Interview by Emma Higginbotham for Waitrose Weekend
The Downton Abbey and Paddington actor, 58, lives with his wife Lulu and son Felix, a university student, near Midhurst in West Sussex
Rise and shine or lie-in?
I’m normally up with the lark – and the dogs. We have two Tibetan terriers – Teddy is 15 and happy having a lie-in, whereas Sasha is keen to see what’s going on in the world. We’ll do a tour of the woods or the fields nearby, or go up onto the [Sussex] Downs if I’m feeling adventurous.
Breakfast or brunch?
Breakfast is spelt flakes with runny honey and oat milk, and I have kefir as a morning ritual. It tastes disgusting, and I put in some cider vinegar as well, just to make it really bitter. God knows if it’s doing me any good, but I’ve convinced myself that it is.
Cook from scratch or buy it in?
I used to be good at cooking, but I married a brilliant cook – and also a very houseproud and bossy one. If I make the enormous gesture of saying I’m going to cook something, and get every pan in West Sussex out of the cupboards, inevitably there’ll be the words: “Look, just let me do it!”
Productive or lazy?
We’ll either catch up with the DIY that I’m hopeless at, and Lulu’s much better at, or go and visit friends or have them over, so it’s fairly relaxed and social.
What do you eat?
I don’t eat as much red meat as I used to, but I am king of the barbecue. There’s a brilliant guy called DJ BBQ, who’s incredibly energetic and effervescent. I bought his book, and all the things I’d been doing wrong he explained very simply. The wonderful thing is that he sounds like a rock’n’roll star from Texas, and in fact he lives in South Norwood.
Cultural fix or weekend walk?
A visit to the theatre is as nourishing, in a different way, as going for a walk. I’d go every day if I could. Bit tricky when I live in the middle of the countryside.
Did you enjoy writing your new memoir, Playing Under the Piano?
I enjoyed the process, and was surprised by it as well. You think you’re telling one story, then another emerges. I had no idea I was going to write about my father and his journey into dementia, or the deaths of my mother and brother. But it’s all part of the story I’d set out to write – about working in this industry for 35 years.
Pub grub or fancy restaurant?
It depends on the bank balance and the mood. I’m fortunate to live near The Rising Sun in Milland, which does really lovely pub food, and The Three Horseshoes in Elsted has a great atmosphere. My son is quite a foodie, so his birthday is a good excuse to go to a fancy-pants place. Last time we went to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which was astonishing.
Early night or up all night?
Because I wake up early, I get to bed earlier. But come on, it’s Saturday night, you’ve got friends over, you’ve found that karaoke disc from 10 years ago – it’s going to be a late one.
Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru (Abacus) is out now. Interview: Emma Higginbotham