Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

The Downton star who’s just glad he’s still alive

After three cancer scares, Nicky Henson, down-and-out Charlie Grigg in Downton, says simply being able to work again is a blessing


One snowy day in February the Downton Abbey make-up team went to town on one-time ladies’ man Nicky Henson. For several hours they busied themselves reducing the actor’s healthy complexion to a grey pallor so he could play washed-up music hall performer Charlie Grigg. Eagle-eyed viewers will remember Grigg from the first series of Downton, when he made a brief appearance as Mr Carson’s old stage partner in a comedy duo called The Cheerful Charlies. As a petty criminal he blackmaile­d the starchy butler, threatenin­g to expose his music hall past, before Lord Grantham paid him £20 to disappear.

Now writer Julian Fellowes has invited him back to guest star in the fourth series. In last week’s opening episode, viewers saw Mrs Hughes rescue Grigg from the workhouse after persuading Isobel Crawley to give him shelter in her house, but it will become apparent he hasn’t mended his ways. ‘Grigg’s an improviden­t twit who’s terrible with money, so he ended up in the workhouse after losing it all,’ says Nicky. ‘But after the earl sent him packing three years ago, he’s back to haunt Carson.’

And whey-faced or not, Nicky was delighted to accept the offer. We meet in a plush Knightsbri­dge hotel where he reveals he had personal reasons for wanting to make a comeback in a primetime show. For when he got the surprise call from Downton just before last Christmas he was recovering from a marathon 21 medical procedures over a 12-month period for kidney stones. ‘Life couldn’t be better, even if I have ended up in the workhouse,’ he laughs.

The stones were caused by radiation treatment for prostate cancer – one of three cancers he’s beaten in the past 12 years. ‘I hadn’t worked for over a year so it was lovely going back into the acting pond with such a nice job,’ he says. ‘The Downton people phoned and said, “Are you fit to work?” Jim Carter, who plays Carson, is an old mate of mine, so I said, “You bet!”’

Although Downton won’t be showing flashbacks of Carson and Grigg in their stage heyday, Nicky drew inspiratio­n for his character from the career of his own father, music-hall star Leslie Henson, whose West End shows ranked alongside Noël Coward’s for popularity in the 20s and 30s. Nicky, now 68, trained at RADA as a stage manager, before trying his hand at pop music, but acting was always the bigger lure, and since then he’s been in everything from The Frost Report in 1966 and Nicky’s ‘great mate’ John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers to George Clooney’s Syriana in 2005.

He’s played hard too, recalling how where we’re sitting now is just round the corner from a house where he drank London dry one night with Hollywood star Lee Marvin at the end of the 60s. With his abundant floppy hair, cheeky grin, public-school voice, taste for fast cars and even faster blondes, Nicky was something of a lothario in his youth. Married at 25 to Sherlock star Una Stubbs, he had sons Christian, now 41, and Joe, 40, before he walked out on her and into relationsh­ips with Avengers star Linda Thorson and Susan Hampshire. ‘I was 25 going on 16 when I married Una, so I was very immature,’ he says. ‘Luckily I’ve had a wonderful relationsh­ip with Christian and Joe – they were very understand­ing.’

Today he’s a happy family man with a 27-year marriage to dancer and teacher Marguerite Porter, the one-time Royal Ballet star by whom he has another son, musician Keaton, 25. Home is in Richmond, south-west London, where Nicky’s favourite role is that of grandfathe­r; he has three grandchild­ren so far, with another on the way this November. He’s about to film a new British thriller called Gozo, while repeat fees for Fawlty Towers keep coming in. (‘I’ll be forever known as the bloke who hid the girl in the cupboard,’ he says of his philanderi­ng character.) And tomorrow night he reunites again with Jim Carter to appear in a charity gala at Sadler’s Wells in aid of the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, which Nicky’s wife Marguerite runs. Such a reformed character, surely even strait-laced Carson would approve.

Maureen Paton Downton Abbey, Sunday, 9pm, ITV.

 ??  ?? Nicky and (left) as Grigg with Downton’s Mrs Hughes
Nicky and (left) as Grigg with Downton’s Mrs Hughes
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom