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Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

7th February 2017

Gawn Grainger, 78

Gawn is a British actor and playwright. He has appeared in multiple National Theatre productions, West End theatres and on television. He is currently writing his autobiography.

‘My parents had nothing to do with the theatre at all but my Dad was an alcoholic and the only way you could get a drink out of hours was to go to a music hall. He used to take me to one in Edgware Road. He’d go to the bar at the back and I would sit up front and watch the shows! One day I read in the paper that they were looking for a boy to take over as the Boy King in King’s Rhapsody at the Palace Theatre. My bus to school went past there every day and so I went to the stage door and asked to see Ivor Novello! He happened to be there in the dressing room and he just looked at me and said ‘you look exactly like me when I was a little boy. When can you start?’ It was all fate.

In work, I think my age is mostly a blessing, although a lot of my contemporaries have either died or can’t remember their lines

I did more shows after that, and then lots of radio and eventually it was 1967 and I was going to New York to perform Romeo and Juliet on Broadway with Jane Asher. It was a huge hit and I also met Janet Key there who was to become my wife. She was Jane’s understudy. We got married in 1970 and had two children, then she sadly died in 1992 and for two years, it was just the three of us. We are very close; in fact on Mother’s Day, my two kids send me a card!

I met my current wife Zoe [Wanamaker] on a film. Her dad was very unwell at the time and he found it difficult to ask his three daughters for certain things so she asked me to help out. Our relationship blossomed from there, which was wonderful for me. We live in Barnsbury now and it’s got this lovely village feel. Sometimes when I go to get a newspaper, I’ll get back and Zoe will wonder where I’ve been – but I’ve just been chatting to people. We also have a cottage in Wiltshire and waking up in the morning to birdsong is just gorgeous. I keep a bike there, although it has a battery on it. When you go up a hill, you press a button and it takes over – it gets me to the pub!

I drink as much as I possibly can! There’s a wonderful poem that goes, ‘Sinful, ginful, rum-soaked men, survive for three score years and ten. But some of us, the mighty few, stay pickled ‘til we’re 92!’ Zoe helps me eat healthily and I am also totally influenced by her when it comes to fashion. We shop in Margaret Howell, Paul Smith, Agnes B and Nichole Farhi. Before I met Zoe I had no interest in that side of things at all, but now I have become quite fashion conscious.

In work, I think my age is mostly a blessing, although a lot of my contemporaries have either died or can’t remember their lines. Instead of playing Romeo, now we play Romeo’s great grandfather! In general terms though, we do live in an ageist society – for instance you can’t sit on a jury after the age of 70. Why? That’s when you should be doing it! Are they assuming that you’re stupid or that you’re not going to last long enough? Bits fall off of course; I’ve had a hip replacement – but I still think of myself as a youngish person.

I will never stop working, simply because I love it. Of course people might stop offering me parts! Alongside the theatre, I am also writing an autobiography. I have kept a diary for 35 years which is very helpful. It’s like writing a novel but I know the plot! I refuse to take an advance as I don’t want the pressure. If they don’t like it, then I won’t care – the kids can have it.

A lesson I would pass on to any young actor is to get on the Circle line at King’s Cross and sit on it all the way around. During that round trip you will find something inspiring from all the different people you encounter; perhaps a walk or a look that can breathe life into your new character.

My life motto is to be prepared.

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