A Life in the Day: Ray Winstone

Sunday Times: 5 October 2003

by Ria Higgins


photograph by Muir VidlerThe actor Ray Winstone, 46, stars in a new TV series about Henry VIII this autumn. He lives in Essex with his wife, Elaine, and their children Lois, Jamie and Ellie.

"I'm used to getting up at the crack of dawn because my dad was a greengrocer all his life. If I'm off filming, it's nearly always an early start, so I'm usually under the shower and out of the house before the wife and bubba are up. I'm not big on breakfasts. I just have a cup of tea and a fag when I get to wherever I'm going. Having said that, if there's a bacon roll in the vicinity, I might have to rescue it. At the start of this year, I needed to lose two stone to play Henry VIII, so I had to watch it on the old calorie front – no booze, no stodge. The young Henry was actually a very fit, athletic man, so I also did a bit of serious training. It reminded me of my younger days as an amateur boxer.

I was flattered when I got asked to play Henry VIII. I thought it was pretty brave of the casting director. But at the same time I said to myself: "Yeah, I'll have a bit of that. I might come from Plaistow, but I'll f***ing play the king, thank you very much." It's an attitude I've acquired from the countless times I've been offered the part of Puck or the Fool. So there was a bit of me saying: "Stick those roles right up your arse as much as you can poke them, 'cause I'm playing the king this time."

I had strong ideas of what I wanted to bring to the part. I mean, I've been lucky enough to play some really challenging roles – in films like Scum and Nil by Mouth – and this was another one. But I wanted less of that chappie-type king stuff you see in acting. You know, speaking like you've got a pound of plums in your mouth: "Na, na, na" I wasn't having any of that. My king had to act like a warrior and speak like a warrior. I also wanted to show all his contradictions: the monster, the manipulator, the sadness, the horror, the little boy, the man. At times it was like playing Don Corleone in The Godfather. And then, what with a bunch of wives to contend with. Can you imagine? Six loads of earache. One's enough, never mind six.

I've been married myself for 23 years. I met Elaine in Torquay. I was working down there one summer and she was over on holiday with her mum and dad from Ireland. Funnily enough, we spent the summer in Ireland this year, because I was over there filming Arthur. We had a great time. It's such a beautiful place. The family always comes to see me if I'm off filming somewhere. Having said that, when I was in Romania last year making Cold Mountain with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, they gave it a miss and went to Tenerife instead! I had something to say about that, I can tell you.

For lunch, if I'm filming, there's usually caterers, so I'll keep it simple: something like steak and kidney or cottage pie.

Before the acting took off, I worked with Dad on his market stalls. I was helping him out at weekends from the age of 13. We used to go to Spitalfields, so I've known the City all my life. Dad had stalls in Poplar, Roman Road, St Albans, Enfield, Hertford – all over.

I tell you, working on a market stall is a great education. You meet people from all walks of life – every character in the book. And there's nothing quite like the banter and the sense of humour. Even ranting becomes an art form.

It probably accounts for my tendency to speak my mind. I mean, one thing that does my head in is the roads. Three years ago I was driving across London and smashed my wheels in this bloody crater. The other day, I was driving down the same road, and do you know what? That crater was still there. I couldn't believe it. The government takes road taxes, congestion charges and everything else, but they can't even mend a f***ing hole. I tell you, if I was Henry VIII, I'd have them all. I'd send all of them down the Swanee. They'd be gone. In Traitors' Gate, bish, bosh, heads right off. Clean, simple, on a plate.

When is one of those w***ers, one of those supposedly highly educated men, going to realise that we don't believe a word they say? There's not one I would vote for. In fact, I haven't voted since I was 17. Mates say: "You've got to vote, it's your right to vote." But my right is not to vote.

When I first get home, my bubba meets me at the door. She's walking and talking now. We have a little cuddle, have a little walk through into the sitting room. She makes me laugh. If my older girls are in, it's usually: "All right, Dad?" They're 18 and 20 now, and both want to be actresses – Lois has already appeared in The Bill a few times. I would've loved for my mum to have seen my three beautiful daughters growing up. She died 17 years ago now. She was only 52. It's no age today, is it?

We all sit down and have dinner. Can't beat old-fashioned home cooking. A bit of liver and bacon. A bit of roast beef. A leg of lamb. Oh, and pork with crackling – love it to death.

In the evenings I often just want to put my feet up in front of the telly. The girls might be watching something like I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here, and I'll have to put my foot down: "Do we have to watch any more of that rubbish? It's gonna drive me mad." I don't always get my way, but often I'll just drive them all up the wall so they end up handing me the remote. Nah, I might rant, but I know how lucky I am at the end of the day. I've got my family round me and I've got a job that I like doing. Life couldn't get any better."

Photo by Muir Vidler


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