cost me a fortune. That was pretty stupid.

What was the last good deed you did for the planet?

I was walking on the beach and picked up shed loads of litter. I always try to pick up as much as I can. People often leave their rubbish around the bins which drives me mad.

Town or country?

Country, it’s much more restful for the spirit. I spent quite a lot of time in Bristol recently and the downs around there and Clifton. I like the peace and quiet. It’s just great to let your thoughts disappear.

Which decade are you most nostalgic for?

I was born in 1965 so my memories really started in the Seventies but music and fashion-wise I think the Sixties was much more a young person’s revolution. I think things had been quite staid until then, and suddenly globally it seemed that young people could make a difference, forge their destinies a bit more and shape the world we are in now?

I was a bit of a rebel. I got into my punk music quite a lot. There were a few safety pins visible now and again, a few rips in my tee shirt.

What piece of music gets you on the dance floor?

Anything from The Clash can still get me up and Paul Weller can still get me going, so yes, the punk movement was a bit of a call to arms for a whole generation which was exciting. We needed a shake up.

What items do you collect?

Autographs of silent comedians. I’ve got Laurel and Hardy a few times, Marx brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and a cheque of Harold Lloyds.

In the last ten years have you learned how to use a new bit of technology?

I’ve got a tablet, so I’m learning to use that for notes. Communication in general has improved vastly for me in the last couple of years.

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Have you reverted to adolescent behaviour with old friends?

Oh yes and with new friends. Quite a lot of my behaviour is adolescent.  Work can be quite intense so to break it and have a bit of nonsense is a great way to break the tension. Mainly word play and banter, just firing off each other. Actors have great imagination so you can take a theme and run with it to extremes.

When and where were you at your happiest?

With family and friends and on stage especially. There is something about being in a comedy on stage and timing a laugh perfectly.

Who did you have a teenage crush on?

Audrey Hepburn who I worshipped from afar. And I got to kiss her once. I was introduced to her once at BAFTA (British Film and Television Awards) and she was there for a lifetime achievement award. It was a very chaste kiss. It wasn’t the day of the selfie. But you can’t take the memory away.

When was the last time you drank too much?

A couple of years ago at the T20 Cricket finals at Edgbaston because Durham, the team I follow had beat Yorkshire in the semi-finals. They lost the final but I got to hang out with them later. It had been quite a long day!

Why do hangovers get worse with age?

What makes you really grumpy?

Lateness. Don’t like that even if it’s me that’s caused it because of transport.

When did you last forget what you went upstairs for?

I do it pretty much every day!

Can you still remember the lyrics of the first record you bought?

Yes. It was Maurice Chevalier singing the theme tune to the Walt Disney movie, The Aristocats. It cost 78p and all my savings were in coppers so they were weighing down my short trousers and I couldn’t believe how much of it disappeared to pay for it. My father being a bank manager thought it was a very valuable lesson.

Hopes for the future?

That we continue to more inclusive of every race and age group and religion. We are starting to show more signs of tolerance. I hope that continues.


As someone who loves the kind of tablets you write on not take, loves the Sixties, admits to adolescent behaviour with friends, is still a rebel and a punk at heart when he dances to The Clash, we think this 53-year-old is a mere 32 in his head!

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