It’s a Small World
by Karen Shaw
“I think it’s about time we had a Barnsley Bond,” he laughs. “I scrub up all right. I can handle a gun. I don’t like martini’s but could get used to them.”
THE CURIOUS TALE OF MY EX-NEIGHBOUR’S NEIGHBOUR AND MY CURRENT NEIGHBOUR’S CAR
It’s a small world, and this was made ever so apparent recently when I was chatting to my life-long friend and former next-door neighbour Bethan who now lives in London. I was telling her about my neighbour Glyn.
Now, my neighbour Glyn has a claim to fame. It’s large, shiny and blue, he calls it a 1972 MK3 Cortina Estate XL, all I can tell you is that it drives and looks good, so good, in fact, that it was featured on BAFTA award-winning TV series, It’s a Sin. I was rather chuffed that I had an almost famous neighbour (albeit a vroom, vroom) parked up on the drive next door. Bethan listened patiently, waited until I’d finished gabbling on and then casually informed me that, she too had a neighbour in the same show.
See. Small world.
“Which car was his?” I ask.
“He’s not a car,” she laughs, “he’s an actor. He played Ritchie’s dad, y’know him from Barnsley – Shaun Dooley.”
Now, his name may not be familiar (unless you’re from Barnsley), but his face most certainly is. An incredible actor Shaun has been a regular visitor in our front rooms for over 20 years, entertaining and enthralling us with the likes of Grantchester, Broadchurch, Gentleman Jack, The Stranger, Coronation Street, Innocent, the list goes on and on (he’s also the voice over for SAS: Who Dares Wins).
“I’m currently unemployed,” says Shaun. “I’m doing a couple of voiceovers, but, I’m between haircuts, as I like to call it. I think it’s important to say that, especially for younger actors. I’ll be two, three months unemployed and that’s just part of the job.”
I’d heard on the grapevine that they’re on the look-out for the next 007, maybe with a shave and a hair cut he’d be in with a chance. “I think it’s about time we had a Barnsley Bond,” he laughs. “I scrub up all right. I can handle a gun. I don’t like martini’s but could get used to them.”
An ‘A’ grade student at school, Shaun had ambitions of becoming a big animal vet, “It was my absolute passion, but I went to pieces in the exams. I would just sit there unable to even turn the paper over. I failed all my GSCEs which meant I couldn’t study to be a vet.”
Although Shaun enjoyed performing as a child, it was never a passion he thought achievable. Never a dream as it was never an option, until a couple of actors from Barnsley Youth Theatre heard about him failing his GCSEs, and suggested he become an actor. After presenting him with a copy of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, and the date and time for an audition, off he trot to Barnsley College, and three years after graduating from Arden School of Theatre in Manchester, he landed his first TV role in Dalziel and Pascoe in 1998.
“Honestly, Karen as far as I’m concerned, they handed me the route to everything I have now, even my wife and kids, it all stems from that moment.”
When he asked his dad for advice on whether he should audition or not, he was told under no uncertain terms, ‘You’re going to be unemployed no matter what you do, so you may as well be unemployed doing something you like doing.’
“Proper non-Billy Elliot dad, northern, pragmatic advice,” laughs Shaun. “I talk to my kids about tough love. That is as important in parenting as understanding and pandering. It’s just as valid to say, ‘change it, do something about it.’”
Shaun has four children to his partner Polly of 22 years. A devoted dad and hubby he enjoys his time at home when not on location apart from “getting up at 6.30am that’s the killer.” He chuckles, “Bloody hell by the time we’ve got everyone to school it’s been two hours, like we’ve done a whole shift already. “At the start of our relationship, I was a stay-at-home dad, for the first three years and Polly was at work. But when my career started to pick up Polly decided to be a stay-at-home mum, but without Polly doing that I couldn’t do what I do. She’s now producing and we have several projects on the burner.
“We’re really strong. What makes ours a successful relationship is that we have a true partnership. We have one bank account that everything goes in, we operate as one unit. Although, funnily enough, my girls are growing up, and you have to excuse my French here, but I’m really going to promote the ‘f**k off fund’ idea, it’s incredibly important for girls especially, for them to have an account that nobody else knows about.
