I’ve been in a gay relationship with Richard [Clifford, also an actor] for 36 years. We don’t carry on like Freddie [McKellen] and Stuart [Jacobi] in Vicious, thank God! It’s much more gentle than that. But one’s very aware of the parallels. Stuart’s a home-maker. I love our home in Primrose Hill, north London, but I’m not a home-maker. I live with somebody who is. I’m a plumper up of cushions when the visitors have left. But fortunately my other half does all of those things sensationally well. So I don’t need to. In that sense I’m a bit lazy about life.
I come from east London. For the first 20 years of my life that was home, in Leytonstone. When I went to Birmingham Rep I had this lovely flat in Edgbaston where Albert Finney had lived, two occupants before me. At one point I asked the landlady if I could change the wallpaper in the bedroom. She said, “No, no, no – Albert put that up.” Then a couple of years after I left, I met this actor who said she was living in our flat in Edgbaston. She revealed, “I tried to paint the kitchen once and I wasn’t allowed to by the landlady – she said Derek had painted it.”
I didn’t co-habit until I was 39. I was very happy living with myself, and then suddenly somebody came into my life whom I decided to share it with. That was quite a step because I was set in my ways. Suddenly I had to think about somebody else, too. That was not easy. It was somebody considerably younger than me, too, although as we’ve got older, the ages don’t matter so much.
I couldn’t live on my own now. In a sense, I’ve given myself to somebody else who I rely on. He organises me. I’ve kind of said, “OK, you take over now.” Inside I’m older; I’m not wiser. I don’t feel much older than early 20s really. I don’t have a sense of being venerable or being solid or old or experienced. I’m probably all of those things in some people’s eyes, but I don’t feel them. I still feel like a teenager. But I do think about what happens next. I’ll be 75 in October. If I’m lucky I’ve got another ten years of good work in me. I might not. I have intimations of mortality now that I didn’t before. I think about if I go first or he goes first… I’d be a wreck if he goes first. I’m aware of being in the last act. The interval was over a long time ago. It only ends one way.
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