How We Met: Graham Seed & Mavis Cheek

Sunday 01 May 2011 00:00 BST

Mavis Cheek, 62

An award-winning novelist, Cheek has written 14 books including 'Mrs Fytton's Country Life', 'Janice Gentle Gets Sexy' and 'Truth to Tell'. She lives in Wiltshire

I was a huge fan of [Radio 4 soap opera] The Archers, so I was rather starstruck by the prospect of meeting Graham [who played the character of stately-home owner Nigel Pargetter]. I met his wife Claire at a drinks party about 13 years ago; she said she loved my books and invited me to dinner, as we both lived locally.

Because I love the theatre and Graham is passionate about it too, we got on well. I didn't realise at the time, but things were coming to a head with their marriage. Once they separated, I could tell he was having a terrible time of it and he started confiding in me. I felt sorry for him, so I took him to a couple of parties and to see a few shows. I used to stay fairly sober while he would get really drunk and we laughed a lot. He got the wonderful idea that I knew everyone in the world, and I kept up this mythology.

I went to see him in a play called Translation, playing a stiff army officer imposing his will. He was wonderful in it and it cemented our friendship more. I'd always wanted to be an actor, and for me, watching Graham is the next best thing.

As a single man, he was hilariously awful. I took him once to a lecture at a Victorian graveyard in London, about the people buried there, but he couldn't stop looking at the girls, and going after them. He'd wander off saying, "I think I'm in love, what do I do?" During his darkest moments he'd come to stay in Wiltshire, where I'd moved to, and it was quite heavy going. There was 3am stuff and another bottle going down, and I'd just want to go to bed, but I'd stay and be his confidante.

He's very self-obsessed, but he admits that; when he asks you a question about yourself, you'd better get in quick before he moves on to himself. But he's a very kind man underneath it all, generous and quick to congratulate. Now he's got a nice woman, Denise, who has had a cheering and calming influence on his life.

When I heard about the death of his character in The Archers I was outraged, both for Graham, but also as a writer and listener: it was bonkers. Why get rid of one of the show's most beloved characters after 30 years? Even now, four months on, when we meet we still run through it all.

Graham Seed, 60

An actor, Seed is best known for playing the bumbling Nigel Pargetter in 'The Archers' – though the character was axed after 27 years in January. He lives in London

When it comes to actors, Mavis thinks they are more erudite than they are, but she's the one with this incredible brain and I'm the one burbling behind her.

We first met at a drinks reception in 1999. My wife at the time recognised her, as she loved Mavis's books, and was so frightfully impressed to know a novelist she invited her round for dinner. Mavis was slightly gobsmacked that a friend of mine, Alan Rickman, had also been invited, so she thought everybody I knew was a luvvie, when he's just an old friend.

She'd always loved The Archers, while I was so impressed by how cultured and glamorous she was, and a friendship developed. I confided in her that I was having problems with my wife and within six months my marriage had broken up. It was pretty traumatic to be suddenly single after 30 years, and Mavis was a good friend when I was feeling alone. She was good at drawing me out the house and embarking me on a series of whirlwind experiences as her chaperone. She liked it as she could arrive at parties and announce, "This is Graham Seed, better known as..." She probably thought, and still does, that I'm a bit like Nigel; there to be fun and tactless. I think I still play up to it a bit.

I often felt a bit of a phony, though, going to all these art events. She loves art, but I know nothing about it. I remember going to an open-air exhibition in Regent's Park a few years ago. We were in the VIP lounge and I was completely out of my depth discussing art with Tracey Emin; Mavis recognised I was in difficulty, swooped in and rescued me.

Though I'm an actor, I'm really a bit of a philistine. She says, "We must go see this" and I'll say, "Do we have to?" I'd rather watch a game of cricket, but we'll go to a show with some friends of mine such as Jim Broadbent, as I know how starstruck she gets meeting actors.

We were always friends and no more; it was uncomplicated. Her attitude towards me is of affectionate incomprehension. She's terribly neat and grown-up, while I'm an untidy mess, and she thinks I'm incredibly self-centred, but all actors are.

After my role in The Archers ended, she really rallied round me. It's not nice to have half your life taken away but Mavis just kept saying, "This will be the start of good things." Nigel is a delightful man, but I'm not nearly so and now I'm no longer Nigel Pargetter, I'm sure she's not quite so interested in me.

'The Lovers of Pound Hill' (Hutchinson, £12.99) by Mavis Cheek is out on Thursday

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