I grew up on a council estate in Birmingham. My bedroom window opened out onto the A38 and out of the kitchen window was the area where everyone pegged their washing. The estate was our stomping ground. We knew every nook and cranny.
I occupied three worlds as a teenager. I travelled half an hour on the bus to get to school, so the kids there were disconnected from the ones in my area. And the people I did youth theatre with were disconnected from the school and the estate. I didn’t go into an industry that people I grew up with went in to. I went to Rada at 18, and that was me effectively leaving home. That is what it felt like. I settled into London slowly but it has been my home ever since.
I didn’t go into an industry that people I grew up with went in to
Backpack, baseball cap, T-shirt, baggy jeans and trainers – that’s me. When I was 15 nobody wore that unless you were into American hip hop or the UK Fresh stuff pirate stations were playing. I didn’t go as far as getting a flat top but I did have an excellent pair of MC Hammer trousers. The clothes I was wearing as a teenager are the same clothes I wear now, although I get dressed up a lot for my job. But I would tell my younger self not to worry about the MC Hammer trousers. There will be a day when you don’t wear them.
The idea of performing hit me at about 14. I was already singing in the cathedral choir at St Chad’s in Birmingham and joined the children’s opera company at Birmingham Mac – which is an amazing place that SHOULDN’T HAVE ITS FUNDING CUT. Print that as large as you like! I got into the opera, puppetry, dance, theatre – all of it fired my imagination.
My heroes all came from America. They were people who made me laugh, made great films or were great singers and dancers. Birmingham in the 1980s was a very different place – there wasn’t a sense of feeling like you belong, or are appreciated and celebrated. We weren’t taught about the heroes here.
Looking back at my younger self I feel the incredible insecurity of this teenager who was throwing himself out of a plane hoping the parachute would work, in terms of life choices. That is what you do going into our profession without a degree or A-levels. If my school had been more open to what I wanted to do, a place I could explore drama, music, singing, I may have stayed. But because I had been shown that formal education had no place for my passions, I turned my back on it.