The timing of our interview couldn’t really be any worse. Ashley Walters is here in the private room of a central London hotel to talk about his role as a uniformed cop in a new BBC1 police drama, Cuffs. He’s an officer, says Walters, who “plays it by the book”.
It just happens that our chat is sandwiched between two court hearings that see the 33-year-old actor accused of three disorder offences. Awkward isn’t the word, for an actor now on the publicity circuit.
The usually voluble Walters – he’s liked by journalists for rarely ducking a question – lowers his voice when I raise the matter. “There’s nothing to say about it,” he mumbles.
Walters is accused of two charges of threatening behaviour and a third of racially aggravated harassment following an incident involving two employees at the Hilton Hotel in Islington, north London, on 3 May this year. Magistrates have adjourned the case until 11 November.
Of course, until it is heard, there is nothing Walters can say about it, but in this moment, in this elegant hotel, you’re reminded of the extraordinary change in fortunes for this boy from one of London’s toughest estates.
“I am not about airs and graces, fancy cars or jewellery. I am just about my family and my kids. I am just me, as much as I can be.”
With roles in BBC1’s Hustle, Small Island, Doctor Who and Channel 4’s acclaimed Top Boy, Walters has created a new “me” – one that has resurfaced on the beaches of Brighton in a stylish, fast-paced, pre-watershed drama that belatedly fills the vacuum left by ITV’s The Bill. His character is a single father, the result of a late script change. “Originally I was going to have a wife, but a month before filming started they changed the script. I am all for playing a positive role model… a good dad. So I was happy to run with that.”
We’ll come on to being a good dad later, but Walters says the experience of pulling on the uniform has given him a new respect for the police. “I grew up with the whole culture of the police and black community not having a great dialogue through stop-and-search and stuff like that, so I have always been quite combative. But doing this show, you do understand the pressure put on their shoulders and realise the police are human beings who are subject to human error just as much as anyone else. I think sometimes we forget stuff like that. It doesn’t excuse bad things that happen, but at the same time we have to give a bit of leeway.
“Just wearing the uniform in between takes around Brighton and people thinking you’re a real cop and coming up to you telling you their problems, or running from you because they think you’re coming to nick them, you realise how stressful a day can be.”
That introspection typifies Walters. He is, at least for the period of this interview, immensely likeable: gracious, thoughtful and with a hands-up honesty that’s totally disarming. In fact, if he hadn’t fathered six children with three different women, he’d be the kind of guy you’d be very happy for your daughter to date.
Outside of acting and writing, Walters is a contented family man. Married to actress Danielle Isaie [above] for the past two years, he’s had a daughter with her and regards her son as his own. “On any given Sunday we have all seven, so it can be quite hectic… and very expensive,” he says. “That’s the reason I can’t stop working.”