Patsy Kensit interview: 'David Bowie brushing my hair was the most erotic experience in my life'

As she plays England footballing legend Bobby Moore's mother-in-law in ITV's 'Tina and Bobby', the former 'Absolute Beginners' star looks back on her eventful life, and says that she is relieved to be valued at last as a character actress

Gerard Gilbert
Wednesday 04 January 2017 17:26 GMT
Kensit, who plays Bobby Moore's mum in ITV's 'Bobby and Tina', has worked in the TV and film industry most of her life
Kensit, who plays Bobby Moore's mum in ITV's 'Bobby and Tina', has worked in the TV and film industry most of her life (Rex)

It's somehow astonishing to think that Patsy Kensit was only 16 when she played the female lead in one of the most ambitious British movies of the 1980s – Julien Temple's musical adaptation of the Colin MacInnes' 1958 cult novel Absolute Beginners, her co-stars including David Bowie, Sade and Ray Davies.

And yet, on the film's release in 1986, Kensit was already a veteran - a child actress with a number of BBC costume dramas under her belt, including Silas Marner, Richard III, and as the young Estella in a 1981 adaptation of Great Expectations (opposite Miss Marple's Joan Hickson, then aged 75, as Miss Havisham; now that's got to be worth tracking down).

“I've worked every year of my life since I was four and navigated my way through the industry”, says Kensit when we meet to promote her latest role – in ITV's new biopic Bobby and Tina, which tells of the “epic love story” between the West Ham and England legend (played by James Norton lookalike Lorne MacFadyen) and Tina Dean (the increasingly impressive Michelle Keegan from Our Girl).

Kensit (right) playing England footballing legend Bobby Moore's mother-in-law with Moore (centre, Lorne MacFadyen) and Tina (left, Michelle Keegan) in ITV's 'Tina and Bobby'

Kensit is still recognisably Kensit as Tina's mum, Betty, a twice-divorced dressmaker, in the three-part drama, but less glamorous than usual and very much the supporting actress. The 48-year-old could not be more thrilled.

“To transition my way into these sorts of roles is heaven”, she says. “I'm here for the right reasons because I can act.... I'm a character... I've been cast as an actress, and not to look like myself. And it's great is to be playing somebody's mother. I look totally different... the whole silhouette... lots of cotton wool and pointy underwear.”

Lauren Klee's drama follows Bobby and Tina's relationship, from first meeting as teenagers outside the Ilford Palais dance-club in 1957, through Moore's successful treatment for testicular cancer, the triumph of 1966 and onwards through the post-World Cup glamour, blackmail plots, to their divorce in the 1980s, after Tina discovered that her husband - struggling with failed business ventures and a feeling neglected by the world of football - had an affair.

Kensit starred in 'Absolute Beginners' with her teenage crush David Bowie when she was aged 16

Betty's own story ends tragically, dying relatively young from cancer – as did Kensit's own mother, Margaret, who died of breast cancer at the age of 48. The similarities brought a special poignancy to the deathbed scenes.

“The scene in the hospital”, says Kensit. “I'd been thinking about it a week before we were going to shoot it and I asked John [McKay], our director, if we could just speak for five minutes, sharing something that my mother had said to me literally days before she died. I said I'm not trying to give myself more camera time, but I believe there's lots of similarities between Tina and Betty and my mother and I... that she was just so young, and John said 'I think you should bring that to the scene'.”

And what did Kensit's mother say to her? “I can't tell you. You'll have to watch the programme.”

Kensit's father, James, who also died relatively young, in 1987, was an associate of the Kray twins, known as 'Jimmy the Dip' for his pickpocketing proclivities. Kensit has likened parties at her childhood home to 'The Sopranos', and remembers once going on a cruise to the Caribbean when her father was on the run. When he was finally jailed, she was told to tell friends that her dad – supposedly an antiques dealer - was away in South Africa on business.

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It was her mother, a publicist, who put Kensit on the stage – or at least, at the age of four, in a television advert for Bird's Eye peas ( a gig that seems to have come full circle now that voice-overs for Bird's Eye fish-fingers help pay the mortgage on Kensit's house in north London). Other juvenile roles included the 1974 movie The Great Gatsby, with Mia Farrow, whom she would later portray in a 1995 TV biopic, Love and Betrayal. She credits her mother for helping with the notoriously difficult transition from child to young adult actor.

“It's not an easy thing, but I managed to do that”, she says. “The reason being that my mother would never let me do interviews when I was growing up, going through the teens and the gawky phase when you've got zits. And that made it easier because people in the industry knew that I was an actress they could hire and would deliver, but the public wouldn't necessarily recognise me.”

 Kensit's first big job was in the Bird's Eye frozen peas advert aged 4

That all changed with Absolute Beginners, where Kensit found herself sharing the screen with her teenage crush, David Bowie. “I had these childish daydreams... 'oh my gosh he's going to fall in love with me' because I was a super-fan. But he was just very polite... said 'hello'... and I was crushed.

“One day however I was sitting in make-up and the make-up artist had gone to the men's room and Bowie walked in. He didn't say a word, he just picked up a hairbrush and started brushing my hair. He probably only did about three strokes but it felt like the most erotic thing I'd ever had in my entire life.”

It's a statement that may not exactly stroke the egos for Kensit's four ex-husbands – three of them musicians: Dan Donovan of Big Audio Dynamite, Simple Minds' Jim Kerr, and (most famously) Liam Gallagher, at a time when Oasis were in their Britpop pomp.

It was a stipulation of our meeting that we didn't discuss her exes, while she says that her sons with Kerr and Gallagher – respectively James, 24, and 17-year-old Lennon – don't like being mentioned in interviews. “My oldest son is a businessman and loathes anything to do with showbusiness; he's like 'I'm a civilian... don't discuss me in your interviews'. And my youngest son, yes, he's on his own path [studying to be a theatre actor], but I spoke about it once and I got into such trouble from him... I got the hair-dryer treatment for that.”

Kensit, now 48, is happy to be playing character roles and to be cast for her acting abilities

Concentrating on motherhood - along with the now thankfully less iron law of screen-acting that says roles for women start drying up at the age of 30 - has meant Kensit's once blooming movie career (with Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2, the protagonist in Don Boyd's Twenty-One, opposite Dudley Moore in the rom-com Blame It on the Bellboy, the object of Mark Rylance's passion in Philip Haas's Angels & Insects) has given way to the regular pay check provided by television soap operas: for two years as Emmerdale's resident 'uber-bitch', Sadie King, followed by a further three years in Hollyoaks.

“I loved it”, she says, “But my eldest son was about to turn 16, and I was always rushing to get to football matches, or I just couldn't go because I was filming. So I just decided to downsize our lives and get on with these precious few years I've got left.”

And that's been it, apart from a stint in Celebrity Big Brother in which she shared the compound with Katie Hopkins and Perez Hilton and which she compared to being in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and coming seventh in Strictly Come Dancing. She is a warm if initially nervous interviewee, and, despite the odd lurid headline about “falling out of nightclubs” (celebrities rarely seem to just leave nightclubs) – she is apparently clean-living, practising yoga each morning after a jog on Hampstead Heath (“running like a gazelle... not; more like a fast trot from a pretty little donkey”). Her ambition now is for more supporting character parts like Betty in 'Bobby and Tina', and to see the world.

“I've worked in some way in the industry my entire life practically”, she says. “I'm 48 now, there are places I would like to see. I think there's another ten years in me and then I shall go grey-packing”

'Tina and Bobby' begins at 9pm on ITV on Friday 13 January

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