A lot of people think that, when you've had a relative degree of success as an actor it's all hunky-dory, but whatever level you're at, there's always another level to get to. But you have to keep it in perspective and I've always felt that my family, friends and my Christian faith are the things that root me. Clare's been the most supportive friend that anyone could wish for in their career, and when she had her accident, that immediately put everything else into focus.
I was rehearsing for the RSC at that time: for Lady M in the Scottish Play and Angelica in George Farquhar's The Constant Couple. It was March 1986. I was rehearsing at Clapham, I went to get my car one evening and it had broken down. I had to wait two hours for the AA to come and tow me home. It was 9.30pm, and as we got to the Oval this car whizzed by and nearly hit us.
We got to Peckham about 10 minutes later. I was sitting quite high up in the cab of the guy towing my car, and I remember clearly seeing this young woman on the ground who had obviously been hit by a car. She had blood down her face. The guy next to me, the driver, made some crass remark like, "Oh yes, you see that all the time," and I thought, "How can you be that dismissive? It's a person's life there."
We drove on and he said to me, "You've gone very quiet," and I said, "I think I recognise the trousers of that young woman we saw on the ground." They were quite distinctive: black with a white stripe down the side - and I remembered that Clare had an identical pair. It suddenly struck me that the car that nearly hit us at the Oval could have been the same car that had run her down.
I got home to my flat and turned on the light in the garden room, and it went out. Since then, whenever a light goes off, I always get a bit of fear, because it changed the whole perspective of that room. I rang her flatmate and said, "where's Clare?" He said, "she's not home yet." I told him about the accident. Half an hour later he rang and said it was Clare who'd been hit.
She was not in a hospital bed yet, she was on a trolley in the waiting- room with a curtain round her. I remember sitting next to her and saying, "You're going to be all right." And - it makes me feel cold to think about it now - she had a gash across her head and a cut above her lip, and she was unconscious. She had brain damage, a broken pelvis and a broken hand. I understood later on that she had been revived in the ambulance.
She'd been hit by somebody going through a red light, been thrown 20 or 30 feet. When I drive through Peckham now, I'm always reminded of the distance that one can travel, being hit by a car, and how traumatic that must have been. I drive past the spot all the time and sometimes imagine her body being thrown and how awful that would have been. The guy who did it got a pounds 50 fine.
I visited her every day, at lunch times or after rehearsals. She was in a weird sort of coma whereby she was sometimes lucid and would take my hand and say things to me like, "Don't be late, don't miss your rehearsals."
She came out of the coma just after I left for Stratford. I'd been praying for her in the hospital chapel: it was a great source of comfort for me. Clare believes now in the strength of those prayers. When she came out of the coma, she was certain about God, that He existed. She'd been a believer before, but always doubtful, but she said that the moment she woke up it was not so much a question of faith but of knowing.
It reaffirmed my own beliefs - the sense that wherever we're led, we have to fight for the good in it. Clare epitomises that. She's a prime example of something that I try to do in everyday life, like when I go for a job and don't get it, I think, well maybe it's just not right for me, or maybe it's right that I have this time not working. I felt completely enlightened because she'd survived, she'd made a miraculous recovery - and she wasn't saying, "Bastard guy, ran me down." She was saying, "I know
She had to give up acting and is now a successful drama therapist, working with children with learning difficulties and behavioural problems. I sometimes feel I'm acting for both of us, and I think part of her recovery is to do with dreaming. She dreamt once that I was falling from a tower, so she almost had the experience objectively of that kind of a crash: she saw me do it; and in that way I think our lives are interlocked. She relates to me strongly in my career and in the way that she lost her career. I relate to her strongly as someone I love dearly, who has always been supportive, and who's had something taken away from them.
She said to me: "You were part of it, saw what I didn't see, witnessed what I don't remember. we went through it together"Reuse content