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Nathaniel Parker, star of Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, on playing Henry VIII
The Telegraph,
Jessica Salter
Photo's by Jamie Harris

The star of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries talks about playing King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, acting alongside Laurence Olivier and delicacies of a showbiz marriage.

Nathaniel Parker, 52, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986 and since then has had a variety of stage, television and film roles, from playing Detective Inspector Lynley in the long-running BBC1 thriller series The Inspector Lynley Mysteries to appearing in Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 film Stardust. Currently he is playing King Henry VIII in the RSC’s double-bill adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, at the Aldwych Theatre, London, until October 4. Parker lives in Gloucester with his wife, the actress Anna Patrick, their two daughters, Angelica, 17, and Raphaella, 15, and their whippets.

Routine On theatre days I get up at 6.45am, take the girls to school, then come back home for a rest before catching the train from Swindon to London – I have to be at the theatre by 5.30pm. We finish at 10.30pm, so I try to catch the 11.30pm train and be home just before 2am. I could stay in London but then I would never see my family.

Father My dad [Sir Peter Parker] acted a lot when he was at Oxford, and he instilled a love of acting into my sister, brothers and me. He had a very successful career in business [among other roles he was the chairman of the British Railways Board from 1976 to 1983], but just before he died, I asked him if he had ever wished that he had been an actor. He said, 'We all have a fistful of different lives that we would like to lead, and that would have been one of them.’

Acting I remember playing as a kid shooting Germans or pretending to be cowboys and Indians and being absolutely there in the moment. But one Friday night at the age of nine I was watching my sister in a play and I suddenly knew that I wanted to be an actor. I realised I could be a doctor, a king, an astronaut – all of these different things by doing one job.

William Blake As children we used to have to recite poems by William Blake. Olly, my very bright brother, used to learn Blake easily. I was quite dyslexic (although we didn’t know the word at the time) and found it hard, so my father had to pay me. I remember being paid 1s 6d to learn 'Tyger Tyger, burning bright…’; only sixpence for The Lamb because it was shorter. Because of that Blake is in my bones. I can still recite him now, and his words mean a lot to me. I also love his paintings – I love the ethereal look that his work has. We have three prints by him up on the wall ; they’re not, of course, originals.

Meeting Anna I joined the RSC in 1986 after six months of being a professional actor. After a year there I met Anna. Five years later we decided to get married, then we had another five years before we had children. I often see my life as 'before Anna’, 'Anna’, and 'Anna with children’.

Showbiz marriages The trouble with showbiz is that it can take you away for so long – I can go away on a job for three or four months at a time – and I’m not great at communication. I remember being at a public telephone in New York while I was on Broadway with a stack of quarters, pumping them in for a 15-minute conversation. As you’re shoving the money in, you can’t really concentrate on saying, 'Babe, I love you.’

Statue I bought this statue for our first wedding anniversary. At the time it cost me a fortune, but I had to buy it because it’s just so beautiful; it reminds me of Anna with her hair up in a bun. It has got such lovely energy, which, without being smug, is what Anna and I have.

Wilfred Owen When I was 27 I went for the part of Wilfred Owen in Derek Jarman’s War Requiem, an adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s opera with Owen’s poems. I was absolutely astounded when I got a call from Derek asking me to come down to Dungeness, where he had a place, to try out for it. Tilda Swinton drove me down (she had a part in it as a nurse), and Derek and I went for a walk on the beach. Afterwards he said, 'Would you mind playing Wilfred Owen?’ I was absolutely gobsmacked. Laurence Olivier played the Old Soldier – it was his last film and my first film. Derek gave me this book of Owen’s poetry as a thank-you present.

Horse racing I first got into horse racing on a day I was meant to go for a university interview and I didn’t. I just went home and watched horse racing on television. I picked all three winners and that was it. The first horse I bet on was called Nathaniel, and I bet five pence each way. I still do love to have a bet but for me the important aspect is the horses. I did a charity race at Newmarket in 2012 - these are my jodhpurs from the race. I had to lose 2 1/2 stone before I could compete - at the start of the year I was 15 1/2 stone but I hired a trainer who really got me fit (I've put a bit back on now, but I am over 50). It was the most exciting thing I've ever done on four legs. My horse, Tindaro, aced at Ascot this year. Everyone said, 'Don't let it run away with you on the way to the start,' and that was the most terrifying bit. I sang to him the whole way round.

Racehorse On the morning of the charity race I took part in Henry Cecil invited me for a cup of coffee at his stables. He pointed out a racehorse that was about to retire and asked me if I wanted him, so a few months later I had a horse. Unfortunately he got colic and died; I was terribly upset.

Gardening I started loving flower beds when we moved into our last house, in Acton, west London (which to me felt like the country because I was born and bred in Notting Hill). My mother and mother-in-law were huge gardeners and gave me loads of advice. Mum gave me a 'Jude the Obscure’, which is not an easy rose to grow but it worked and it gave me a lot of encouragement. I find myself talking to my plants; it’s slightly worrying.

Henry The joy of playing the king in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is that he’s a very different Henry VIII from the one we know. But I’m not enjoying the beard – the puppies jump up and try to eat it – or the red hair; it just doesn’t suit me. The day I had it done my daughters laughed and took pictures of me and sent them to their friends.

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