Brendan Coyle on Starlings, Manchester United and Rachel Khoo

Downton Abbey's Mr. Bates talks about his new show on Sky1, life as an actor - and his favourite television

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What’s your guilty pleasure? 

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I’m trying to leave guilt behind because, as a Catholic, I’ve got a degree in it. But I watch too many cookery programmes; I have them on like I would have music on in the background. 

Who’s your chef of choice? 

The Little Paris Kitchen’s Rachel Khoo. I was in love after simply seeing the trailers. 

What makes you blush? 

It takes a lot to make me blush… Singing. My character in Starlings is quite enthusiastic with his singing. He sings loudly and without finesse and that came quite naturally to me. 

What has you reaching for the hankies? 

Everything makes me cry. I’m a real sap. My problem is stopping: it’s a cookery programme, so why am I crying? I don’t deny it or resist it any more. 

What was your childhood favourite programme? 

Match of the Day. My great-uncle was Matt Busby so Manchester United is a family obsession. I saw the team recently: I think I might have dribbled. 

Did you dream of following in great-uncle Matt’s footsteps? 

I did, but luckily I was told by the age of 13 that I wasn’t good enough, and that’s not a bad thing. You see this X Factor generation of kids now who don’t accept that they’re not good enough. 

What made you want to act? 

I remember feeling quite anxious coming up to school-leaving age and not knowing what to do. Then I saw a production of Richard III when I was 15 or 16. It was my first theatre production and it’s as corny as being bitten by the bug. A month later I saw Saturday Night Fever; so it was a heady brew of Shakespeare and John Travolta. 

Who was your first crush? 

I had lunch with Shirley MacLaine a couple of weeks ago because she’s joining Downton Abbey and I didn’t tell her this but the first girl I ever kissed looked like Shirley – red cropped hair and big blue eyes. Perhaps I should have leapt on her and kissed her for old time’s sake. 

Since Downton Abbey you’ve become a bit of a sex symbol yourself. How does that feel? 

I don’t know about that! I think it’s probably best for all concerned that I don’t think about it. The strangest thing is where the fan mail comes from: I’ve had letters from an outpost in Alaska, New Zealand… It’s the breadth of it that really blows my mind. 

Starlings is about a working-class family – do you ever tire of playing blue-collar characters? 

I would like to a posh up a bit; I’ve never been cast in a Noël Coward play but I would love to be. After Downton I was offered a lot of moody men: the moody man in the beard, the moody man in the hat, the moody man with a spear… and Starlings. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done: really funny but with great warmth. 

Brendan Coyle stars in Starlings at 8pm on Sunday Sky1

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