Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:13 pm Post subject: John Thomson
My mentors John Thomson recalls how acting and music were drummed into him Deany Judd
December 6 2008
Acting and playing the drums have been the great loves of my life; the two things that I've put a huge amount of effort into and to a large degree that's thanks to the mentors I had. I grew up in a really small village outside Preston called New Longton and it was there, in my early teens that I got involved in the local drama class and met Kay Peacock. Before I met her I had loved performing, but she introduced me to the world of actors and plays. We read Shakespeare, Chekhov and modern writers and she taught me to love drama.
Around the same time I got a school report which said that if I put as much effort into my work as I put into entertaining the class, I could do anything I wanted to do. That was when I decided I wanted to be an actor. I had to sit London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art exams and every Friday night, Kay would rehearse a part with me. One night she brought along some of her friends to watch me which was very encouraging, and I ended up getting a distinction in my exams. We would just talk about everything and put the world to rights. She was slightly eccentric and had this mad red hair; she had great warmth and was as proud as punch when I had some success. We still swap Christmas cards and I hope she knows how important a part she played in my life.
Had I not become an actor, I'd definitely have been a professional drummer. I'd watched the red-haired character in The Partridge Family and always thought I could do that. John Hicks, my drum teacher, was a great character; he had been in the RAF and wore a pork-pie hat and drove a moped with drumsticks and sheets of music tucked under his arm. He absolutely lived and breathed drumming. He was such an amazing teacher and really taught me the rudiments of being a good drummer. My favourite lesson was when he drummed alongside me; he was so talented. I joined two different bands, but acting always had the edge. He was really keen for me to go to America on a scholarship and when I said I was sticking to acting he said incredulously, "You've got the chance to go to America and you'd rather go to Stratford with a bunch of poofs?"
He's in his 70s now and is still teaching, regularly taking his pupils to drum clinics all over the country. That's typical of John's dedication and commitment and it's great that there are such people in the world. Drumming is still very important in my life and I can still play to a good standard and I'll always be grateful to John Hicks for that.
• John Thomson is appearing in ITV1's Coronation Street on December 15.
I beat the booze, but now I'm hooked on life! Cold Feet star JOHN THOMPSON has sobered up... and the work is flooding in By Richard Barber
25th December 2008
He may have the outward appearance of the slightly hopeless Pete Gifford, the lovable loser from Cold Feet, but the new, improved John Thomson is a man reborn. Sitting in his dressing room at the Opera House in Manchester, where he is currently treating 1,400 punters twice daily to his knowingly over-ripe Captain Hook, here is a shiny, happy person who'd have been beyond his imagining three years ago. As it happens, he's battling bronchitis and up to his back teeth, he says, in antibiotics. But even that is as a direct result of taking himself apart and putting himself back together again.
'What was that line about the Six Million Dollar Man?' he asks, at one point. 'Ah, yes - "We can rebuild him. We can make him better, stronger, faster." And it's true. I feel great.' Well, apart from the bronchitis which developed more or less the moment John, having eliminated all his other bad habits, decided to give up smoking. 'I was an amateur smoker - between six and eight a day,' he says. 'I mean, what's the point? If you're only going to play at it, you might as well give up altogether. Unlike the wife - Sam's hardcore: 20 Regal a day. They're builders' fags.'
And the accompanying throaty chuckle shows that he's some days away from regaining rude good health. After any number of well-documented incidents involving drink, drugs and domestic upheaval, he and Samantha Sharp - an interior designer currently devoting her time to their six-year-old daughter Olivia - now live together in Didsbury, an area of Greater Manchester. At 39, John Thomson has plenty to smile about. 'I don't wish to tempt Fate,' he says. 'But I feel like I'm on a roll right now.'
It's hard to disagree. He's just finished three episodes of Coronation Street, playing Jesse Chadwick, a children's entertainer, whose wife has run off with a drains inspector. He'll be back later in the year for a four-month run. 'They've asked me to do six months, but I've also got to fit in more episodes of Kingdom with Stephen Fry.'
Then there's Big Top, a promising-sounding sitcom set in a circus, in which John plays a clown with anger management issues. Amanda Holden is the fetching ring mistress, Ruth Madoc is Lady With A Dog, Tony Robinson an embittered accountant and part-time acrobat, and Jeff Rawle a suicidal volunteer for the human cannonball. Filming starts on January 31. At the other end of the year, he'll be back in panto, if he has his way.
'Sam's fond of saying that I don't know the true meaning of hard work. A smart car comes to fetch me; someone does my hair and make-up; I have to learn a few lines; then I'm given a nice cheque. She may be right but, when it comes to panto, I'm truly grafting - and, I must say, I'm relishing it. The wife says I can do it again next Christmas, but only if it's no farther away than North Wales or Liverpool.'
This unforced good cheer, not to mention the seamless work schedule, is in sharp contrast both to those years he refers to as 'the carryon' and their aftermath. This was a time that John was taking drugs, drinking too much, and having frequent bust-ups with Sam - one of which resulted in the police being called to their house. He also allegedly cheated on her when filming in Australia and subsequently split up with her when she was in the final stages of pregnancy. You name it, he did it - or was said to have done it. Then, just after Christmas 2006, Thomson shut himself away in a suite at the Beetham Hilton, the 50-storey luxury hotel that towers over Manchester's skyline.
He was in a bad way after yet another row with his wife. 'I didn't want to see Sam so I shut myself away, made full use of room service and drank the mini-bar dry. In my head, everything and everyone were ganging up against me. Oh, poor me! It was all everybody else's fault. I remember standing by the window and watching the rain running down the glass. It felt as though I had the cares of the world on my shoulders. It was insane. I also convinced myself that I wasn't doing anybody else any harm. And that was nonsense, too. There were people out there worried sick about me.'
