Starring East Sussex actor Robert Bathurst, the new series of the popular TV comedy-drama Cold Feet returns to our TV screens on Monday (14 January). Following the lives of three couples as they navigate love and life in Manchester, the programme has been a hit ever since it first aired in 1997. After five successful series there was a 13-year hiatus before it returned triumphantly to the schedules in 2016. Robert has been an ever-present member of the cast, appearing in all 54 episodes. He spoke to us about the role that has made his name and the county he loves…
Next time you’re cycling through the East Sussex countryside, strolling along the coast, or contemplating the works of art in one of the county’s galleries and you think you may have spotted that posh chap from the TV, you may well be right.
As the nice-but-slightly-dim upper crust character David Marsden, Robert Bathurst was propelled into stardom in 1997 when the comedy-drama series, Cold Feet, became a big TV hit.
Being rubbish at life
Speaking to Your East Sussex, Robert said: “I had done plenty of stuff before Cold Feet but without doubt that was what made my name. I don’t really know why it works so well but it’s basically a programme about people being rubbish at life, doing their best and usually failing.”
It has been reported previously that the now familiar star of stage and screen was beaten to the role of James Bond in the late 1980s by Timothy Dalton, though Robert insists that this story about him has been blown out of proportion. In any case, even without being 007 Robert has become a household face, if not perhaps name, following numerous TV roles including parts in Downton Abbey, Wild At Heart and My Father’s The Prime Minister.
He said: “No, the Bond story isn’t completely true. I had a meeting with Barbara Broccoli, but so did many others. I couldn’t really have played Bond anyway, as I couldn’t have done the stunts. I might have suited a role like the Saint better.
When he’s not busy filming, rehearsing or working, Robert is very happy to be home in East Sussex and his love of acting appears to be matched by his affection for the county he calls home. “I love the county,” he said, “it still is deep country, still has smugglers lanes, high hedges, and still a lot of Cold Comfort Farm about it.” While some might bemoan the county’s lack of fast roads, this, for Robert, is one of its appeals. “That’s one thing I love, I relish the fact you can’t go too fast here.”
Cambridge-educated Robert cut his stage teeth as President of the Cambridge Footlights, performing alongside the likes of Griff Rhys Jones, Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson. But while the former public school boy is as well-spoken and articulate as his on-screen persona, they are actually very different. “I don’t associate myself with the character of David Marsden, he’s just a character I am playing. He looks like me, of course, but that’s where the similarities end.”
In fact Robert appears remarkably down-to-earth and unassuming. “I don’t consider myself a celebrity,” he said, “and people who like my work are very nice about it when I see them in the street. They’ll ask for photographs and an autograph and they’re a bit like bird-spotters ticking off their encounter.”
At home in East Sussex
Married to Victoria Threlfall and a father of four, Robert doesn’t just live in East Sussex, he considers it home, and a perfect weekend will see him take to two wheels to explore the county. “I do thoroughly enjoy cycling, I’m not one of those who uses apps to see how far I’ve gone and how quickly, I’m more reasonably paced. A good ride might take me around the villages of Brightling, Dallington, Rushlake Green or I might head down to the coast to the Towner Gallery, get the train to Bexhill for the De La Warr, and maybe the Jerwood Gallery at Hastings – before a ride on the dodgems!”
He has also cycled the County Council-maintained Cuckoo Trail but with mixed feelings. “Yes I’ve enjoyed cycling it but I can’t help but think about the trains that maybe should still be travelling along it.”
While his popularity makes Robert a busy in-demand actor, he still finds time for the local community and is patron of the Friends of Sussex Hospices for whom he raises funds. It’s an association he says he very much enjoys.
Since the age of 13 Robert has always wanted to act, and he had some final words of advice for any aspiring young actors in East Sussex who dream of making a career on screen or stage.
“You have to go into acting for the right reasons, and you have to go into it expecting to do shows for just three people and show as much commitment as you would if you were performing in front of hundreds. It’s also important that you don’t assume anyone owes you anything, they don’t. Oh, and you need a thick skin, like the hide of a rhinoceros.”
Speaking as someone who once accosted the TV star as we both exited a train in London that had recently arrived from Sussex, I am certain if you do spot this “celebrity” out and about in East Sussex you will find him as charming and friendly as he has been in both of our encounters.