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GG's Sam Turner Interviews Nat Parker
GG.com
Sam Turner
27 August 2013

Racing journalist Sam Turner chats with TV and film actor Nat Parker on 'Inspector Lynley's prospects as a punter, his latest project and of course, a well-documented love of all things horse racing.

As one of the country’s most ingenious detectives, you would hope Nat Parker could uncover a plot in a Brighton seller or decipher which juvenile was cunningly placed to land a York nursery. Responsible for playing Inspector Thomas Lynley in the award-winning BBC series for nearly a decade, the affable London-born actor plays down similarities to the much-loved investigator.

“I wish I enjoyed the same strike rate with horses as he does with solving murders!” quipped Parker.

“Lynley is very honest, very moral and he’s got a fantastic sense of manners and decorum.”

“I’d like to think I have some of his traits, but I’m not sure he would be a punter!”

Whether Lynley would have as much inclination to sift through a 25-runner Cheltenham handicap hurdle is highly debatable as Parker’s love for racing is well documented.

In between takes or rehearsals, the 51-year-old can be seen with Ipad and Racing Post close to hand as he endeavours to keep on top of breaking stories and the latest results.

“I was mocked furiously for having a Racing Post under my arm at drama school and my love of horses began when I was 10 and I realised that a lot of girls used to frequent the local stables!”

“The love of horses therefore came before betting and it was a while before I was skiving off school to watch the racing on BBC2 in the seventies.

“It wasn’t until I was doing a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford with the late, great Richard Griffiths that I actually went racing for the first time and that outing only served to heighten my love of the sport.”

“Although finding time to keep up can be difficult, I often listen to William Hill Radio as they have proper conversations about racing and I enjoy the banter.

“I also use the GG.COM horse tracker system so that I don’t suffer that ultimate annoyance for all punters; missing a horse you’ve been waiting weeks to back.”

Parker’s association with horse racing has seen him enjoy some fantastic moments, not least when riding in a charity race on Newmarket’s July Course last summer.

“When I rode in the race at Newmarket, I was lucky to spend the morning watching Frankel work before having a lift back to Warren Place with Sir Henry in his Jag.

“That involved screaming down Newmarket High Street at 70mph with Sir Henry pointing out where all his contemporaries trained!

“I was then fortunate to have the “Royal tour” around the rose garden before enjoying breakfast and some fascinating chats with Sir Henry.

“He had only just returned home from a bout of chemotherapy yet couldn’t have been more welcoming and wonderful.”

If Parker thought that was the last of his association with the master of Warren Place then he was mistaken.

Two weeks before Christmas, he took delivery of Ajaan, formerly a useful handicapper and lead horse for Thomas Chippendale and Noble Mission, sent to him by Cecil who entrusted Parker to ensure his charge enjoyed a happy retirement.

“It was an amazing gesture from Sir Henry and I’m delighted we, as a family, have our own part of his legend at home with us.

“Ajaan is a dream to ride and both my daughters take him up the gallop as he’s so well behaved and calm.

“I’d love to be able to train him up and ride him in another charity race, like the one around Stratford, as he would be a dream ride.”

In many respects Ajaan epitomises his new owner with versatility featuring high on a list of characteristics.

Parker’s list of roles is as varied and wide ranging as the list of luminaries he has worked with in an illustrious career which shows no signs of abating.

Whether it has been on Broadway alongside Dustin Hoffman in a production of the Merchant Of Venice or opposite Mel Gibson in the film version of Hamlet, the roll call of acting greats is seemingly endless.

He has also been cast alongside Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sir Michael Caine to name but a few and recent roles have included featuring in the BBC series Merlin and in the West end stage production of The Audience earlier this year where he played former Prime Minister Gordon Brown opposite Mirren.

“Thankfully, I have got to know Gordon a little bit through various functions so characterising him was a little easier,” added Parker.

“He gets a bad press, but he is as bright as a button and great company.”

Those are comments which could also apply to Parker who has been known to back the odd winner or three, earning a reputation as a shrewd exponent of the each-way patent.

“I’ve had one or two accounts closed along the way and I once talked one layer into reopening my account so I could get a multiple on.

“Thankfully they laid me and it just happened to be my day. The first two went in at 10/3 and 7/2 and the third leg was a bumper horse which I’d had a word for. It was backed all rates down from 100/1 into a fraction of those odds.

“It was a fantastic day and I think the bet came to something like £17,000 which is the biggest figure I’ve managed to win.”

Parker’s prowess with the form book has earned him an annual gig at Glorious Goodwood doing a pre-race box talk to guests on behalf of Audi.

He adds: “The first time I did a talk at Goodwood, Clive Owen and Jamie and Louise Redknapp were among the guests so the pressure was on.”

“There were a fair few other important people present and I was more nervous than on an opening night on the West end!”

So how does he find his winners?

“People get frightened by systems and view them in a derogatory fashion,” he continues.

“But essentially everyone has one or a methodology of going about finding the horses they want to back.

“I won’t back a horse unless it hails from a trainer in form as I believe confidence is a huge factor in sport.

“It seems logical to me that you would back horses from a stable which are among the winners and full of confidence as one horse’s confidence often seems to inspire his counterparts.”

Parker is soon to enter rehearsals in preparation for playing Henry VIII in the stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

It marks a return to the Royal Shakespeare Company after a 26-year absence and he is understandably excited by the challenge.

“I couldn’t say no to this project as I am thrilled to be working with the team which includes Ben Miles (playing Thomas Cromwell). He is an actor I’ve wanted to work with for quite some time.

“We will be working together over Christmas this year and as disruptive as that is to the festivities and watching some truly classy racing, I have to say I’m a lucky man.”

Lucky indeed, but if I’ve learned anything from our enjoyable chat, it’s that Parker will move heaven and earth to have a television in place in his dressing room for the King George on Boxing Day, even if it interferes with the matinee performance.

After all, Henry VIII was pretty adept at getting his own way.

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