Sid Owen will forever be known as hapless mechanic Ricky Butcher, one half of stormy ex-EastEnders couple Ricky and Bianca, his name being shouted in not-so-dulcet tones by his on-screen spouse, played by Patsy Palmer.
His real-life latest romance is, however, is a little less dramatic, he reveals.
“Luckily, I’ve found lockdown love, so I’m very happy. Her name’s Victoria We met 23 years ago and have rekindled our love in the last year.”
They are now living together and Owen, 49, hasn’t ruled out getting hitched.
“I am happy so that is on the cards,” he says. “But it’s a bit difficult at the moment when you can’t invite anyone to a wedding. I have a lot of friends so I won’t do it until everything opens up properly.”
He continues: “I would like a family of my own, but I might be getting a bit old for that. Let’s just take one step at a time. I’m just enjoying being in love.”
The former soap star has become a much less visible TV presence since last appearing in EastEnders nine years ago, although he has popped up in many TV reality shows including Strictly, I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, MasterChef and The Jump.
There have been good and bad times since he left Walford, he agrees. Today, he divides his time between his beautiful farmhouse in the south of France and his London home, plays golf three times a week and says he is pretty chilled.
While he’s enjoyed trying new pursuits on the reality show front, he was typecast after playing Ricky for so long, he admits.
“I’d love to get a huge show on Amazon or Netflix but you can’t have it all. EastEnders has opened doors and helped me experience many things in life that I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t been in the show. I don’t regret any of it.”
The show was part of his life for 24 years, from first appearing in Albert Square at the age of 16 in 1988 until 2000, and then returning spasmodically until 2012.
During the early days, Owen became tabloid fodder, as stories of drug and alcohol-fuelled binges emerged, but today he’s reluctant to revisit that past.
“Yes, I partied, I was in my 20s and I was no angel,” he says frostily. “It’s all been very well documented.”
His new autobiography, From Rags To Ricky, omits those partying days, focusing more on his earlier life and the difficult, crime-fuelled world in which he grew up.
Brought up on a council estate in Islington one of four brothers from three different fathers, the young Sid soon became a petty thief, helping his brothers commit burglaries and shoplifting on a regular basis.
“From day one, it was a complete drama,” he recalls.
His mum Joan worked in pubs and a bingo hall and was popular, while his father, David (better known as Porky), was a violent drunk who ended up in jail for a ‘heavy-duty robbery’. Owen had no contact with him from the age of six.
“I never had a relationship with him. He had a very tempestuous relationship with my mum. The only vague memory of him I had was when I went to visit him in prison. I wasn’t even aware of what prison was back then.”
His path became deeply troubled when his mother died from cervical cancer when Owen was seven and he was taken in by his aunt and uncle, although he spent much of his time with neighbours called the Wooders, whose children he had befriended and who took him under their wing.
But the inner turmoil he suffered at the death of his mother left him a wild child – he reckons the trauma may have given him PTSD.
“I was deeply troubled, not having any parents and growing up in that crazy, chaotic world. Early on I just brushed it (her death) aside, but of course it affects you. I was teased at school about it – kids can be horrible – but I tried to be strong and learned to live with it.”
His world opened up when he joined the Anna Scher drama group in Islington, which has Patsy Palmer, Linda Robson and Natalie Cassidy among its alumni.
“I found a way out through acting and working and being able to earn money as a young actor,” he recalls. “That’s what saved me. Acting was a complete release and helped me conquer a lot of things. It kept me on the straight and narrow.”
Initially he would get three or four small acting jobs a year, before his big break came with a big budget movie called Revolution, about the American War of Independence, in which he played Al Pacino’s son.
“I had a ball there. I was aware it was a massive deal. Going from my real life to massive film sets, being chauffer driven, being spoilt rotten and treated differently, it was a whole new world.
“Al Pacino was amazing, incredibly kind and took me under his wing and looked out for me.”
Owen heard years later that Pacino had considered adopting him. “I don’t know why, because I was a naughty kid,” he observes. “But we had a good bond.”
Although the film flopped, it taught Owen a lot about acting and he believes what he had learned may have gone some way into clinching him the role in EastEnders.
Life hasn’t been without its ups and downs since he left the show. He had a horrific golfing accident last year on holiday in Thailand before lockdown, in which a ball ricocheted off a tree at close range and shattered his jaw, knocking out six teeth. He needed reconstructive surgery and says that more operations are on the cards.
“It’s still going on. I’m not in pain but I do get a numbness and tingling down one side of my face. Hopefully, treatment should be finished in the next few months, when implants will be finished.”
Owen thinks he could return to the soap in the future.
“I’ve left four or five times and I’m sure there will be a time when I go back. They did ask me back but I had things going on so it didn’t work out this year but hopefully in the near future it will.”
He brushes aside recent reports that talks broke down earlier this year with the BBC about his return because he was asking for too much money.
“Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he bristles. “I had the book coming out and other personal stuff going on. The timing wasn’t right.”
His memoir ends abruptly, just as he finds success in EastEnders, so there’s a second book in the offing to bring fans up to date, he affirms.
“All the exciting stuff will be coming in the second book.”
From Rags To Ricky is published by Macmillan, priced £18.99. Available now
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