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Martin Clunes: 'Doc Martin was like being a Beatle'

Martin Clunes is travelling once again for new ITV series Islands Of Australia. But the Men Behaving Badly star, who found unexpected fame Down Under, tells Jeananne Craig there's no place like home

When Martin Clunes paid a visit to Australia's remote Norfolk Island, nearly 1,500km from the mainland, the local reaction took him by surprise. Doc Martin, it turns out, is a big hit Down Under and feverish fans of the Cornwall-set series - known affectionately as "Clunatics" - had gathered at the island's small airport to greet its star.

"I had never felt so famous. It was like being one of the Beatles," recalls Clunes, who plays grumpy doctor Martin Bamford in the gentle comedy-drama that's been running since 2004.

"They were literally screaming, 'Doc Martin' as I stepped off the plane. We saw 'We love Doc Martin' notices all around the island. A lot of Australians visit Port Isaac in Cornwall when we're filming."

Norfolk Island was one of 16 Australian islands the actor visited while making his new documentary, Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia, which sees the former Men Behaving Badly star explore the exotic creatures, interesting pastimes and eclectic inhabitants of these lesser-known isles - from bush tucker and venomous snakes, to meeting a modern day Robinson Crusoe.

The 55-year-old's knowledge of the islands - of which there are more than 8,000 in total - was limited prior to making the three-part series.

"I've been to Australia a few times and I've actually been to some of those islands before with (Men Behaving Badly co-star) Neil Morrissey; in 1999 we did a thing called Men Down Under and we saw a fair bit of it. But most of them I had no clue about," he confesses.

It seems not all Australians know about their rich island heritage either. "One, when I said we were doing a thing about the islands of Australia, said, 'What, you mean New Zealand?'"

Clunes, who's visited locations including Mongolia and northern Japan for previous programmes, thinks "we're all fascinated by islands".

"There's something about it that magnifies elements of human nature, certainly of community, and of communal care. You see people are so strongly bonded together. Those of us who don't live on islands might say, 'I'd find that claustrophobic'," he notes.

During his travels, he met septuagenarian Dave Glasheen, who left behind a high-powered job in Sydney to live alone on the deserted Restoration Island after the 1987 stock market crash.

"He had the rug pulled on him and I can sort of see why it would work for him, to turn his back on everything that looked like it had let him down anyway. Everything he thought was constant wasn't, things disappeared and he lost control of his destiny," says Clunes.

"I guess if you find a little island, you are wholeheartedly responsible and no one else is going to affect your life and vice versa. But he's lonely."

Glasheen wasn't happy when his only companion, Polly the dingo, took a shine to Clunes.

"I had a bit of a thing with Polly," recalls the actor, who runs a farm at home in Dorset. "I was sleeping on the deck of an old, washed-up boat and Polly just came over; she really liked me. And Dave got a bit jealous."

Clunes, who received an OBE in 2015 for services to comedy and the Dorset community, also got to indulge his love of animals by snorkelling alongside an enormous whale shark.

"My brief was to stay close to the whale shark while this underwater camerawoman was swimming around me, getting footage," says the star, also a firm supporter of the Born Free Foundation. "I was completely mesmerised."

Back on home soil, he's still in touch with his co-stars from Men Behaving Badly, crediting the Nineties sitcom with "putting us all on the map".

"Caroline (Quentin) is my best friend and they live very near us in Devon. A couple of weeks ago, I went out with Neil. My daughter, Emily, says it took me three days to get over it, but I think it was two."

Morrissey recently appeared on Bear Grylls' no-holds-barred reality show Mission Survive, in which the TV adventurer challenges celebs to a string of "survival" tasks, including eating worms and drinking their own urine. Clunes wasn't a fan.

"I don't like the sneer culture. All those stupid things and then there's another shot of Bear Grylls not with them, sneering at them. And then, 'Look, watch me cross a rope'. I'd never seen it before and I just thought, 'That's not my kind of TV'."

Emily (17), who's hoping to become a horse physiotherapist ("She's seen showbiz enough to be bored rigid by it") and his TV producer wife, Philippa Braithwaite, both joined Clunes for part of his travels in Australia.

Travelling to some of the most far-flung, beautiful parts of the world for his TV work simply serves to reinforce his appreciation of home.

"It only increases how much I love living here and how lucky I am to live where I live," Clunes concludes.

"I get to go and see all these amazing things and I absolutely love that side of my job.

"But then I come home and I go, 'Look at this though'."

  • Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia, ITV, Tuesday, 8pm

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