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Celebrity Wellbeing

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Peter Davison Davison found fame as a vet in TV classic All Creatures Great And Small and was the fifth Dr Who. He tells GABRIELLE FAGAN how he's coped with cows, the Tardis and domestic turmoil...

PETER DAVISON'S looked death in the face and rather enjoyed the experience. Within hours of the demise of the star of TV's Doctor Who and All Creatures Great And Small being announced online, a million people paid tribute to him on a Facebook memorial page.

"I can highly recommend the death hoax experience," says the 65-year-old actor, smiling as he recalls the experience in 2013.

"It's like having a wake before you die. I mean, what's the point of people saying all those nice things about you if you're not around to hear them?"

It's not a surprise he was so feted; in the last four decades, he's predominantly played characters that have won the public's heart.

In person, talking about his autobiography, Is There Life Outside The Box? An Actor Despairs, Peter is charming and self-deprecating with a dry wit.

His role Tristan Farnon, the younger vet in All Creatures Great and Small, rocketed him to fame in 1978. By 1981, aged only 29, he was chosen as the fifth Doctor Who, the most dashing, and youngest ever at that time to hold the role.

"Tristan launched me, but I should never have got that role," he readily admits. "I couldn't have been more different from him.

"He was supposed to be a bit of a womanising posh reprobate, but I went to a comprehensive, was from a mixed-race family my dad was from the West Indies and my mother was English - and was so acutely shy I blushed all the time, especially around girls.

"I lied about being 'at ease' with animals to get the part, so I couldn't sleep for days before a shoot where I had to put my arm up a cow to help her give birth. The start of the first series was a blur as was worrying I'd get 'found out'.

"What's funny is that, even now, people will seriously ask my advice about their pets' medical problems, confident in the knowledge that I will know because I once played a vet!"

Ironically, Peter - whose early ambition was to be a musician and who wrote the theme tune for kids' TV show, Button Moon eventually assumed the confident 'posh' identity of his character rather too well, found it difficult to abandon the accent, and increasingly found himself playing a tricky 'role' in his personal life.

By the time he turned 40 during the Nineties, the TV work had dried up, his second marriage to actress Sandra Dickinson was disintegrating, and he was massively in debt. It's a period Peter - whose real surname is Moffett - describes as his "wilderness" years.

"Show business is cyclical - you go in and out of fashion, and at that point, I was out. It added pressure to the problems at home. The marriage split was difficult because we'd been a relatively high-profile TV couple and when that goes wrong, it's manna from heaven for the tabloid media," he says.

"The pressure of that somehow influenced us, delaying the end in a way that wasn't helpful. It heightened everything, including the acrimony.

"Not only that, we'd been living in a rather grand style - four cars and an eight-bedroom riverside home - but I'd foolishly overlooked setting aside money for the taxman. I came a cropper over that and ended up living alone in a basement flat.

"It was quite a lifestyle change, but a turning point for me and I think I found myself during that time."

These days his career's back on track. Last year, he received acclaim for his performance in West End musical, Gypsy with Imelda Staunton. He's been happily married since 2003 too, to actor and writer, Elizabeth Heery ("My soul mate").

Both their sons, Joel, 15 and Louis, 17, want to act. Louis has already appeared in the Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children movie and has a role in TV's Holby City.

They are, he jokes, part of a "new Davison/Tennant acting dynasty" as his actress daughter, Georgia Moffett, 31, from his marriage to Sandra, is married to another Doctor Who, David Tennant.

The couple have three children as well as Georgia's 14-year-old son, Ty from a previous relationship.

"It's wonderful to see Georgia so happy because she's had tough times in her life," says Peter. "Over the years, she's gone through her parents' marriage break-up and having a baby when she was in her teens, but dealt with it brilliantly and has taken it all in her stride.

"She's proved to be a wonderful mother and David's a lovely bloke. I'm a very proud grandfather:'

With characteristic modesty, he adds: "I'd like to think I've been an inspiration to my children and that's why they all seem set on following in my footsteps into show business, but I think the truth is, they probably think, 'If he can do it, anyone can!

'After all, they have a lot to live up to - I'm the bloke from the vet series, the Fifth Doctor - a role I absolutely loved, even when I was covered in stale cornflakes and green slime for dramatic effect - and am pictured in sci-fi magazines and immortalised in six-inch-high figures with articulated limbs! Quite a legacy..:"

He confesses he's still bedevilled by shyness - "Acting's always been my escape from that trait. Even now, I hate it at parties if my wife wanders away because I'm hopeless at chit chat" - but he professes to have no regrets.

"Life pushes you in different directions and you just have to accept that and feel grateful for the changes, which are sometimes painful, but often turn out for the best."

He does, however, retain an irrational fear that "despite the fact I've managed to do this job for more than 40 years, I will never get another job. Most actors share that insecurity and, at the end of the day, I've always put down my good fortune to a generous portion of luck.

"For someone without a grand plan, and very little ambition, I'm managing to amble through and, on occasions, be in the right place at the right time."

Is There Life Outside the Box? An Actor Despairs by Peter Davison, left, is published in hardback by John Blake, £20.


People still ask me for my advice about their pets' medical problems...


Captions:

Peter and his daughter Georgia Moffett in Wargrave, left, and Peter as a 17-year-old playing the piano, right - in images from his autobiography

Peter and his wife Elizabeth

Peter Davison and as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small, left

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Fagan, Gabrielle (2016-12-07). Celebrity Wellbeing. Evening Chronicle p. 33.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fagan, Gabrielle. "Celebrity Wellbeing." Evening Chronicle [add city] 2016-12-07, 33. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fagan, Gabrielle. "Celebrity Wellbeing." Evening Chronicle, edition, sec., 2016-12-07
  • Turabian: Fagan, Gabrielle. "Celebrity Wellbeing." Evening Chronicle, 2016-12-07, section, 33 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Celebrity Wellbeing | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Celebrity_Wellbeing | work=Evening Chronicle | pages=33 | date=2016-12-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Celebrity Wellbeing | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Celebrity_Wellbeing | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024}}</ref>