Bring­ing the house down

The ac­tor and rac­ing man on the cir­cu­lar na­ture of pol­i­tics

Country Life Every Week - - Interview -

IS Nathaniel Parker the best 007 we never had? He’s re­cently com­pleted another of his ‘Young James Bond’ au­dio­book record­ings, in which he proudly de­liv­ers the sanc­ti­fied line: ‘My name is Bond, James Bond.’ Surely, with his darkly hand­some looks and string of cred­its as a dash­ing, up­per-mid­dle-class spy or sleuth, he must have been a con­tender for the big-screen role at some point?

‘I did find out I was 8–1 to be the next Bond just be­fore Daniel Craig got it,’ he laughs. ‘I thought per­haps if I went into the book­ies and put £200 on, it would bring the price down and peo­ple would say: “Ooh, look, Nat Parker’s been made favourite”.’

Now in his fifties, he ad­mits his chance is cur­rently about 2,000–1, but although Mr Parker might be most widely fa­mous as DI Tommy Lyn­ley, 8th Earl of Ash­er­ton, in the BBC se­ries The In­spec­tor Lyn­ley Mys­ter­ies, he’s also an ac­com­plished stage ac­tor. His new play, James Gra­ham’s po­lit­i­cal drama This House, was a sell­out when it was first staged at the Na­tional Theatre in 2012 and Mr Parker points out that its new West End run couldn’t be more timely.

‘It’s said Shake­speare’s plays are still rel­e­vant to­day and so’s this. It harks back to the tur­bu­lent times all the main par­ties went through when Labour was in power be­tween 1974 and 1979. There’s a line that goes “Three changes of lead­ers—has that ever hap­pened be­fore in one go?” Re­cently, we’ve seen lead­er­ship con­tests or changes in at least six par­ties.’ He con­tin­ues: ‘As well as mak­ing se­ri­ous points, the el­e­ments of farce in the play are ex­tra­or­di­nary. Labour lost 17 MPS through death over the pe­riod. There are meet­ings in cup­boards and one in which, with ter­rific irony, the Ul­ster Union­ists go down to the Gun­pow­der Plot cel­lars to sign a pa­per.’

Cen­tring around the machi­na­tions of the Labour and Tory whips’ of­fices—the il­lus­tri­ous cast in­cludes Phil Daniels, Kevin Doyle and St­ef­fan Rho­dri—mr Parker plays ‘Jack’ Weather­ill, the Con­ser­va­tive deputy chief whip who be­came fa­mous as Speaker dur­ing the first tele­vised broad­casts from the Com­mons.

I ask if, as the son of Sir Peter Parker, chair­man of Bri­tish Rail dur­ing the Cal­laghan and Thatcher ad­min­is­tra­tions, he iden­ti­fies with the era. ‘I did grow up with it, yes,’ he answers. ‘My fa­ther was very cen­tre-left and once stood as a Labour can­di­date. I re­mem­ber peo­ple such as Shirley Wil­liams and Roy Jenk­ins com­ing to our home. And Jack Weather­ill, who was a very up­right guy, would have known my fa­ther, some­thing which thrills me im­mensely.’

De­spite his well-heeled public im­age, it’s clear Mr Parker shares his fa­ther’s cen­tre-left sym­pa­thies and he rem­i­nisces about him fondly. ‘I’d get very cross and say “You have to stand up for your be­liefs”, but he’d re­ply that the world re­volves around com­pro­mise and he’s quite right. He was al­ways a com­pro­miser.

‘He had ASLEF, a Trot­skyite rail driv­ers’ union, on one side to deal with and Mrs Thatcher on the other. He did sem­i­nal work in the cre­ation of the Chan­nel Tun­nel, but she didn’t even in­vite him to the open­ing. They were com­plete op­po­sites. He was charm­ing, whereas I never heard any­one call her charm­ing and she cer­tainly didn’t com­pro­mise.’

Mrs Thatcher has al­ways di­vided opin­ion, but as a man who spoke out on be­half of Re­main dur­ing the EU Ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, he agrees that her heir (David Cameron) has got off lightly. ‘For the sake of win­ning a few votes off UKIP, we’ve put our coun­try on the mar­ket, are tak­ing it out of Europe and will prob­a­bly lose Scot­land as well,’ he ful­mi­nates. ‘What the hell did he think he was do­ing?’

Mr Parker is a man who en­gages full on with ev­ery­thing he does. His voice dries with emo­tion as he re­calls meet­ing the women run­ning an aid camp at the time of the Chad-dar­fur hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, when he slept in a cell full of rats and was asked to give an ac­count of the sit­u­a­tion by the then Prime Min­is­ter, Gor­don Brown. He is ap­palled by Bri­tain’s lag­gardly ap­proach to the cur­rent Syr­ian refugee cri­sis.

He’s prob­a­bly too heart-on­sleeve to make a politi­cian, but his pas­sion is in­fec­tious. With an up­roar­i­ous laugh that he must surely have de­ployed to thun­der­ous ef­fect in his Olivier­win­ning and Tony-nom­i­nated per­for­mance as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall/bring Up The Bodies, he never takes him­self too se­ri­ously and is great com­pany. I’m treated to amus­ing im­pres­sions of Mr Brown, as well as Sir Terry Wo­gan, an imag­i­nary bark­ing dog loose on a film set and the sim­i­larly dark and stylish race­horse trainer Sir Henry Ce­cil.

As a Turf en­thu­si­ast, Mr Parker met the lat­ter shortly be­fore he died in 2013. ‘I was due to ride in a char­ity race at New­mar­ket and went to see Frankel [the un­beaten race­horse trained by Ce­cil] on the gal­lops. Henry in­vited me back for break­fast and when I men­tioned I was con­vert­ing a barn at home into sta­bles, he said “My dear boy, have you got a horse? Do you want one?” A few months later, this fan­tas­tic Thor­ough­bred ar­rived. It had been Frankel’s lead horse on the gal­lops and had won £120,000 in prize money.’

Sadly, Sir Henry died a cou­ple of months later and, shortly after, so did the horse, from a se­vere bout of colic, but Mr Parker, who likes a se­ri­ous punt, re­mains closely in­volved in the sport and is a part-owner of the dual-pur­pose grey Tin­daro, trained by Peter Web­ber.

He may never get to play Bond, but Mr Parker has just se­cured the rights to a thriller from the 1930s golden age of crime writ­ing which he’s try­ing to make into a film. It’s writ­ten by Ni­cholas Blake, the pseu­do­nym used by Ce­cil Day Lewis for his mys­tery sto­ries, and, when he tells me the first line, it crack­les with sus­pense and, al­ready, I’m in­trigued. He hopes to get it off the ground in 2017. Odds on, it will be a win­ner. Jack Watkins

‘I did find out I was 8–1 to be the next Bond just be­fore Daniel Craig got it

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