“When I get offered a job, we sit down together and decide if I should do it. With this line of work when the spotlight is on you, it’s easy to forget that there’s five other people to consider. We make a decision as a family. It’s always been ‘us’ as a team.
“Over the years Polly has brought the kids and joined me on location, they’ve been to Italy, Prague, Budapest. That’s how we operate. It’s fun because when I get a job immediately the kids ask, ‘where is it?’ Their two favourite places for me to get a job are Budapest and Leeds. They absolutely love Leeds!”
Costa Del Leeds eh? Well, I guess with them being part Yorkie, they’re obviously drawn to God’s own county…
“Mmm, but Leeds? Being a Barnsley lad that makes me feel a bit sick!” he jokes (or does he?).
Despite living in London, Shaun’s retained his trademark grufty, rufty Yorkshire accent with a familiar twang of Barnsleyism, he’s Yorkshire through and through. Then again, on second thoughts, probably not. The clue is in the name. Shaun’s Irish roots stem from his rather colourful grandad Dooley who left Ireland to make his home in Yorkshire, and despite Shaun feeling “very Yorkshire”, he also admits to feeling “very Irish” too.
“I’ve always felt a strong connection to Ireland, so much so, that when he was younger, he’d proudly parade around Barnsley town centre sporting an Irish rugby shirt.
“An Irish newspaper contacted me after tracking down my family, I went over to visit them and as soon as I touched the soil in Ireland I felt as if I’d arrived home. The countryside is very similar to Yorkshire. The landscape is very me.”
Now, I’m a Yorkshire lass. I don’t cry. But, I bawled like a baby when watching the BAFTA winning Channel 4 show, It’s A Sin. Based in 1981 it heralds the start of a new decade with pals Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin beginning a new, exciting life in London. As the decade passes, they continue to grow up in the shadow of AIDS and continue to live and love more fiercely than ever, right until the very bitter end.
“It’s the thing I’m most proud of being part of,” beams Shaun, and rightly so, he most certainly should be proud.
“Attitudes have changed because of it. I get grown men coming up to me and saying, ‘thank you, my dad’s talking to me,’ which if you change one person, you’ve done more than enough in your life. These guys are coming up and saying to me ‘it’s opened up a dialogue between me and my dad.’
Written by Russell T Davies, when Shaun first read the script, he wept (and I thought Yorkshire men didn’t cry!). He also wept at the read through and took sob breaks when watching it, much to his wife Polly’s annoyance, she’d ask, “Why are you crying when you know what happens?”
“I WILL NEVER PLAY A CHARACTER I CAN’T DEFEND BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO UNDERSTAND WHY THEY ARE THE WAY THEY ARE.”
Shaun played the part of Clive Tozer, the father of lead character Ritchie, (played by Olly Alexander). A bullish, opinionated, arrogant, dried up, screwed up, messed up ball of frustrated resentment, and that’s putting it lightly. A world away from Shaun’s gentle nature.
“He could have been Ritchie in terms of wanting fun, music and partying. Instead, he’s ended up with two kids, a car, a steady job, and drinks at the same pub with the same people. He’s stuck and resents it. I really didn’t like him in episode one. I wish he’d been a better man,” he sighs.
“I will never play a character I can’t defend,” says Shaun. “There’s characters I won’t play because I don’t want to understand why they are the way they are. I don’t believe anyone is inherently evil. I think we’re all a mixture of different circumstances and a series of unfortunate events that have led us to where we are.” Clive’s redeeming feature came at the end when he cared more about Ritchie than anything else he was going through. And then at the end to care more about his boy, than everything he was going through, I hooked everything on that.”
With a plethora of famous friends, I wondered if he ever got star-struck, I mean, he’s had coffees with Colman (Olivia), sang with Swift (Taylor) and partied with Jagger (Mick)J. We’ve all got a claim to fame and mine was in 1977 when my grandma took me to Keighley Conservative Club to meet actor Ronald Magill, Emmerdale’s Amos Brierley. I was well and truly star-struck, chuffed to bits with my signed autograph.
