I didn’t really enjoy adolescence, I was always aware that I was waiting for adulthood to start. I found the lack of control over your own affairs as a child annoying. And that just became more pronounced during the teenage years. I knew I definitely wanted to go to drama school. In fact I think I got my first acting job at 16. Or even at 15, an anti-smoking ad. Then I did an episode of [ITV children’s drama series] Dramarama. We went to the Isle of Skye for four days, and I stayed in a hotel on my own for the first time. I was old enough not to need a chaperone. I was my own boss. It felt like a glimpse into adulthood.
The Doctor felt like someone I could aspire to being like.
My mum and dad were big influences on the way I saw the world. I wouldn’t have admitted it at 16 though, that’s when you start thinking your parents are just utter losers. But I think deep down, even then, I knew. They gave me a world view which was based on a Christian outlook [David’s father served as Moderator of the General Assembly ofthe Church Of Scotland] – Christian in the right sense, genuinely Christian people in terms of the way they believed in equality for all, treating everyone with respect and kindness, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. On the whole they were quite free of the right-wing attitudes that sometimes come with Christianity. They were liberal and forward-thinking. Just the way they deported themselves in life, I cherish.
Doctor Who was a big influence on the young David too. I did like superheroes too but Doctor Who was my great passion when I was a kid. Maybe because I could identify with that character. I could never identify with the Incredible Hulk, though I loved the comics. But the Doctor felt like someone I could aspire to being like. And maybe he’d want to hang out with me too. I think it’s very important that there’s a kids’ hero who is not a jock. That was something I came back to a lot when I was playing the Doctor. And it doesn’t leave you when you leave the show. Finding out I was going to play the role all those years later, it was just surreal. Something which had been so important to me as a child was going to be a big part of my adult life –would, in fact, in a way end up defining it.
If you met the 16-year-old David now, you’d wonder why he thought ll that Brylcreem was a good idea. You’d be mystified as to why he thought that was an acceptable way of presenting himself. I did have an interest in clothes – I remember discovering charity shops and the opportunities they gave me were quite exciting. I sported a bootlace tie at one point, probably to emulate Bono or Jim Kerr. That was one of my favourite things. Worn with a bolero jacket I’d got from a charity shop. And my favourite shirt was a hand-me-down, a paisley pattern – red shot with black pattern. So yeah, surprisingly, I was quite out there, bolder than I realised. And I remember going out to a nightclub in Paisley – Toledo Junction I think it was called – and being accused of being a weirdo, which I think vaguely translated into being a goth in those days. Which I wasn’t, but I suppose in a sea of shellsuits… In fact I got smacked in the face. Just for being a little bit dapper!
I think I was quite outgoing within my own group of friends. But not particularly when I was outside my gang, my comfort zone. Despite the boldness of my bootlace tie. I remember the roar of the hormonal confusion. My head was full of mince most of the time. I was churning, not at ease with myself. But I think I was good as masking my anxieties. And I think I still do manage to do that. It’s only my very closest confidantes who get a glimpse of what’s underneath.