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Nathaniel Parker
The Grove website

Nathaniel Parker, devilishly handsome star of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, doesn't mind being famous. In fact, he rather likes it.

'I get spotted quite a lot on the streets these days, I have to say,' he tells me. 'But I don't mind it. Some people stare aggressively, but others say the sweetest things. It's churlish for any actor not to respond. I love having that kind of celebrity. That's what gets me jobs, at the end of the day.'

In person, Parker is charm personified. Humble and self-deprecating, there's no whiff of self-importance about him. He's just being honest about what being a well-known TV actor brings: inevitable recognition from the man on the street.

'One of the weirdest things was when we did a Lynley scene in Trafalgar Square the other day,' he continues in excited gasps. 'Lynley is one of the BBC's biggest exports, getting shown round the world, and these Chinese tourists came up to me and said: "I've never heard your voice before!" Of course, I get dubbed over in China.'

Nathaniel Parker, who recently starred in BBC drama A Class Apart with Jessie Wallace, might be big in the Far East these days. But the origins of the man are very much in Notting Hill. He grew up on Brunswick Gardens, an idyllic L-shaped street of Georgian terraces off Kensington Church Street with, he says, 'the best view of any street in London... the blossom at this time of year is staggeringly beautiful'. He spent the mornings doing the milk run with milkman Ted and the evenings helping out on a fruit and veg van, run by greengrocers Jim and Ron.

'They had one of these big, open-sided vans that worked like an ice cream van,' he explains, 'stopping every 10 yards or so to sell produce. It was a fantastic idea. I don't know why people don't still do it, actually. Especially, in these days of organic consciousness.'

Parker married his actress wife (now an interior designer) Anna Patrick in All Saint's Church, just off Portobello Road, and promptly set up home in the area he calls 'Holland Bush' - the bit between Holland Park and Shepherd's Bush. There, they raised their two daughters, Raphaella and Angelica. They've just upped sticks to Acton, but Nathaniel assures me the family is 'umbilically linked' to the area where they all lived for many years: 'We still have family in Notting Hill. And give me any excuse to go back to Portobello Market - I know all the characters there.'

The son of Sir Peter Parker, former chairman of British Rail, the 45-year-old actor still enjoys all the restaurants and shops in the area; E&O is 'a bit loud,' he says, 'but the food is my kind of thing'. Quite often, he pops into The Electric on Portobello Road for breakfast, and he rates Corney and Barrow wine merchants as an invaluable source of wine-buying information.

'They're a very knowledgeable bunch,' he enthuses. 'Both my brother and I buy wine in there. Often we get presents for each other and they always know what wines we should buy for each other. We just leave it to them.'

He's been a loyal customer to Mr. Christian's, the deli on Elgin Crescent, since it opened - 'the first really good food shop to open around Portobello,' he says, 'when the area started getting upmarket'. His friendship with the former owner, Greg Scott, took on a new dimension when Greg's son, Sam, died tragically young from cancer.

In memory of sports-obsessed Sam, Greg started a charity, the Octopus Challenge, which organises sports events that generate funds for The Shooting Star Children's Hospice in Hampton Hill and Cancerbackup. Parker has been a patron since the charity's inception, attending the annual street party on Elgin Crescent and taking part in sporting events.

'Greg challenged me to take part in the London to Paris bike ride last week, actually,' he says. 'I might do it. I need to get fit. And any excuse to go to Paris, frankly.'

Playing Thomas Lynley, the suave, aristocratic detective, has made Parker a familiar TV presence. But he started off his career as a struggling stage actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Minor television roles beckoned next, then the role of Laertes in Mel Gibson's Hamlet, as well as a part in The Bodyguard.

With his dashing good looks, tall frame and delicious accent, Parker became a natural choice for period drama: he's been cast as Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair, Edward Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea and Harold Skimpole in Bleak House. I ask him whether it annoys him to be seen in this light - as the posh Englishman destined for period purgatory - but he says that actually he's happy doing the work ('so long as it keeps coming!') and, actually, that's not the full picture. Last year, he played a Nazi, Albert Speer, the architect of Auschwitz, in Nuremberg Trial: Inside the Nazi Mind.

'It was always my ambition to play a Nazi,' he says grimly, then asks, 'is that a bit weird?' I say yes, slightly. But he explains it was the duplicity of Speer's character that fascinated him as an actor.

'We now know that he was drawing up plans to extend Auschwitz, to make it even more efficient. I played him at Nuremberg, as he tried to claim that he knew nothing about the death camp. I mean, what a shit.'

Parker has three films coming out later this year: Flawless with Demi Moore and Michael Caine in the lead roles; Stardust with a raft of A-listers, including Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O' Toole, Sienna Miller and Ricky Gervais ('I read the cast list and I thought: 'I need to see that! Oh, wait a minute... I'm in it!'); and Fade to Black, directed by his brother Oliver.

Seventies Notting Hill, appearing in period dramas, why we need to bring back fruit and veg vans or the charity work of Octopus Challenge: on all these topics and many others Nathaniel Parker will expound at great length. After half an hour, I need of a lie down! He's a motormouth - but a thoroughly charming, likeable one at that.

'I once watched my dad on Michael Parkinson,' he says by way of a parting anecdote. 'He was on with Robert de Niro. My dad was incredibly fluent, but de Niro was monosyllabic. Actors often don't like speaking about themselves. They are more used to being a character. I'm not like that at all. I love talking about me!'

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