The day Robson Green woke up to discover his dream home (and everything he owned) being washed away
These days Robson Green finds himself spending a lot of time looking upwards. The star of ITV drama Grantchester, the adventurous host of Extreme Fishing and the man who once crooned on stage for Princess Diana is not looking for divine inspiration. Rather, he is on his guard against advancing weather systems. ‘I’m obsessed,’ he says. ‘I’ve got an app on my phone that tells me when storm fronts are on their way. And they all have names these days, like they’re your mate. I was working in Australia last year and got fixated with the fact that they had the first-ever transgender weather front. It started off as Storm Derek, then transitioned to Diane. Or was it the other way around?’
There is a reason for 55-year-old Green’s obsession. In 2015, the house he bought on the banks of the River Tyne flooded. It was his dream home, affording him ample opportunity to do what he loves best: get out into the river for a spot of fly fishing. But soon after he moved in, despite being informed that the chances of the house flooding were 0.01 per cent, he was obliged to don his fishing waders just to walk across his front room.
Robson Green as Geordie Keating and Tom Brittney as Reverend Will Davenport in Grantchester
‘It was the perfect storm,’ he remembers. ‘There was a massive amount of rain, a spring tide, and at the same time the Kielder Water dam had to release 20 cubic metres of water a second to prevent it bursting. I’m right on the apex of where all this water met, and a huge surge swelled up straight through my house.
‘It was early morning, I was in bed and I couldn’t process what was happening. The house was vibrating, my room was like a freezer. Being a self-obsessed actor, I thought it was all about me. I assumed I was having a stroke. Then I heard this noise, this awful whooshing sound. I went downstairs and saw all my possessions disappearing through the conservatory doors. A lot of what defines who I am was on its way to the North Sea. I was met by fire and rescue teams on the road behind the house at 6am in my underpants. I’m standing there and this bloke with a thick Northumberland accent cycles past and says, “Serves yar reet for building yar hoos on the riverside, yar flash get.” ’
Green smiles. He was born in a pit village not far from the house and spent his early life surrounded by people like the man on the bicycle. ‘When I became an actor, my dad’s greatest fear – God rest his soul – was that I was going to sleep with another man,’ he says of his miner father. ‘There were many good things in that community, but many things that festered underneath, and a young man expressing himself emotionally was always labelled as gay. Yet we’d sit down as a family, watch Morecambe and Wise in bed together and no one would blink an eye. The first autograph I ever got was Larry Grayson. I thought he was wonderful in The Generation Game. But here’s the thing: my dad, who was terrified of his son being gay, thought Larry Grayson was wonderful too. Yup, weird.’
Robson Green on his fishing show, Robson’s Extreme Fishing Challenge. ‘Because I was on telly, certain relatives thought I must be a multi-millionaire,’ Green tells Event
At first there had been little in Green’s youthful ambition to alarm his father. From the age of five, when he watched the Moon landings on the family television, all he had wanted to be was an astronaut. Indeed, he was training in the RAF to become a pilot when, at the age of 18, something unexpected happened: he was in an amateur dramatic show and the director suggested he had what it takes to become a professional actor.
‘Here was someone telling me I could make a living doing something I thought could only ever be a hobby. Never in a million years did I think it would work.’
But work it did, and he soon got a job playing a hospital porter on the BBC series Casualty. His frequent appearances on television, he remembers, caused much discussion back in the pit village.
‘I only discovered this recently but I got a reputation for being tight. Because I was on telly, certain relatives thought I must be a multi-millionaire. The gossip was: why hasn’t he bought his folks a new house, or at least his dad a new car? I was only on £400 a week.’
In those early days as an actor, he found the going tough. He was plagued by the idea that he didn’t belong. ‘People like me just weren’t part of that world,’ he says. ‘That’s why Alun Armstrong [the Newcastle-accented classical actor] was such a massive influence in my life, and that’s why I was so thrilled when Auf Wiedersehen, Pet [the series about a bunch of Geordie builders working in Germany] came in. It gave me the confidence to say, yeah, I was legitimate.’
What really changed his life, though, was appearing in a series called Soldier Soldier in the early Nineties. In one episode he and his colleague Jerome Flynn sang a karaoke version of the old Righteous Brothers hit Unchained Melody. The day after it was screened, Green’s agent received a phone call. ‘It was from this guy from a record company no one had ever heard of called Simon Cowell,’ Green remembers. ‘His secretary had seen us on Soldier Soldier and told him it would make a hit record. My agent contacted me and I said, “Get lost, I’m not doing silly commercial pop, I’m an ack-tor.” ’
But the music mogul was persistent. ‘He rang my mother. To this day I don’t know how he got her number. “Do you know your son has a fantastic voice?” he says. “Who’s this?” my mum goes. “It’s Simon Cowell.” “Well Simon,” my mum says, “I always told him that he should have been a singer and not waste his time on that acting.” She gave me Simon’s number and told me to ring him.’
And ring him Green did. ‘I was fuming. I said to him, “If you ever ring my mother again and harass her, I’ll…” Before I could tell him what I’d do, Simon said, “Robson, I think if you and Jerome release the song you sang on Soldier Soldier as a record I can make you…” ’
He pauses for a moment as he remembers the scale of the financial return Cowell promised. ‘This was life-changing money he was talking. Took the wind right out of my sails. I went from fury to gargling down the phone.’
And for three years, under Cowell’s stewardship, Robson and Jerome had a lucrative pop career: three No 1 singles – Unchained Melody was the best-selling single of 1995 – and two No 1 albums. Princess Diana was a fan. Indeed, at her behest they performed at the 1996 Royal Variety Performance.
Green with Soldier Soldier co-star and singing partner Jerome Flynn. In one episode he and his colleague Jerome Flynn sang a karaoke version of the old Righteous Brothers hit Unchained Melody. The day after it was screened, Green’s agent received a phone call. ‘It was from this guy from a record company no one had ever heard of called Simon Cowell,’ Green remembers
The pair eventually walked away from their pop career. ‘The contract was there to go and tour America. Millions. But you only need so much money. And I love acting. That’s what I wanted to do. Jerome too.’
Flynn has wowed a new generation in Game Of Thrones, while in the New Year, after developing a third career fronting fishing documentaries, Green will be seen in a fifth series of Grantchester. He plays a detective, helped by a local vicar to solve murders in Fifties Cambridge. Like Call The Midwife and Endeavour, it surfs a wave of nostalgia. Though Green is not keen on the suggestion that it harks back to a historical Eden.
‘Was it a gentler time?’ he says. ‘Or was it a time when a lot was suppressed? Sure, it’s a very charming, likeable series, but we do deal with uncomfortable subjects in an articulate, dramatic way, under the umbrella of entertainment.’
Green’s character, known inevitably as Geordie, is a man permanently perplexed by the world of empathy around him.
‘My favourite scene is when I turn to Tom [Brittney, who plays Reverend Will Davenport] and say, “Can we talk about manly things? I’m not interested in your feelings, can we talk about boxing, beer and football?” ’
It was a scene, Green says, that reminded him of his father, who he thinks about often when he is back in his now fully restored, flood-proofed house on the Tyne.
The new series of ‘Grantchester’ begins on January 10 at 9pm on ITV
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