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TRCH David Suchet

Interview: Des Coleman

30 October 08 interview: Al Needham
photos: David Baird

"There’s nothing worse than not trying things your way, and failing. Fail on your own terms, mate."

He’s an actor, a West End performer, a singer, Ian Beale’s nemesis, the hunky chunk of meteorological funk who sets your Mam’s isobars off on a daily basis...an honest-to-God winky-pointy Renaissance Man, if you will. He’s Des Coleman, people, and this is his region; we just live in it...

There’s a lot more to you than meets the eye, Des. We’ve flicked through your CV, and you’ve done loads of things…
You know, I’ve been lucky. I was brought up to believe that you should spread your wings and do as many things as possible.

You started off as a welder, didn’t you?
Yeah, you’ve always got to have a trade behind you. Way before the days of Health and Safety – your hands’d be filthy, you’d eat a sandwich, and the blacker the sandwich, the more of a man you were – but I thought; ‘Flippin’ hell, do I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life? There’s got to be something out there more suited to me’.

Did you have a craving for fame, then?
No. It was never a case of that. My mum says that when we were kids, my brother was always at her feet, while I would be down the road, being endlessly curious. I never wanted to grow up. When I thought about what a man was, I always thought of them in a bowler hat, being deferential, and never friggin’ smiling. I think I did everything I possibly could to avoid becoming a man. That’s why I got into trouble, I suppose.

Ah, yes. You went through a stage of being a bad ‘un…
You’ve obviously read my entry in Wikipedia, then? I dunno who writes this nonsense. Let me tell you the truth; I was a street kid from Derby who grew up with a load of guys at an age where if you didn’t get into trouble, you were a boring bastard. A mate had a car, we got in, there was no MOT or insurance, and I got caught. I carried on driving without MOT and insurance, and got caught again, and again. I was banged up for a month with this bloke, and we had this chat about what we really wanted to do with our lives. He wanted to be a doctor, and I talked about wanting to be an actor, and he said ‘well, why not?’ Work had already sacked me, so I had nothing to lose. And no, I’m not ashamed of my past at all. A lot of kids get into trouble, but it doesn’t mean you can’t turn your life around.

So you went to drama school...
Yep, with posh kids who drove new cars and whose parents had dinner with Cliff Richard, while I was working at Pizzaland, getting constipation from the free food, and having the piss taken out of me for my accent. But the experience taught me that the most important skill is tenacity; being able to take hundreds of knock-backs. Anyway, I ended up in Miss Saigon, which to me at the time was the best thing ever.

And then EastEnders came a-knocking. Were you excited?
My initial reaction, because of my age and experience, was; so what? It’s a soap, what’s a bloke like me in his twenties care about a soap? It was on at 7 o’clock, I’m out at 7 o’clock, trying to hit top As and top B-flats in the West End – big notes, them, particularly when you’re a baritone. It was only supposed to be a three-week gig, but they got a few letters from viewers who enjoyed seeing a more light-hearted character in the show, and it went out to three months, and then four years.

It must have been a pretty mad time, becoming instantly famous…
The really mad thing about working in ‘Enders was that it was all-consuming; the only time you forgot you were in EastEnders was when you were actually in the studio doing it. As soon as you’re out the studio, everyone reminds you of what you do. You leave the house; ‘Lennay! Lennay!’ Stop at the traffic lights; ‘Lennay! Lennay’ Go to America on your holiday; ‘Lennay! Lennay!’ It’s a different sort of fame when you’re in soaps; you worm your way in to the public psyche. Everyone feels they’re a part of you and comes up and touches you and tries to knock you out because their girlfriend fancies you.

So how did you go from making Ian Beale’s life a misery to telling us it’s going to chuck it down in Skeggy?
Well, I’d done Porgy and Bess for a year in the West End – Trevor Nunn-directed, I’ll have you know – and I’d bought a house in Derby, and was looking for something closer to home. So I got in touch with the head of regional programmes for BBC East Midlands and he said ‘Our weather presenter’s off for three months – would you like to fill in?’ And I’d never worked in an office – sorry, newsroom – before. It’s a whole new world! I never knew photocopiers were so friggin’ big! And it was so quiet. I had to leave the office and go outside and shout at myself for a bit, because it was doing my head in. But it’s another learning experience.

The thing we like about your presenting style is that it always looks like you’ve just nipped into the studio from a club, and you’re about to go back there, as you’ve got a couple of birds on…
Ha! There’s a lot of work goes into it, actually – the BBC is driven by public need, and when it comes to local broadcasting, weather is really important. It’s a 40-hour per week gig, and the TV side is only a minute and a half. I’ve had to do loads of training at the Met Office.

Your persona in front of the map; another character, or the real you?
Well, they were against me moving about at first. They said; ‘You can’t do that, you’ll be out of your light’. Well, turn more lights on, then! I thought, 'sod it, I’m only here for three months, I’m gonna do it my way.' There’s nothing worse than not trying things your way, and failing. Fail on your own terms, mate.

So how long do you think you’re going to do this?
I really don’t know. I’m enjoying it, and the BBC is really flexible. So who knows? Yes, I do miss doing stage shows and whatnot, but it’s nice to have a bit of stability. I’m actually understanding what the Friday feeling is.

Someone on the LeftLion forum asked if you ever use mascara, as you have the most beautiful eyelashes…
I always get that! No, I don’t.

We’re all liking your style on the forum, Des…
That’s really nice to hear, mate – makes it all worthwhile. Tell ‘em if they ever see me in town, I’ll buy ‘em a drink, as long as there’s no more than five of ‘em. How many people read this?

About 40,000 or so.
Oh, shit!

Des Coleman does the weather for BBC East Midlands at various points throughout the day. 

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