I lost a friend today.
Long ago, hormonal 14 year old me watched repeats of her beloved Blakes 7 on UK Gold and idly dreamed of Avon being in her bedroom. Little did 14 year old me imagine that would one day happen. But 14 year old me could also never have imagined that there would be seven of us, warm white wine, crisps and a lot of bad jokes about nuns told in an Irish accent.
Lots will be – and is – being written about Paul Darrow’s acting career and his contribution to the cultural life of the world. But I want to talk about the man I was privileged enough to get to know and spend some time with.
I first met Paul in October 2012, at a small lunch in aid of charity that I’d seen advertised somewhere online. I was at a moment in my life where I wanted to meet some new people and mix up my social life. I took a day off work and went to Hastings for the day, not sure what to expect. I found an engaging, intelligent man full of enthusiasm for life who was brilliant company and the polar opposite of every cold-hearted, calculating bastard he ever played on screen. Lunch extended into a slow wander through the autumn sunshine. Conversation turned to an event he (and Jacqueline Pearce) were due to be at the following day at Kennington Cinema Museum. As we parted he looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
So I duly presented myself at the Cinema Museum the following day. And I found myself sucked into Paul’s entourage. We spent a lot of time hanging out on the smoking terrace – with Jacqueline Pearce – and generally running round the Cinema Museum giggling (we were hiding from someone Paul was trying to avoid). I laughed so much my ribs were aching.
Three months later I found myself in a small hotel, deep in the countryside. There were about 10 of us, and after a fantastic dinner we played Trivial Pursuit in teams. Paul’s team won. He was always very competitive, and picked the pink questions at every opportunity. (A category where he always had an unfair advantage, I feel.)
That set a pattern for the last six years. It was like a long lost uncle had suddenly arrived in my life. But an uncle determined to drag me to the pub and tell me stories about all the exciting things he’d been doing while long and lost. Fascinating insights into the acting profession from repertory to working for the BBC and ITV, and film, told with real pride about his craft. Behind the scenes stories from on set. History told with an instinct for drama. And underneath it all, a childlike enthusiasm for life, often expressed through filthy jokes, impressions and a mischievous sense of humour – all with impeccable comic timing.
This long lost uncle introduced me to an entire extended family of cousins I’d never have known otherwise. I met and made some amazing friends through Paul. Fascinating people I would never have met otherwise. And a circle of remarkably un-fannish people at that. Paul drew around him those that were interesting, engaging and good company. And we all cared for him deeply.
If there is one thing I learned from the time I spent with him, it was the joy that can come from time spent in good company with no particular plan in mind. He turned hanging out into an artform of existing in the moment.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Take the chance. You may find your life is impossibly enriched by doing it.