TV Interview of the Week (Tony Booth)
August 12, 1999

I've got no hotline to Blair, says son-in-law

He shot to fame as the 'randy Scouse git' who was a constant thorn in the side of ultra right-wing Alf Garnett. So it seems fitting that Tony Booth has since become a source of some irritation to the very heart of New Labour.

"I've had to go ex-directory," exclaims the former Til Death Us Do Part actor and father-in-law of Tony Blair. "If my telephone number was in the book and there was something in the paper today, someone is bound to phone me up and ask me, 'What do you think about John Prescott?' or whatever.

"I'm exposed a lot these days. People ring me up all the time because of my family connection with the PM. I find it boring, to be honest - it's not as if I can do anything anyway."

Booth may be the Prime Minister's father-in-law, but he knows only too well that his influence over his now famous daughter Cherie is confined to family matters - and that was hard won.

Booth, now 67, left the family home when his daughter was five. He has had three wives, including the late Coronation Street matriarch Pat Phoenix, a long-time love whose illness brought them back together.

In fact it was Booth's own near tragedy that reunited him with Cherie, now one of Britain's most high-powered lawyers. She had to put up with years of having to read tabloid headlines about her dad's notorious exploits.

Then in 1979, just a short while after she came top of the year in her bar exams at the London School of Economics, Booth was badly burned in an accident when he was drunk. The pair were reconciled and Booth is now married to university lecturer Stephanie Buckley and concentrating on building up his acting career again.

He is currently working on a film and will be in Dangerous Game, a TV series with Sean Bean later this year.

Meanwhile, he turns up in the acclaimed series Jack of Hearts, where he plays a gun-wielding stalker.

And he was able to call on a few 1960s underworld memories to play a convincing bad guy.

"I had a gun held at me once," he reveals. "A friend of mine had annoyed a gangster at the old Pickwick Tavern, now the Arts Theatre. He made some comment about his suit and he pulled a gun on us.

"We got into an argument, then another guy came up and they got into an argument themselves - they were pushing and shoving each other. Then they came out onto the street and started firing on each other while we were standing in the doorway.

"We legged it. A taxi pulled up and I got in it sharpish and I was off."

It is on the other side of the trigger that Booth finds himself when he plays Alan, whose violent son was murdered by his wife after years of abuse.

Alan tracks his son's killer down, hides in her house then pulls a gun on her.

"I saw him as a guy who is out for justice," says Booth. "He feels that, if he can't get it through the courts, he will go out and exact it himself. The woman who has killed his son has made no apology and shown no remorse.

"He has played it straight all his life and he has still lost everything. It is that sense of injustice that unbalances him."

It was Booth's own sense of injustice that made him a lifelong Labour supporter, but he will not be drawn on the differences in approach between himself and his son-in-law.

"I don't see Cherie or Tony that much, because they're never around," he says candidly. "I see them about once a month and even then I see Tony very briefly, in the morning when he gets up. Then after a few phone calls he's gone.

"Until you're actually around in that situation you don't realise just what a hard job it is. The phone never ever stops - every five minutes. It's tough for them. I'm a member of the Labour Party, but I mainly work at grass roots level, which is really much more interesting. You actually get straight opinions from people.

"It is very different now though. Just walking down the street people will come barging over and say, 'You tell your son-in-law this and that'.

"I was visiting Downing Street recently when the phone rang and this girl from his office said to me, 'Is the Prime Minister there?' I said no. She said 'Do you know where he is? We've lost him. If you see him, will you tell him to stay where he is'.

"It was a very simple thing that happened. He'd remembered he had a meeting, so he just left the office, hadn't brought a suit down with him, so he had to dash quickly up the back stairs, get changed and come back again. They'd lost him for just a few minutes, but it was panic stations. That is his life now."

Booth's own life would make rich pickings for a screenplay - even better than his famous late wife Pat Phoenix who was recently immortalised in a TV drama.

But who would play him? "It would be a real cross for some bugger to bear," he says with a throaty chuckle. "I know - how about Ewan McGregor!"

My Nights Out With the Mob

Overnight fame scared Juliet Aubrey so much she thought about quitting acting. She's glad she didn't. How else does a girl get to do love scenes with Sean Bean?

As dinner dates go, it wasn't the most relaxing. But at least being out with Manchester's biggest Mafia bosses meant Juliet Aubrey was unlikely to be disturbed.

Juliet tracked down some underground mobsters after being cast as a Mafia ringleader in the new ITV drama Extremely Dangerous with Sean Bean.