December 29 of that year proved to be a turning point. 'As I gradually sobered up, I realised it was all nuts. It had to end - and it did.'
Thomson and wife Samantha: Their relationship survived his alcoholism
Thomson was determined to get his life back on track and that meant kicking the booze. 'I'd painted myself into a corner. I drank because I was unhappy and I was unhappy because I drank. I had to break out of the vicious circle.' So he joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). 'I'd always claimed that I wasn't an alcoholic; no, I was a binge drinker. But binge drinking is alcoholism by another name. And it's becoming an epidemic in this country. I tell you, there soon won't be enough rehab facilities to cope with all the binge drinkers.'
New recruits to AA are supposed to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. 'I did 26 in 30,' says John, 'but I found that was enough. I listened intently and I came away with the tools to get on with my life. I thank AA and all the good people who helped me. The first two rules I was taught were that you shouldn't pick up the first drink and that you should attend AA regularly. I reckoned that if I could stick to the first, I wouldn't have to bother with the second.'
It's a less-than-orthodox approach but, to his credit, he hasn't touched a drop of alcohol from that day to this. Yet he's careful to make no great claims about the future, preferring, in the time-honoured tradition, to take it one day at a time. 'Might I have a beer one day if I was feeling like it? Who knows? All I can say is that I haven't since December 29, 2006,' he says.
So why does he think he fell down the slippery slope in the first place and at the point of his greatest success? He turns both palms towards the ceiling and shrugs. 'I've asked myself that over and over again. And I still don't really know the answer. Maybe it's a gene I inherited from my birth parents.'
John was born on April 2, 1969, to an unmarried mother who gave him up for adoption when he was six weeks old. Yet he had an idyllically happy upbringing with his adoptive parents, Andrew, a businessman who now works for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), and Marita, a former bookshop assistant who now makes greetings cards.
'I love Mum and Dad,' he says, uncomplicatedly. He also loves his younger brother, Ben, the biological son of Andrew and Marita. 'He's a producer with BBC Radio Lancashire and a very good one, too. There was never any jealousy between us. I never felt he was somehow more special than me. From as far back as I can remember I knew I was adopted, and I was made to feel important because I'd been chosen.'
Even so, he recalls studying child developmental psychology as an A-level and discovering a link between adoption and attention deficit disorder. 'I was a babe in arms when I was parted from my biological mother, but the bond was nonetheless broken. Who's to say at what fundamental level that may have had an effect? At school, I was cheeky, restless. I had a short attention span. If it doesn't sound big-headed, I was bright but bored. I had my IQ tested once and it turned out to be 168.' But he's emphatic that it would be stretching a point to blame his spell of heavy drinking on his adoption: 'The fact is, I'm never going to be able to get to the bottom of that one.'
The knock-on effect of falling out of one too many bars was that the job offers began to dry up. For seven months last year, he didn't work. 'But I tried to keep myself busy,' he says. 'I co-wrote a sketch show which is out there in the ether waiting to be picked up. I also started my autobiography, but quickly tired of it. Some actors like swimming in their own sea, but I'd heard it all before. And then I wrote a synopsis for a novel which I'd love to complete one day.'
His period out of work taught him a salutary lesson, he says. 'I regarded it as being on probation. My actions had shown I was unreliable. The days of Oliver Reed and Richard Harris going on benders are a thing of the past. The climate today is one of zero tolerance for that sort of behaviour. As soon as I woke up to that stark truth, I worked hard at getting my good reputation back.'
But he feels he was red-top fodder for longer than he deserved. 'I wasn't a monster. I was popular because of Cold Feet. Maybe that's the British disease, though. They build you up and then they knock you down. I never used to understand why the Chinese proverb "May you live in interesting times" was considered a curse. But I know exactly why now. When I was drinking and doing drugs, I was living in extremely interesting times; when I stopped, I gradually got back my anonymity. Now, I'm no longer interesting - and I love it.
'It's so good to wake up on a Sunday and know you're not going to have to read about yourself. It's pure joy. Having said that, the public were always very good to me. But then, Pete was a loveable character. He was nice to Jen [his screen wife] even though she took their child to America. There was an element of Little Boy Lost about him that I think the audience found appealing. Sam always says that she likes the childlike quality of my personality; it's the childishness she can't bear.'
He still keeps up with the five other leading actors from Cold Feet. 'I chatted to Robert Bathurst the other night on the phone. Jimmy Nesbitt texted me when he was watching the Comedy Awards, recalling when our show was winning prizes. When I was filming the new movie Inkheart, I stayed in a hotel near where Helen Baxendale lives, so I saw her quite often. I see Fay Ripley whenever I'm in London because she lives in Richmond. And, of course, Hermione Norris is a regular on Kingdom, so we work together.'
John grieved, he says, when Cold Feet finally came to an end after seven years. 'But they were right to finish it when they did. They revived This Life ten years later and it didn't work.' Now, he's hopeful that Big Top will be a hit. 'Well, you can't criticise it for not being original. I'm so fed up with middle-class sitcoms set in a large house in the Home Counties. I don't think there's ever been a series - comic or otherwise - set in a circus.'
In a few days, John will celebrate what AA calls his 'sobriety birthday', his second since he gave up drinking. 'Sam bought me an iPhone last year. I'll get myself some knickknack this time round, probably a video game which Olivia and I can both play. I thought I wouldn't have a gaming buddy when she was born, but she's just as addicted as me.'
The public address system announcement tells him it's 30 minutes to curtain up for the evening's performance of Peter Pan. 'I was thinking just the other day that the carry-on has made me a better man. My marriage is stronger than it's ever been. I had to go down to come up again. And that experience has taught me that you don't learn anything through success, only through failure.'
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