“The last time I got star-struck was around 15 years ago, me and Polly used to go to screenings at Disney (because we’re really lucky people). There was a little bar where you could go and serve yourself, as I approached the bar Mick Jagger popped up and said, ‘Alright mate, what do you want?’ ‘Oh, a couple of bottles of Bud, please Mick!”’
After Mick opened the bottles the pair continued to chat at the bar for a while and by the time Shaun had returned to Polly the beer was flat, unlike Shaun, who was sparkling, grinning from ear to ear. “I walk back to Polly almost giggling, saying, ‘Mick Jagger just gave us these beers.’ It was really cool!”
The following week they turn up again, that’s when Shaun “went to pieces” when he spotted his idol stroll into the room. Daley ‘Decathlon’ Thompson. “He was my absolute sporting icon as a kid,” he grins, “I had clothes of his and all his Spectrum games. At the weekend me and my cousin Darren would pretend to be Daley, taking it turns and arguing whose ‘go’ it was.
“Sometimes we were both Daley, we’d use the clothes prop as our javelin and rocks as shot put!”
When Daley made his way to the bar, his wife Polly
urged Shaun to go and say hello. “I can’t!” he shrieked. “If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life! You spoke to bloody Mick Jagger last week, go on!”
“I set off walking towards him, but my legs buckled. I couldn’t go near him and didn’t!” he gulps.
“I take my eldest boy, we go to screenings all the time, we went to see this film with Christian Bale in it and my boy is a big Batman fan, he starts going, ‘I’m Batman’. ‘Please don’t mate, it’s really embarrassing. Just don’t do it.’”
‘Dad, it’s funny,’ he replies.
‘Yes, it is funny, but he might not find it funny, so let’s not do the – I’m a Batman thing. Anyway, he kept doing it. So not phased at all.”
Cut to a couple of months later, the pair attended the premier of Wicked. “In the interval I got a drink and suddenly this woman ruffles my lad’s hair thinking it’s her grandson. My boy turns, looks up at her and his jaw drops open… it was THE Mary Berry and he was totally gobsmacked. ‘You met Christian Bale a month ago, you were cool about it!’ I know but she’s the Mary Berry!’”
He gets about does our Shaun, receiving invitations a-plenty to hobnob with celebs at VIP nights but admits he’s much happier at home. “I’m a bit of cave man, I’m not the most social person, but if there’s something in it for the family, then I’ll go.” He may well feel Irish, but when it comes to having owt for nowt Shaun’s Yorkshire through and through.
“I’m even considering turning the central heating back on,” he says, “we haven’t had it on all year!”
It’s not that times are hard for Shaun, quite the opposite, but no amount of money and success can unearth his Barnsley roots and his memories of the Miner’s Strike, when life was tough and he really did have to dig deep…
“I was ten at the time and it was one of the defining moments of my life. We went from normality and going abroad on holiday to absolutely nothing. And suddenly you’re the kids having free school dinners.”
He remembers having his Christmas Day dinner in a soup kitchen and receiving presents given to them from Russian miners as his parents couldn’t afford Christmas that year. “The bailiff came round and emptied everything, I was a little kid and I remember this giant of a man stopped and apologised to me as he took our telly, microwave and VHS player. It’s had a huge impact on my life.”
It made such an impact on him, that despite ‘being between haircuts’ he’s off to help a struggling young actor to realise his true potential.
“I’m meeting a kid today from a working-class background, in Durham to talk to him because he’s struggling with the whole imposter syndrome,” says Shaun. “I’ll be giving him Yorkshire words of advice.”
It’s simple acts of kindness that the world needs more of. I guess everybody needs good neighbours. I wonder if my neighbour Glyn will be kind enough to lend me his 1972 MK3 Cortina Estate XL so I can visit my ex-neighbour’s neighbour who just ‘appens to be him off the telly…it’s a small world.