As a rule, soap stars are a secretive lot. They are happy to do interviews about their up and coming storylines, but often shy away from talking about their personal lives. If they do reveal a little of themselves, it is more than likely a whitewashed version, so three cheers for Steve Halliwell who has written a warts and all autiobiography and didn’t shy away from any of the questions I asked during a TV Times interview, even when I probed him on the failure of his marriages and his battles with alcohol.
Whilst I empathise with actors who don’t want their dirty laundry all over the papers, I’ve always admired those in the public eye who aren’t afraid to reveal all. It doesn’t make people like them any less, in fact, I’ll wager that it does the opposite. Honestly is a great leveller. Think about it, if you meet two strangers at a party, which one do you connect with – the one who maintains a front, swerves any personal questions and drones on about their job, or someone who takes off their mask and lets you in?
In the early days of my career, which is so long ago, I actually used a typewriter (you’ll find one in your local museum kids) it was common for interviews to be done over a lengthy meal as several bottles of wine were consumed. The plonk was a ploy to get the celebrity target to spill the beans and give a good ‘line.’ I never felt comfortable with the idea of tricking people into saying things they didn’t intend, so I would always double check that quotes were on the record. I didn’t get any front page splashes or big scoops, but I often discovered what made a celebrity tick. Sometimes it was silly things – like the fact that former EastEnders actor Leslie Grantham has a phobia of moths, on other occasions, people told me deeply personal things – I vividly remember Vanessa Feltz telling me how utterly devastated she was when her mother died. These days, I am often expected to do my interviews during a 20 minute phone call and you don’t need to be a genius to work out that as a result, the pieces aren’t as interesting as they used to be.
Steve Halliwell’s chat however, was refreshingly different. Of course he wants to publicise his book If the Cap Fits: My Rocky Road To Emmerdale, but he could easily have given the public a sanitised version of his journey. But what good would that do? I am reminded of Lynda Bellingham, who said shortly before she died, that if her book can change the way just one person lives their life, then it was worth it. We all have lessons to learn from one another, but only if like Steve or Lynda, we are brave enough to tell the truth.
You can read my interview with Steve in this week’s issue of TV Times and his book is out now, priced £12.99.