Nigel Harman on Downton Abbey, Oxo adverts and Simon Cowell’s trousers

"Remember to pronounce the “t” in “valet” because otherwise you’re an American who parks cars"

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What’s your morning routine?

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I get up with the baby; Radio 4; cup of coffee. My daughter is 18 months old and the Ashes was always on in the background this summer so she probably thinks Jonathan Trott is her uncle.

What can’t you miss?

Premiership rugby. I’m a lapsed Catholic when it comes to football: I got frustrated with the histrionics and the boys-in-the-playground mentality, and drifted out of it. But – I put in a big “but” here and I can hear all the true football fans tutting away – I’m keeping a little eye on Crystal Palace, which is my team, because we’ve been promoted this season.

What brings a tear to your eye?

Andy Murray at the Olympics, at Wimbledon… every time he plays at the moment. I think he’s brilliant. I know he’s Marmite to some but I believe he’s an extraordinarily shy man who gets a rough ride: we want our superstars to be social entities as well.

Does your partner share your passion for sport?

She’s very generous about my obsession. Together we watch NCIS, which is the programme you need when you want to switch off after a long day. You don’t really watch it; it goes past you like moving wallpaper.

Childhood favourite?

I started acting when I was eight so there was always half an eye on my next job. I used to watch Press Gang because I’d done an advert with Dexter Fletcher. I thought he was the coolest man who had ever lived.

What gave you the acting bug?

My parents were really into amateur dramatics and it rubbed off on me, and I asked them if I could go to this little dance-drama school that was attached to an agency in London. My mum and I made a pact that I’d go for six auditions; if I didn’t get one we’d knock it on the head. I got the sixth – an Oxo advert – and by the time I was 12 I’d done 20.

From this week we’ll see you in Downton. What was that like?

Their attention to detail is extraordinary; I think it’s part of the reason the show works so well. As a visiting valet, I had to sit at a certain place at the table, place my hands just so, and remember to pronounce the “t” in “valet” because otherwise you’re an American who parks cars.

You stir things up between Anna and Mr Bates, I believe?

Yes, he’s a very effervescent character who comes in and shakes things up a bit. There’s a shady side to him as well…

Do you ever google yourself?

I try not to but I did recently: I googled the X Factor Musical [in the West End from next February] because I wanted to see the picture of me with Simon Cowell and Harry Hill. That was a surreal day.

Did Simon Cowell have any advice about playing him?

He said: “Just go out there and be a dick every night.” So that’s what I’m going to do! It’s a very anarchic show written by Harry Hill and [composer] Steve Brown, so expect the unexpected. It’s completely off the wall; no one is safe!

Will you be wearing high-waisted trousers?

I’d imagine so. There’s a song where Simon reveals the story behind his high-waisted trousers. It really makes me laugh!

Nigel Harman is in Downton Abbey on Sunday at 9:00pm on ITV. 


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