Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Coronation Street's Charlie Lawson says united Ireland inevitable

Charlie Lawson talks loyalism, signing on the brew and his regrets over his wild early days

By Martin Breen

Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson has admitted it was "highly likely" he would have joined a loyalist paramilitary group had he not left Northern Ireland to become an actor.

In a revealing chat with journalist Eamonn Mallie, he also says he believes a united Ireland is "inevitable" but won't happen in his lifetime.

The 59-year-old, who plays Jim McDonald in the soap, admits in a new UTV series this Tuesday that he was 20 before he ever met a Catholic and that was Line Of Duty's Adrian Dunbar.

The Fermanagh-born actor, who is a staunch unionist, tells Mallie that he has always had more in common with working-class unionists even though he grew up in a middle-class unionist family, attending Campbell College school in east Belfast.

He says: "I never took up arms. I suspect if I had stayed and not had the opportunities thrown at me and been unemployed staying up the Newtownards Road, I would say it probably would have been highly likely."

"I didn't meet a Catholic until I was 20 years of age," he adds. "Not extraordinary for the times really when you think about it. But the damage we did to ourselves as human beings and the sheer cruelty and the barbarity of both sides of what people were willing do to other people. It's horrendous and people don't believe it now. They are not taught about it and they should be.

"I very quickly was politically aware enough to realise that for some reason, I did not get on with middle-class unionism and that was where I was from.

"I would meet working-class young people and I found them far more approachable. I found the middle-class unionism of Trimble etcetera, it didn't appeal to me.

"I had far more in common with the people in Tom's Cabin up Dundonald than I did with anybody in the Knock golf club."

Asked on Eamonn Mallie: Face to Face With if he could ever see himself living in a united Ireland, Lawson replies: "I don't really think about it because it is inevitable that some time it is going to happen, if the south wants to have us. We are a complicated bunch but I think it is inevitable. I suspect it is an awfully long way down the road. I will be long dead."

The actor, who reveals he voted Leave in the European Union referendum, is adamant he would vote for Brexit again if there was a second referendum.

"I am not interested in Europe. I voted Brexit. It is a complete joke. We should just go," he says.

"My vote was not about Northern Ireland. I was living in Cheshire and my vote was about an awful lot of other things. We had a business that has been interfered with by Europe.

"I would vote Brexit again because I am sick of being called a racist. I am not a racist. My grandchildren are mixed race. And I get sick of these people calling me thick."

Speaking about his career as an actor the star, who suffered a mini-stroke on stage in October, talks about how he was once skint and punched a stranger who ridiculed him after he had to sign on the dole to make ends meet.

"It has been very precarious. Financially I wouldn't advise anybody to go into it with a view to making a dollar because a lot of the time you don't. I have been skint, I have also been extremely well off. I have been fortunate to be doing it for 39, 40 years and still be here, still acting and still enjoying it. I am lucky.

"(Signing on) it was (humiliating). It led to me having an altercation with someone in the street because I will not be insulted by anyone. It was words to the effect 'look at you now'

"I said, 'You want to take that back son right now'. Anyway he didn't so I belted him. I look in the mirror and I am happy with myself. I won't be insulted by anyone."

Selfish

Lawson, who has just finished a UK theatre stint playing Edinburgh detective John Rebus in author Ian Rankin's stage adaptation of Rebus, speaks fondly of his friendship with fellow Fermanagh actor Adrian Dunbar, currently playing Superintendent Ted Hastings in BBC drama Line of Duty.

It was Dunbar who convinced him to take a part in a 1980s play written by Peter Sheridan about the IRA hunger strikes called Diary of a Hunger Strike.

"Not only was he the first Catholic that I had met, we became brothers and I am still deeply fond of him. I have the utmost respect for him," Lawson tells Mallie.

"He came and stayed with me at the Isle of Dogs and he walked into his bedroom. There was a Vanguard flag up there, there was a picture of the Queen, all this stuff and an Ulster flag and in 40 years Aidy and I have never had a cross word about Northern Ireland.

"We would be, not poles apart because as actors you share a common sensitivity and a bond. We talked endlessly about things and I changed. You can't be an actor and have the views I had.

"You have to learn to be sensitive to every other human being on the planet. You have to learn to listen. You have to learn to understand or try.

"Aidy was not a small bit important but a large bit important about me doing Diary of a Hunger strike. He said this was so important for you.

"We have a huge mutual respect for each other and we like each other."

The father-of-one, who says his partner Debbie Stanley has changed his "life for the better", admits regrets that he put drink, drugs and partying before his daughter Laura (31), saying the boarding school experience made him "useless" with children.

He reveals: "I was pretty hopeless as a dad. It (boarding school) made me useless with kids. I wasn't interested at all.

"My grandchildren adore me and for some reason I am good with them. But for my own daughter I can offer nothing but sincerest heartfelt apologies about the way I behaved because I was so selfish.

"I left home because I was having a good time and I cared more about drink and drugs and having fun than I did with my family which is a disgusting thing to have to admit but unfortunately that is the truth. I am trying to make amends for it now."

Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with Charlie Lawson is on UTV on Tuesday at 11pm.

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