Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Jimmy Nesbitt: I'd love to play my Man United hero Big Norm

Exclusive: Star talks local TV, 'scandal' at Stormont and the fate of Primark

By John Toner

Ballymena-born Hollywood star Jimmy Nesbitt has revealed his dream role would be to portray Northern Ireland football legend Norman Whiteside.

The Lucky Man and Cold Feet actor (53) says he has always idolised the former Manchester United man from the Shankill Road in Belfast and would love to play him on-screen.

Nesbitt also believes Northern Ireland still has a wealth of stories to be told with the help of the booming film and TV industry across the north.

He told Sunday Life: "My ideal role would have to be Norman Whiteside, he's my hero, he's always been my hero. But there are so many good stories to tell."

Nesbitt wrote the foreword to the footballer's 2007 autobiography in which he revealed he had been struck dumb when he first met him in 1993 at Old Trafford.

"I wanted to speak, I tried to speak, but the only words that formed in my mind were, 'I love you, Norman. I've always loved you and I always will'. It seemed a bit early in our relationship to confess this, so I just stood there - mute and gormless."

The star says that his own Northern Irishness is a key element to his career.

"If ever there was an actor who is defined by where he comes from it's probably me in a sense, and I love that, obviously I'm very well-known here but the people keep me grounded.

"I think there are many more stories still to be told about Northern Ireland, not all necessarily about the past but there's a lot of stories still to be told about the past and what we can learn from it.

"I love working in Northern Ireland more than anywhere because the crews are so good, because I'm home, because the writing is so good and there's still a bit of post-war euphoria about this place and I love it.

"That's what the bloody politicians should realise, even if they don't want to sit in Stormont they should get out on the streets here and see what a magic city this is."

Speaking at an event to promote small businesses in Belfast, Jimmy, who also owns the film and TV services company G&H, said Northern Ireland, which has been home to Game of Thrones for years, is one of the best filming locations in the world.

"Northern Ireland has been incredibly good to me and to have a presence in the film and television business here as well is a real privilege, it has cost a few quid but it's great.

"The industry here is magic, it's brilliant and one of the main reasons is because of the people who had the balls, the sense and the persuasive powers to bring producers over here to film.

"When they come here they say, 'Right so the seaside is there, urban sprawl is there, mountains are there, studio is there, it's all there.' The logistics are very good.

"History will tell us how important the Northern Ireland film industry has been for evolving the place, just look what it has done for tourism."

The father-of-two, who appeared as part of a UK-wide Yell.com roadshow to promote small enterprises, said the recent Primark fire which gutted Bank Buildings in Belfast was a blow to the regional economy but wouldn't be drawn on whether it should be knocked down or not. He said: "It was devastating. I can understand people have a living to make and they want to get this resolved quickly but it's a very tricky situation as it's such a beautiful building.

"What's important more than anything in this situation is the way people respond and the fact people were so sad over it says an awful lot, it was a loss to people and that says a lot about the people.

"I'm not the person to make that decision. Ideally it wouldn't have burned."

In September, Jimmy labelled the lack of an executive at Stormont a "scandal" and told Sunday Life he thinks the lack of government is shameful and fails the electorate, especially in the context of Brexit.

He said: "I think it's embarrassing, it's incredible actually and I don't give a damn talking about politics in Northern Ireland because truthfully, I think people deserve an awful lot better.

"There is this ongoing talk about the dynamic of Brexit and yet here we are, one of the very few regions post Second World War that resolved a conflict through the will of the people and the people are being let down by their representatives. I think it's shocking.

"There is a lot of uncertainty, I voted to remain because I like being part of the European family but I don't judge people for which way they voted.

"I just think about the uncertainty and all the money spent on this whole process. Once again I think people are being let down, people's lives depend on this."

Jimmy, who has put money into his beloved Coleraine FC, remains deeply involved with the Bannsiders and said he would be pushing for more investment in the squad in the future.

He said: "We did very well last year and I may well be talking to the chairman and the manager about investing some money.

"A football club has to be the heart of a town and it stopped beating for a bit but it's beating again now.

"The crowds last year were great, we had primary schools coming along and to see kids in Coleraine wearing the team's shirts rather than Liverpool or Manchester United shirts was something else."

Jimmy also revealed he is now looking forward to taking eight months off to relax and unwind with family and friends.

He said: "I've worked my balls off for a long time and people are probably a bit fed up of watching me so I'm taking the time off.

"I'll be in Portrush a lot. I'll go and see my daughters, take them both away. Just relaxing and living the life."

When asked if he had anyone special in his life at the moment, he remained tight-lipped, adding: "My daughters Peggy and May and my dad who's 90 and that's it."

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