Meeting… Martin Clunes
PUBLISHED: 10:19 03 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
Gracing our screens in a variety of roles for over 25 years, Martin Clunes is probably best known for his laddish role in Men Behaving Badly, but Gabrielle Sander finds he's a far more engaging character
Born in London in 1961, Martin grew up in a house on the edge of Wimbledon Common. He remembers a childhood spent hanging out with his mates on the common riding bikes, climbing trees and smoking cigarettes. 'We used to hide in the bushes next to the nearby golf course and steal the golf balls,' he laughs naughtily as he casts back to his earliest memories. 'They'd all have a good hit, and we'd just run across commando style, grab the balls and go and sell them in the local sports shop. If you had a big enough bag you could buy a toy or something.'
Martin first visited and fell in love with Dorset when he attended a friend's wedding in Corfe Castle, and just a few years later he'd left behind his London roots for the farm near Beaminster he now calls home. He lives with his wife, TV producer Philippa Braithwaite, whom he met whilst starring in and directing the 1994 comedy Staggered, and their daughter Emily. 'We weren't looking to move, but we spent some time there on the way back from the wedding and it was just the most joyous place we'd ever seen. So we thought, why don't we try and find a little weekend cottage or something?'
The initial thought turned in to a two-year search for a property and the couple initially bought a converted Georgian vicarage in Powerstock. Then a few years later Philippa discovered the 'dream house' that was to become their current abode, set in 135 acres.
I'm intrigued to know what he does with all that land. 'Well we keep sheep on it to keep the grass down, we've got some stables for our horses and there's some miniature Shetlands. We brought those just 'cause they're funny really,' he laughs his characteristically naughty laugh, something he does a lot which adds to his incredibly endearing manner. 'I'm eyeing up these Alpaca at the moment, yes I'd quite like some; swan sheep I call them. They're sweet natured and will see off a fox as well.'
Martin tends to spend much of his spare time on the farm, but when he's not walking the dogs, horse riding or tending to the many jobs that come with such a property, there are plenty of local spots he enjoys. He classes Eggardon Hill, near Powerstock, as, 'absolutely just one of my favourite places in the world'. Lyme Regis and Durdle Door are other favourites.
So any plans to return to the big smoke? 'No, no. We sold the houses in London and Powerstock to buy the farm. I thought it was going to be a bit hairy because I spent all of my formative years there, but I don't at all regret leaving. I quite enjoy my visitor status. We do things that we never did when we lived there, like going to the theatre and taking a ride in a rickshaw,' he says happily.
At the time of interview, Martin has just come from a book signing in Yeovil, one of many during his tour around the country to promote his first book, A Dog's Life. It draws on his recent ITV documentary Martin Clunes: One Man and His Dogs, produced by his and Philippa's company Buffalo Pictures. The two-part adventure took him to Africa, America and Australia on a journey to discover the history of man's best friend, and how the relationship between the two different species works so well.
In addition, the book draws on personal memories and tales from the series that didn't make the final cut, and includes a lovely collection of photographs, most of which he took himself. The result is a wonderfully entertaining and witty read. It was a chance for Martin to indulge in a subject that, as a life-long dog lover, is close to his heart. 'Our first dog was Jemima, a Jack Russell cross. She had emphysema which made her a bit wheezy, but she was very sweet and she used to sleep in my bed. I would've been about nine when mum said we could get one,' he says.
Now Martin and his family have three dogs - two cocker spaniels and a Labrador, all of which he insists on introducing to me by their full names, 'There's Mary Elizabeth, Tina Audrey, and Arthur Colin.' At this stage Martin explains that he originally wanted to call Arthur, Colin, after his first best friend at primary school. However, he lost out to Philippa and Emily who insisted that he was named after Martin's grandfather Arthur. 'I got vetoed by the rest of the family, so Colin became his middle name, but I still call him Colin when we're alone.'
We move on to Martin's next projects. He stars in a documentary about the islands of Britain, which at the time of interview he has already been filming for three months, 'My next stop is the Channel Islands, and then we're going to do the Scillys, St Mary's Mount, all that stuff. We've done the north and west and we're heading down south now,' he tells me excitedly. When that's complete, he begins filming a remake of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, in which he takes the lead role, originally played by Leonard Rossiter in the 1970s. Both projects will air next year.
With a career in acting and directing successfully carved out is there anything else Martin would like to achieve, I ask. 'Gosh, I'd love to go to Madascagar! Does that count?' The excitement in his voice is almost as if I have offered to grant him this wish myself. 'I'd also like to get better at riding and jumping. I've got this lovely big horse called Chester, who likes jumping. I had to get a horse so I could join in the conversation with the rest of my friends. Well kind of, but since we got them all moved in it's been really, really lovely. Changed our lives really; they're so affectionate when you're their sole carer and they depend on you for everything. It's been really, really rewarding.'
How is the jumping going so far; any nasty falls I ask? 'I've had a few tumbles,' he laughs. 'But he's a lot better at it all than I am!'