Did you have a childhood pet?
Timmy was my dad’s cat and became mine after Dad died when I was eight years old. He was quite an eccentric cat with a big personality. But when he started to get epilepsy, the medication put him into a coma and he nearly died. When he came out of the coma he had a second ‘childhood’, except the tops of his ears went brown and crispy and dropped off!
What was the naughtiest thing you did at school?
I was a really naughty annoying child, and caned almost daily when I boarded at prep school at nine years old. I was a massive show-off, and talking after lights-out was an offence. As the offences mounted up the sentences got steeper.
When you were young, what was your nickname and do you still have it?
No, I don’t. But as a child I was called Butch, and I think that was my father’s idea because they had this lovely daughter; my sister Amanda. And then I came along as this little thumper trying to kick everything.
Can you still remember the lyrics of the first record you bought?
It was Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson, and no! Only the opening tune, ‘ding ding ding, diddy ding ding ding’.
Is there an object you’ve kept from your childhood?
My skateboard is in the garage. When my daughter Emily started to learn I got it out. So yes, I’ve had a little go and I can stay on it! Though I’m slightly worried it might have ‘board worm’ or something as it’s so old, so I don’t use it much.
What is your longest friendship?
Gina Packington and I met at school when I was 13. Instead of living in digs when I went into rep at the Bristol Old Vic, I stayed with Gina at her boyfriend’s house which was great fun. We are still in touch. I am being very resistant to social media, but she has now got me ‘What’sApping’ on my phone .
In the past ten years, have you reverted to adolescent behaviour when you've got together with old friends?
I regress to adolescent behaviour even when I’m on my own! With friends, it’s usually on the end of a phone as I’m quite isolated down here in Dorset. But I have some brilliant friends who I see including Caroline Quentin, my friend Mark who I was at drama school with, and Beverley who has cut my hair since I was 16.
What is the silliest thing you did recently?
I took the wrong suitcase off the baggage carousel at the airport when I landed at Sydney for a publicity trip, and took it all the way to my hotel room. I was literally getting undressed to get in the shower to change when I tried to key in the code and the case stone-walled me! The hotel concierge finally tracked down the lady whose case it was, and I got mine back. I did feel silly. But I could blame jet lag couldn’t I?
When did you last drink too much?
Recently, on my last night in Alaska after a pretty tough three weeks shoot filming for a new TV show The Islands of America. We went to three of the islands of Hawaii and two in Alaska. Jane, who had been our guide, and her husband, who had been our pilot in a lovely 1950s seaplane, asked us round to dinner at their amazing house in the wood. It’s light until midnight in Alaska, so it’s really deceptive. We were due to fly home the next day. So Jane cooked us an amazing red salmon and we drank far too much. I make no apology for that, but I travelled hung-over yet again. A lesson I have never learned.
What music gets you on the dance floor?
I’m largely discouraged from those around me from dancing. My daughter, who is 18, gets livid. But if it’s the time or the place then Tiger Feet by Mud.
What are the two lessons life has taught you?
Shut up and sit down! I offer up too many opinions on things.
How do you like to relax?
Since filming Vanity Fair, in which I had to drive a horse and carriage, I’ve got back into my carriage driving which is a wonderful way of switching off from the world. I have two Clydesdale horses, Ronnie and Bruce, and I’ve just bought a brand new carriage for them.
Town or country?
Country. I was born in Wimbledon right on the edge of the common. It wasn’t a plan to move to West Dorset, it just happened. We live on a working farm, with sheep and cattle, and have several horses and four dogs. I love the space and the way everything is changing all the time with the seasons. It keeps me in touch with real life.
When and where were you most happy?
Here and now.
VERDICT: As a man who still enjoys ‘behaving badly’, drinking too much, boogying and zipping around on a skate board, we reckon this 56-year-old is a mere 35 in his head!
Vanity Fair is on ITV this September
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