Timothy Spall on surviving cancer: 'I was diagnosed with Leukaemia the day I was due to go to Cannes'

The actor was told he has three days to live

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Timothy Spall has spoken about being told he had three days to live after being diagnosed with Leukaemia 18 years ago.

The actor was due to go to Cannes to promote the Mile Leigh film Secrets & Lies in 1996 when he received his diagnosis at the age of 39.

“I was diagnosed with Leukaemia the day I was supposed to go to Cannes and when I saw everyone coming down the red carpet I was having my first chemo stuck directly to my heart when I was watching this all going on,” he told The Graham Norton Show.

“It was nice because they were winning prizes while I was sort of doing an impersonation of not trying to peg it which I valiantly managed to achieve.”

The actor, 57, who plays JMW Turner in the forthcoming Mike Leigh film Mr Turner, said knowing he might die brought on a feeling of “profundity”, but he soon grew bored of it.


“When you’re in a state of not knowing whether you’re going to live or die or not, you’re in a state of profundity. So I remember going out to the park in between treatments and looking at a tree and for the first time really thinking what an amazing thing it was.

“And for about 10 minutes I thought that is a really nice tree. And then after a while I did it again and after a while I thought, you know, this profundity thing is a bit over-rated.”

He added he knew he was getting better when he started being difficult to his friends and family.

“So when I got better and started being petty and snapping at the people I loved and shouting at people in traffic jams and being ridiculous, funny and scatological, I knew I was getting better,” he said.

“Because when you’re dying you tend to be profound. So never fear being a petty fool. It means you ain’t dying.”

Mr Turner is released in cinemas on Friday 31 October.