How We Met: Oz Clarke & Patrick Stewart

'We would each buy a bottle and shameful to admit during the interval, we would open one'
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Patrick Stewart, 67, is an actor. He joined the Royal Shakespeare company in 1966 and broke America with his role in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' in the late-1980s. He returned to the British stage in 2003. He lives in London

I must have met Oz on the first day of rehearsals for Trevor Nunn's 1975 production of Hedda Gabler. Oz, a surprisingly young actor, was the male understudy, which meant he was covering me, Peter Eyre and Timothy West all of us significantly more mature than Oz. But he willingly took the challenge on.

I remember taking to Oz immediately. His ginger hair, fresh, open intelligence and lively conversation were all appealing, but rehearsals were very intense and there wasn't much time to get to know the understudy.

It was only when the show transferred to Melbourne that we began to see more of one another and it was there I discovered Oz had a serious interest in wine, as I did although I was more of a tippler. He told me that he was very excited by some of the Australian wines. There were no New World wines anywhere near the UK back then, so Oz and I devised a little scheme: every day we would each buy a bottle of wine and it's a disgraceful thing to have to admit during the interval, we would open one of the bottles and taste it. The character I was playing went off to go to a party in act two. So in act three, just after the interval, I return, drunk and a bit hysterical. So I thought it was OK to taste the wine, as my character was drunk anyway. When I look back, I can't believe I did it.

That was the core of my relationship with Oz. It was a touring production and I don't think we finished until late-1975 so the bulk of that year I saw Oz almost daily and saw bottoms of bottles almost daily.

Then I found myself in Hollywood about to shoot Star Trek, and ended up staying for years, so he vanished off my radar.

When I came back to England four years ago, I was at home channel-surfing one night and all of a sudden this cheery faced chap appeared, talking away with a glass of wine in his hand. It wasn't his face but the way he held his wine glass that seemed vaguely familiar. I watched this programme for quite a while at least a few weeks before I realised that this once-unknown understudy had become one of Britain's most distinguished wine experts. I made contact with him and now we are back in touch. When he came to see me in Macbeth he brought with him a claret that had been bottled in 1975 the year that we met. It was very touching.

We couldn't be more different I left school at 15 and struggled to pick things up as I went along; Oz is a brilliantly educated and cultured individual. He's also immensely optimistic, extroverted and a terrific raconteur. In both our cases, so much had happened to us in my case 17 years in Hollywood and in Oz's becoming a celebrity wine man but when we picked up after all those years, it was as though nothing had changed.

Oz Clarke, 50, studied theology and psychology at Oxford University before becoming an actor. In the 1980s, after publishing a book on wine, he switched careers to become a drink specialist. He is married and lives in west London

I think I met Patrick on one of my first jobs with the Royal Shakespeare Company. At first I don't think I really clicked with him. I was a very junior actor, the one no one really talks to, and quite friendless. But when the show moved on to Melbourne, when all the other dressing-rooms were closed firmly shut, Patrick's was the only one that remained slightly open. For me, that speaks volumes.

I think Patrick thinks we had some kind of a drinking competition. I remember I went to a bottle shop and bought a bottle of the cheapest white and cheapest red. They were a Riesling and a Shriraz. I opened the Riesling and it absolutely reeked of petrol. Patrick's eyebrows went right up to where his hair might have been. We had a mouthful and it was such a thrilling flavour full of lime zest and this funny petrol flavour; it was different to anything I'd ever tasted. It was then that I knew the future of wine was Australian.

He was one of those fellas who always wanted to philosophise. That's why he's so nice to hang out with. He has an opinion on absolutely anything. We talked our way endlessly through the women who were floating through our lives.

When we got back to England, we rather drifted apart. He went off to America and I used to catch glimpses of him in Star Trek. I couldn't believe him in that silly suit, though it was great casting with his fabulous head and great face. I did think, "Right Patrick, isn't it time you were coming home?" He has that molten stream of great theatre in his veins and he must have wanted to get back to the stage.

He's now a great actor, not just a good one. It's as if he's been waiting all his life to get old he needed maturity to allow his talent to come through. When I saw him as Macbeth my heart swelled with pleasure to see how fantastically good he was. He is an actor in his prime, and that's a precious thing. He is exactly the same guy as when we met, but better. He's like a good bottle of red: he improves the older he gets.

'Oz Clarke's Pocket Wine Book 2008' (Anova Books, 9.99) is out now

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