About me

What it feels like to be an ageing heart-throb;

Ask Robert Powell if he still regards himself as something of a heart-throb and a faint look of embarrassment will appear in those piercing blue eyes.

It is something that never crosses his mind these days and even when he was considered by others to be rather dishy, it wasn't an accolade he actively searched out.

'It came as a genuine shock when, at the beginning of my career, people started to talk about my looks. As a kid growing up in the Fifties, the image of good looks was that of the lantern jaw and broad shoulders, which was definitely not me.

'As an adolescent I was not very well built, so I regarded myself as rather puny in comparison to the other boys I was at school with. When it came to girlfriends, I used to lose out a lot. 'So after Doomwatch in the Seventies, when I got literally thousands upon thousands of fan letters from girls, I was completely taken aback. Not that I was displeased, because it was rather flattering.'

Powell is now 51 and therefore the pressure of living up to being some kind of screen idol has worn off somewhat. The middle-aged paunch, lived-in face and occasional twinges of arthritis have helped see to that.

He has also been forced to face up to his own mortality after watching both his parents die long, painful deaths. Six months ago his mother died from cancer of the colon and four years ago his father died from lung cancer. He says he will never fully recover from their deaths.

'I have been through two very difficult bereavements and I am still suffering the never-ending pain which that brings. Obviously there are ways of coping with it and ways of getting on with your own life without it impinging at all, but it is always there. It catches me at the oddest moments and I end up being very unhappy.

'It also makes me an orphan which, at 51, is a very odd thing to be. I was born In Salford, near Manchester, and even though I left home 32 years ago, I felt as though I always had a home there because my parents continued to live there. But now I don't have that home any more. I feel that there is a void - geographical and emotional - in my life now.'

Losing his parents as a middle-aged man and spending time with them while they were dying has forced Powell to reflect more deeply on his childhood.

He thinks he and his elder brother Harry missed out on a certain degree of affection.

'Both my mother and my father were living with me when they died. While my mother was dying, I got to thinking about her a lot and watching her behaviour, and I found myself thinking that maybe she should have been a bit more demonstrative with my brother and myself.

'I remember there being love when we were growing up, but I don't remember affection. We were certainly an undemonstrative family. I wonder, sometimes, if I have brought that element of my childhood into my adulthood, although I don't think I have been undemonstrative with my own kids. They are 18 and 16 and there's no sign of them leaving home yet.'

Similarly, Powell was able to analyse his relationship with his father, a retired mechanical engineer whom he affectionately describes as 'an awkward bloke'.

'He was a typical Northern man. He was an incredibly hard worker, very much a self-made man and very tough. That syndrome of 'I'm not arguing, I'm telling you' was very much part of my adolescence. But I got very much closer to him when he was ill, mainly because he became dependent on me. As he got weaker, our relationship became closer because he had let his guard down. I took over in the relationship and I think he was quite grateful for that.'

One of the more positive aspects of his childhood, believes Powell, is that his parents taught him a sense of morality and discipline. Those are qualities by which he has tried to live his life and, consequently, they have helped him sustain one of the more enduring marriages in showbusiness. He and his wife, former Pan's People dancer Babs Lord, have been married for 20 years and, with 18-year-old Barney and 16-year-old Kate, seem to have forged a family life that is the envy of many of his contemporaries.

It is something the actor is obviously very proud of. Though there was a time, when he was 30 and unmarried, that he went through a serious crisis of conscience which resulted in depression.

'I have always tried to play by the rules as much as I can, although there are times when I have done things that I have known are not right and have paid the penalty in terms of a massive dose of guilt.

'There was a time when I became very depressed because I was not listening to my conscience. I was doing things that I didn't like and certainly didn't approve of, and I knew I was not being true to myself. And so I had some analysis, which helped me to sort myself out.'

Talk to him about cricket, tennis, snooker or football and you are subjected to a treatise on each one. But when it comes to discussing more personal matters, he finds it hard to open up.

What is clear is that Powell thrives on the state of marriage and fidelity. He didn't lose his virginity until he was 20 and before he met his wife had three live-in relationships - one lasting three years and the others two years each,

'My parents were married for 50 years and when I met Babs I knew, very definitely, that I wanted to marry her and stay with her for the rest of my life. That's the way I had been brought up. I do like being in a relationship and I am monogamous. There were times when I wasn't in a relationship that I played the field a bit, but they were not that frequent.

'I count myself as being extraordinarily lucky to have a wife who puts up with me. I have never been an easy person to live with. When I am working, work is all-consuming, and that can be very isolating for my wife. I'm not much fun to be with. I also don't impart very much of what is going on in my mind.

'Women don't work that way. They are more likely to discuss what is going on in their minds. But that's because, as sexes, we are built differently.

There is no way that I am a male chauvinist but I will defend the right, until I die, for men to be different to women.

'But we have stuck with each other for 20 years, so something must be working. It is a solid marriage.'

If there is a degree of self-satisfaction about his marital contentment, it would appear to be well-deserved. Powell seems to be making a pretty good job of his life right now. And that goes for his career, too.

It began in the Seventies with such series as Doomwatch - British television's first 'green' series, in which he played a scientist - and a clutch of 'tortured genius' roles such as Ken Russell's Mahler, Shelley and Jude The Obscure.

After his most memorable role, as Jesus of Nazareth in the 1978 television series, he changed direction to play John Buchan's action hero Richard Hannay in the remake of The Thirty-Nine Steps, which led to the spin-off television series Hannay.

More recently Powell has displayed a talent for comedy. Three years ago he teamed up with Jasper Carrott to star in the spoof comedy series The Detectives, which returns on February 15 for a fourth season on BBC1.

These days he is quite happy to sit back and let his career run around him, rather than the other way round. 'To be honest with you, I just enjoy living these days. I plan my golf more than I plan my career.'

Lester Middlehurst,Daily Mail (London) February 02, 1996