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Time and Place: Nathaniel Parker
Times Online
Rosanna Greenstreet

Nathaniel Parker, 45, plays Inspector Thomas Lynley in the BBC TV series based on the novels by Elizabeth George. He also starred in Derek Jarman’s 1989 film War Requiem and in the BBC dramatisation of Bleak House. He lives with his wife and two children in London.

Housing the detective

I moved to the Homestead, a cottage in Ilmington, Warwickshire, in 1986, when I was 24. Six months after leaving Lamda, I’d been offered six juvenile leads by Terry Hands, who was running the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was landing-on-my-feet time.

I had to find somewhere to live near Stratford-upon-Avon. A friend at the Young Vic, where I was working at the time, knew the people who owned the Homestead, but told me that the last person who had lived there had been such a slob, they were not going to rent it to actors any more. Apparently, there had been washing up in the bath. On best behaviour, I went to see the owners, who lived next door to the cottage, and they agreed to rent it to me.

I was born and bred in Notting Hill, and lived with my parents just off Kensington High Street. My father was Sir Peter Parker, the former chairman of British Rail; my mother was a GP. We also had a place in Minster Lovell, near Witney, in Oxfordshire. One Saturday, I bought an old Escort estate there. The nicest thing anybody said about it was that it was red – my brother called it the “van rouge”. That afternoon, with my car stacked full of stuff, I drove to the Homestead. I was in heaven: it was my first big job, my first car and the first time I’d lived away from home.

The cottage was perfect: two up, two down, it had been built in the early 19th century from Cotswold stone and had wonderful flagstone floors downstairs. There was an orange Raeburn in the kitchen that heated the whole house. A window seat in the living room looked onto a country lane. Every now and then, a horse would wander past with somebody on top of it.

I had a housemate for the first three months – Simon Russell Beale, who is now starring in Spamalot. Simon and I started together at the RSC. Our first play was A Winter’s Tale. We had four weeks’ rehearsal in London, then four weeks in Stratford. I remember saying to my parents after the first rehearsal, “I’ve just met the Ralph Richardson of our generation.” Simon is an extraordinary actor. That first day, I also met Penny Downie, who was playing Hermione and Perdita. Jeremy Irons was playing Leontes. I remember him walking in with his boots over his jeans, and I said, “Oh, are you still in The French Lieutenant’s Woman?” – which didn’t go down well.

 On the last day of rehearsal in London, I bought Penny a bunch of white roses and gave them to her, saying, “This isn’t a pass, I just think you are an amazing actress and I am so glad to be working with you.” Three days later, I moved into the Homestead and Penny and I started going out together.

I was paying £35 a week for the cottage, and Simon contributed to that. Penny had a section of a grand house in Stratford, but spent a lot of time at my place. I had the bigger bedroom, with the double bed, and Simon had the smaller room with two singles. The bath-room upstairs had a lovely claw-footed bath, with old-fashioned taps and stains from the hard water – but was no longer full of washing up. The walls were avocado and there were cobwebs everywhere. There were wooden floorboards upstairs, and my dad gave me a couple of old rugs; it’s always nice to step out of bed or the bath onto something soft.

The cottage was furnished, although I did buy some old pub chairs at a stall in Stratford. They were covered with torn, stained brown leather and cost 30 quid. I saw some in Paul Smith recently: they call them French pub chairs, and they were going for three grand a pair. I put pictures up to make it more homely, mostly photos in stand-up frames.

We had parties, and I would try to cook for people. I tended to fuel my dinner parties with a lot of alcohol – strawberry and banana daiquiris – so people didn’t realise the food wasn’t very good. I did get better as I learnt from Simon. He is a proper chef, among all his other bloody talents. Singing opera is another, and he would la-di-da all round the house. The 100ft garden had apple trees and three kinds of plums, including some wonderful Victoria plums and damsons. Simon taught me to make the best apple and plum crumble.

We were eight miles from Stratford, and I remember getting into traffic jams every night and thinking, “My god, when’s the half?” Actors are obliged to be there by the ‘half’, which is 35 minutes before curtain-up. I’d panic like mad if I’d left a bit late and always used to think, “If only I had a horse.”

I lived at the Homestead for a year. My contract with the RSC was for two years, but after a year, I had to do six weeks in Newcastle before playing at the Barbican. By then, it was all off with Penny, and in Newcastle I met my wife, the actress Anna Patrick. At the beginning of that year, I made this huge jump in my life – getting a car, moving house and starting at the RSC – and, at the end, I met my future wife. All in all, it was an amazing year.

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