How We Met: Dominic West & Lucy Parham

‘Her face doesn’t lock in one of those rictuses, unlike me when I play guitar’

Lucy Parham, 46

One of Britain's finest pianists, Parham came to public attention after winning the 1984 BBC Young Musician of the Year, aged 16. She now performs as a concerto soloist with leading orchestras including the London Philharmonic and BBC Philharmonic. She lives in east London.

I knew of Dominic in the mid-1990s, as we were at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama together. The actors and musicians didn't cross paths, though. Instead I used to look longingly and adoringly at the actors, in their cafeteria. I was just a humble musician who was in awe of them.

A few years after graduating, I became a huge fan of The Wire. If you hadn't known Dominic was a classically trained English actor, you would have thought he was a native speaker from Baltimore, and seeing him perform in that series, well, I forgot it was him.

We were finally properly introduced 18 months ago by a mutual friend, [the actress] Joanna David, and I asked him whether he'd perform the narrative for my [touring] Debussy show. There was a real chemistry between us.

He helped bring alive the script I'd written – and he was very funny backstage. I get nervous before performing, but to have Dominic with you, telling jokes and doing impressions 10 seconds before, diffuses the tension.

I was delighted when he bought a piano; I hope our work together inspired him. As for lessons, I couldn't be more delighted to give Dominic a few pointers.

Is there truth in Dominic saying that pianists are a bit mad? Yes, it's a very solitary profession. I sometimes say, "If I am showing the mad gene, please give me a quick slap." My colleagues would probably kill me for saying this, but it takes a certain type of person to become one and that's why I do these [collaborative] shows [with Dominic], as I don't like spending all my time on my own – I've been doing that for 20 years.

It was also out of all that solitude, and not wanting to become [mad] that my love of theatre developed. We've met at the theatre a few times, as I love going; I prefer it to seeing a concert, as I'm playing the piano all day. We went to see The Winslow Boy most recently. And I can't wait to see Dominic up in Sheffield performing in My Fair Lady.

Dominic West, 43

After graduating from drama school in the early 1990s, West got his big break playing swaggering Baltimore detective Jimmy McNulty in acclaimed HBO drama series 'The Wire'. He has since appeared on TV as Oliver Cromwell in 'The Devil's Whore', Hector Madden in 'The Hour' and Fred West in 'Appropriate Adult'. He lives in west London.

I remember as a teen watching the Young Musician of the Year on TV in the 1980s, and I saw Lucy win in 1984. After that I was actually at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with her. At Guildhall, musicians tend to be defined by their instruments; people who play brass tend to be sporty lads, and the weirdest people were always the pianists, and as they spend about nine hours a day practising, they're all schizophrenic – except for a few, such as Lucy.

She got in touch with my agent a few years go and when I heard that she wanted me to work with her, I was intrigued. I always felt musicians were the ultimate artists and pianists the ultimate musicians, so I was delighted, even though I don't know anything about Debussy, and we fixed up a date to do a first performance in Salisbury.

Now we meet up in towns around Britain and doing the show for me is a pleasure; I get to say a few words and then sit right next to the piano and receive the full force of her performance.

I've heard a few different Debussy concerts and they've shown me how exceptional Lucy is. Her face isn't locked in one of those dreadful rictuses that can put you off, either, unlike me when I play the guitar [at home]; she looks inspired.

I have a jealousy about her, almost like a lover, as she also works with other actors, such as Alex Jennings. I regard them like rivals, and it's one of the things I have to deal with.

She's a kind person, and I was touched how, as a favour, she performed for one night in Sheffield, my home town, for a charity called Helen's Trust, which helped my mum before she died. Hearing her playing "Clair de Lune" in this beautiful chapel in Sheffield transported me. The piece sounds deceptively simple, but it's not; I tried to get her to show me how to do it but I got lost very quickly. I've since tried to convince her to give me lessons, but she's very politely said no. It's like asking Norman Foster for lessons in drawing.

Lucy Parham performs 'Rêverie: the Life and Loves of Claude Debussy' with Dominic West at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Surrey, on 25 November, and Wigmore Hall, London W1, on 30 December (lucyparham.com)

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