"I wanted to be convincing in the role, so I decided to do some research," she says. "The Mafia was a whole new world for me and I wanted to see how it worked, so I asked the producer to set up a meeting with some real-life Mafia bigwigs. But he decided it was a bad idea and too dangerous - so I set it up myself."

Calling on friends of friends, she was given a contact and spent a week in Manchester, mingling with the Mob. "I didn't see lots of bags of money lying around and they don't have 'gangster' written across their foreheads," she laughs. "They look like perfectly normal people - you'd never guess they have a secret life.

"The Mob works on different levels - there are the head honchos who make the decisions and rarely get their hands dirty and then there are the younger guys who are more involved in the grubbier side of things.

"I went out for drinks with some of the younger ones and had dinner with a couple, trying to get as much information out of them as I could. They weren't very forthcoming at first, but I asked what sort of things they did, what their lifestyle was like, and they soon opened up. It's less to do with violence these days and more about drugs and money laundering; how they hide money by putting it through businesses."

Being with some of the most influential and dangerous men in the country didn't frighten Juliet, 31. "I didn't feel the need to watch my back," she says. "They didn't reveal anything that could be harmful to them or what they were doing - and I didn't want to know any either! To be honest, they thought it was funny having me around and treated it as a bit of a laugh. And I always made sure friends knew exactly where I was. Not that I felt scared in their company. They were perfect gentlemen in front of me."

Juliet knows the prime-time series will raise her profile, just as the period drama Middlemarch did when she shot to fame five years ago.

This time she's ready for the attention. Then, it almost made her give up acting.

"I'd only just finished drama school and remember screaming with excitement when I got the part in Middlemarch," she says. "Then I became terrified and wondered if I could pull it off."

She did - to critical acclaim. One reviewer described her appearance as "saintly". "I didn't always feel saintly wearing that bloody corset," she says. "I was in agony and on painkillers just to get through filming.

"I went from being an unknown to a household name and I was totally unprepared. People would come up to me at bus stops. It was like being in a horror film and it was very intimidating."

Things only got worse when she learnt she'd been nominated for a BAFTA Best Actress award - and won it. "I remember Billy Connolly reading the names out and thinking: 'Please, don't let it be me, I can't go up there.'

"After that, the pressure just grew. I felt a massive responsibility to be as good in the next thing I did, it was a huge weight on my shoulders. People kept telling me I should take on bigger projects and move to Hollywood, but by that point I wasn't sure how I felt about acting."

So Juliet went to India for a year. "I wanted to get away from all the hype," she says. "I seriously thought about doing something else for a living, changing direction. Plus I was with a guy who was incredibly unsupportive of my acting, and that didn't help.

"So it was a good time to go away and reassess things. Then I came back, did a play in the theatre and found my love of it again. And I haven't looked back since."

Acting first appealed to Juliet in her teens when she was sent to a convent school. "It was an outlet for my energy," she says. "I wasn't a bad student, but I was naughty. I was expelled after my O levels - or asked to leave as my head teacher preferred to say - mainly because I smoked. We had these little pouches we were supposed to keep our brush and comb in. Mine was always full of tabs."

Despite a break studying for an archaeology degree, Juliet went to drama school, landed the Middlemarch role and, after her spell in India, met art director Steve Ritchie, her fiance of three years.

"It's corny, but I soon knew that he was The One," she says. "We're getting married next year. We know when, not where yet."

Fortunately, Steve's not the jealous type, which is just as well considering his bride-to-be can be seen in her latest role writhing around in bed with Sean Bean.

"Steve's good about me doing love scenes. He copes much better than I would if it were the other way around," she says. "It's hard for him, though. It doesn't cause friction between us, but there is some anxiety so we just talk about it. He just tells himself it's not real. It'd be so easy to get wound up about it, but the main thing is he trusts me.

"And I have clauses in my contract about what I will and won't do. When I'm filming, I stick red dots in certain places so they can't widen the camera angle and show too much."

But it can't have been too much of a hardship, filming in bed with Sean Bean, can it? "My friends didn't think so, he's a bit of a heart-throb to them," she grins. "Luckily I'd worked with Sean before, which helped as the barriers were down. But it's still uncomfortable waking up at 5am for filming, knowing you're going to spend most of the day with no clothes on. Even if it is with Sean Bean."

Rebecca Fletcher

- The Dangerous Mr. Bean - Daily Mail (Weekend Magazine) - 23 October1999 (link will take you to a Main Features page)
- Sean Bean - FHM - November 1999 (language warning) (link will take you to a Main Features page)
- story from UNKNOWN NEWSPAPER - Unknown Date (link will take you to a Main Features page)
- Bean There, Done That - TV Now (link will take you to a Main Features page)

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