playing out of his skin
Award-winning comedian and actor Rob Brydon talks to Hannah Stephenson about acne, insecurity, and his stunning triumph in the face of adversity
The decision to amend the UK's monarchy succession rules to allow the first born of any king or queen - even if that is a girl - to accede to the throne is a forward-looking and welcome change. Undoubtedly that was how it was viewed by the 16 Commonwealth nations of which the Queen is head and who voted unanimously for the change. While the rule of primogeniture - the primacy of sons over daughters - goes back more than 300 years, it is no longer apt in a modern world where women regularly head up governments and have far more impact on our daily lives than the monarchy.
There are two things that have had a huge influence on Rob Brydon and stayed with him throughout his life: Bruce Springsteen and spots.
As a teenager, he became a huge fan of the musician. At the same time the acne, which came to define the contours of his adult face, began to appear, he reveals in his autobiography Small Man In A Book.
Meeting the Swansea-born star of BBC drama Gavin And Stacey, he admits it's only recently he's felt able to talk about his skin condition, which stalled his progression with girls and later fuelled hurtful comments from TV casting directors.
"The problem with acne is friends and family, keen not to upset the sufferer, will often declare, 'It's not that bad, really' when in fact it's appalling."
Some years later he went to see a dermatologist who told him he had chronic acne and put him on a heavy course of vitamin A, which put an end to the condition, although by then the scars were irreversible.
"My family played it down. They saw beyond my skin, but it did affect me. I was always fearful of rejection in the last stage with girls. It was the kiss that scared me."
Brydon, 46, who is well known for his eponymous chat show and as host of the panel show Would I Lie To You?, relied on his voice rather than his looks when he started his broadcasting career.
"I remember the VHS demo reels coming back with a thud of doom on the doormat, when you could tell they hadn't even been opened," he recalls.
After enjoying some success with BBC Radio Wales, plus spells as a continuity announcer, a home shopping presenter for Sky and the warm-up man for Hale -amp; Pace, Brydon was still looking for his big break in TV when he moved from Cardiff to London.
Auditioning for a job as a presenter on a Sky programme called Xposure, the producer observed, 'Rob's very good but it's a pity his skin looks so bad in some lights...'. Despite this, he got the job.
On another occasion, a casting agent specialising in commercials told him, 'Ah, right, your skin ... it's not very good, is it? I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to help you. I mean, I could hardly put you up for a chocolate commercial, could I? Eat this and you'll look like me...'.
"You just have to take it on the imperfect chin and carry on," he says philosophically.
Ironically, he and a fellow actor were later chosen to star in a series of Toffee Crisp adverts. However, the ads never aired and the fee never appeared either, he recalls.
"At one point I thought voice-overs were going to be my career. I was getting to the last chance saloon scenario."
His complexion was the main obstacle, he admits.
"You just want people to look at you for who you are, but they'd see these scars. Traditionally in drama, people with bad skin are cast as villains. I thought it might preclude me from a certain amount of parts. But I don't know that it has. I mean, I've done OK.
"It's only recently that I felt at ease enough to talk about my skin. Of course, if someone had said to me, 'You can have smoother skin', I'd have had it."
Even when he shot to fame in 2000, winning British Comedy Awards for his breakthrough one-man show Marion And Geoff, as well as TV series Human Remains, critics commented on his complexion. One cruelly wrote: "Women would probably consider him boy-next-door crumpet, were it not that he is saved from any hint of matinee idol looks by his bad complexion."
Despite the brickbats, he tackled the subject of his skin in his recent 'mockumentary' comedy series The Trip, when he and comedy collaborator Steve Coogan bickered their way through restaurants of the north of England.
"In one scene Steve says, 'It gives you character' and I say, 'Yeah, but I've got enough here for an omnibus edition of EastEnders. I don't want this much character'."
His memoir is a witty, gentle read in which he recalls his struggles to make it as a writer, comedian and actor, the endless rejections, his early cringe-making stand-up gigs and his dogged determination to make it in comedy.
The book ends in 2000, as he celebrates critical acclaim and the beginnings of Gavin And Stacey, in which he plays Uncle Bryn.
But he's kept a stack of rejection letters to remind him of the years when he wasn't so famous.
"They show where I came from, what I overcame, remind me not to take things for granted and to stick two fingers up at them (those who rejected him) and say, 'Ha ha ha, you were wrong'."
Anyone hoping the book will reveal much about Brydon's personal life will be disappointed.
He explains in the foreword that he makes no mention of his divorce from his first wife, Martina, the mother of three of his five children, as his kids are of an age when any intimate revelations could be hugely embarrassing for them. Plus, his ex-wife isn't keen on the publicity.
Details of his second wife, Claire, with whom he has two further children, are also omitted, as they didn't meet until 2002.
"We have been together now for nearly 10 years and, were it not for her, I doubt very much that I would have reached a position where I was asked to write an autobiography," he writes.
He's often mistaken for Steve Coogan, whose production company made Marion And Geoff.
"We're very often lumped together. In personal terms we see very little of each other but when we do, we get on. We turned up various aspects of our personality in The Trip to create a bit of tension.
"Before I ever met him, I was a great admirer. Because he had come from doing voice-overs, he was similar to me and he doesn't look so different.
"I get confused for him sometimes and I love his work. I don't feel competitive with him and I don't think he feels competitive with me.
"I'm sure we'll work together again at some point."
The teenage acne is now all water under the bridge to Brydon and he says he wouldn't consider having cosmetic surgery to airbrush away the scars.
"My fear would be that I'd come out looking a laughing stock."
To all his critics, though, it would seem Brydon's having the last laugh.