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Nat Parker at home in Acton
The Sunday Times
Cully Law
 19-10-2008

The Inspector Lynley actor has shunned glitzy, bohemian Notting Hill and found a home in a surprising corner of west London

The west London suburb of Acton is not the sort of place you would expect to find the gentleman actor Nat Parker. Then again, neither would you expect his glamorous wife, Anna, to open the door with her hair in curlers, tied up Nora Batty-style, with a Cath Kidston twist. And you certainly wouldn’t expect Parker to be patiently redirecting mail to the previous owners of the house. After two years, most people would be chucking it in the bin.

Yet Parker, 46, who is best known as Inspector Thomas Lynley, the dashing earl in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, is grateful that they agreed to sell to him in the first place. He’s convinced they didn’t really want to.

“Anna’s interior-design partner, who lives on this road, has her ear to the ground and heard that they might be persuaded to sell,” he says. “Luckily, they asked for exactly what we were prepared to pay. Then Anna said it needed only £30,000 of work. You’d think I’d learn, after 15 years of marriage! It took 10 times that.”

Parker doesn’t seem to mind. He loves the house and the neighbourhood, although it is a world away from his previous stamping ground. The son of Sir Peter Parker, former chairman of British Rail, Nat grew up in Notting Hill. “That’s my manor, really,” he says.

As London suburbs go, Acton has a lot going for it, what with its general leafiness, solid Victorian houses and numerous stations, but Notting Hill it ain’t. So why the move?

“A lot of it was the garden,” says Parker, eager to show off his weed-free borders, thriving olive trees and newly acquired knowledge of “clematis wilt”. The children have a treehouse, transformed by a coat of paint from a cheap garden-centre shed on stilts to something more romantic. The once straight edge of the lawn undulates gently, “because life isn’t about straight lines”.

The new-look lawn might have been inspired by the actor’s own career, which has just taken a bit of a swerve, although he manages to be sanguine about last year’s decision by the BBC to kill off Lynley.

“It was a great shame,” he says. “I was surprised, because it was so successful, but it was also a kind of relief, like a cloak had been taken off me. Now I have a chance to do other things.” He has since made two movies: Flawless, with Demi Moore and Michael Caine, and the forthcoming Malice in Wonderland, in which he plays a gay gangster. “It’s been a blessing in many ways.”

Parker is less understanding when it comes to those who think he’s had it easy. “Years ago, an actor said he had a problem with me because he felt I’d been born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he says. “I said, ‘First, what difference would it make if I had? And second, I wasn’t.’ Dad came to this country at 14 with no money. He went to school on a scholarship, Oxford on a scholarship, and ended up a member of the Fabian Society, an actor and a politician, as well as head of British Rail.

“All I was given was love and support in everything I did, from both parents. Without that, I wouldn’t be Nat,” Parker says. He gives that same love and support to his wife. “I’ve always wanted to bottle and sell her,” he says. “She creates spaces people want to live in. Her ‘wow factor’ is one of the reasons I fell in love with her.”

Even in these days of the extreme house makeover, Anna stands out from the crowd. In 1992, the couple started married life in a one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill, but within a year they had moved to part of a converted Victorian schoolhouse in Battersea, south London. “It’s called William Blake House, which is apt, as Dad used to be a chair of the Blake Society and we were very much brought up on him.”

Their section of the old school had 4,500 sq ft of space, in the days before loft-style living had taken off. “The property developers couldn’t get rid of it at first. Nobody knew what to do with such vast rooms,” he says. “Anna just went for it. We had a bath and a loo in the middle of our bedroom long before people were doing such things. The developer took photographs, put them in the brochure and sold the lot.

"She changed our space into a beautiful mansion, so it had more or less quadrupled in value when we sold it seven years later, for £1m, to Greg Rused-ski [the tennis player], who insisted on the kitchen table as part of the deal. Now Orlando Bloom lives next door and the kitchen alone would sell for £1m. People make whole flats out of them.” The area wasn’t villagey enough for the Parkers, though. “The heart and soul wasn’t there and it was a relief to leave,” he says.

Next stop was Elsham Road, on the borders of Holland Park and Shepherd’s Bush. “We bought one of the few whole houses in the street,” he says. “I liked the lovely wooden floor. Next thing I knew, Anna had ripped it out, so downstairs had a ceiling of 30-odd feet.”

The paved front area was transformed with a waterfall in his wife’s effortless fashion. They were there for six years and left partly because Nat wanted the children – Angelica (Angel), 11, and Raphaella (Raffi), 9 – to have a garden.

There were other reasons, too. “It’s a busy street and the house was always dirty,” he says. “I can’t bear lime trees, and my car got clamped or got a ticket every weekend.”

If Battersea had been a step too far, Acton was a brave move that’s paid off. “I was pretty nervous about moving here, but within two days I felt more at home than I ever did in any of our other places. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the garden, away from what Dad called the ‘aural bruising’ of London.”

Or maybe it’s the house. When Anna first found it, she warned Nat that it didn’t have the “wow factor”. And she’s right, if “wow” means 30ft ceilings, waterfalls and loos in bedrooms. If, however, it means a light, spacious home that manages to be modern, interesting and comfortable, while avoiding most of the clichés of today’s show homes, then “wow” it is.

It was largely a case of paring down, opening up and paying attention to detail. The floors in the kitchen and hall are plain porcelain; the stairs are covered in thick silk, with stripes going from side to side for a change. The double reception room features wide planks of washed Danish pine.

The couple’s bedroom – with a hand-paintedfloral frieze over the bed and the magnificently gaudy Murano mirror and chandelier – opens straight into a study on one side and a huge bathroom, with a mini-gym and a grandiose artificial-flower arrangement, on the other. Downstairs, the simple fireplaces – “cheap as chips” – were designed by Anna, as was the oak table, which she treated herself, using a scrubbing brush and industrial bleach.

Nat worried that the wooden floor might be too soft, and that two fireplaces in one room might not work; he also couldn’t see what was wrong with the kitchen island. The new one, though, with a marble top, is a triumph. “I just go with it,” he says. “Anna makes me feel as if I’ve done some of the deciding.”

All in all, it’s no surprise to hear that P and P Interiors, the interior-design service set up by Anna with Tania Payne, a fellow mum at the girls’ school, is thriving by word of mouth. “Work has just rolled in for us,” she says. “I was an actress for years, but when I had kids I floated out. Now I have no desire to float back in. Actors continually have their hands up, saying, ‘Please love me.’ That’s not for me.”

One of Anna’s favourite places in the house is the veranda, a homage to Australia, the birthplace of her mother. It typifies her approach, which, while hardly cutting-edge, is full of delightful surprises. Here, at the back of the open-plan kitchen, the predictable response would be for an elegant inside-outside glass garden room. A veranda is more interesting – and relaxed.

It’s like the difference between Acton and Notting Hill. “Notting Hill is just not bohemian any more,” she says. “And I like being slightly outside the zone. It’s more peaceful and less overwhelming. It’s also anonymous, and you don’t feel you have to do your hair to walk down the street.”

Nat feels much the same. “I don’t miss Notting Hill at all,” he says, “though I like going to Portobello occasionally, and seeing some chums. Here, I like having to stop for the level crossing at the end of the road. There’s nothing to do but sit and think for five minutes, and it makes me feel I’m in the country. My dream is to wake up and see a field outside with my horse in it.”

So far, the nearest he has come to that dream is to own a few parts of race-horses in a syndicate, but he loves the view over allotments from his bedroom window, and over his garden from the veranda. Yes, Acton suits this man just as well as those curlers suit his wife.

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