So, it’s officially confirmed: Tobi Bakare’s Sergeant JP Hooper is leaving Death in Paradise. After seven years, 52 episodes, and three different Detective Inspectors, the much-loved character has accepted a new job as Head of the Police Training Programme – making the difficult decision to uproot his young family and move away from Saint Marie.
But until the penultimate episode of series 10, fans had absolutely no idea that we might be saying goodbye to JP. And it wasn’t until the finale that we found out he’d actually accepted the job offer. Bakare’s exit had been a closely guarded secret – and talking exclusively with RadioTimes.com, the actor seems relieved it’s finally coming out into the open.
“You know that if something like that gets out, then there can be serious ramifications for the excitement of the show, and some of the things that the show tries to do. So I’ve managed to keep it under wraps quite well,” he says. “I’ve had builders at my property, and they watch the show, so they keep on asking, ‘What’s going on with the next season?’ I think I’ve given one builder four different answers. It’s crazy.”
In the penultimate episode of series 10, JP was blindsided when Commissioner Patterson (Don Warrington) informed him about a surprise job offer from the Board, whose members were impressed with how he’d worked with Trainee Officer Marlon Pryce (Tahj Miles).
“You’ve become a real credit to the Saint Marie police force, Sergeant Hooper,” the Commissioner said. “Which is why I’ll be so sorry to see you go.”
“Uh – in that case sir please thank the Board on my behalf. But I love my life here,” JP said in the episode. But Commissioner Patterson urged him to “think on it” and discuss the offer with his wife, adding: “Opportunities like that don’t come along too often, and I’d hate for you to miss your chance.”
And in the series finale, we discovered that JP did indeed take that advice – discussing the matter with his wife Rosey (Prisca Bakare) off-screen, and deciding to accept the job offer. Heading up the training programme should give him more regular hours, and more time to spend with their newborn twin daughters. So raise a glass of rum – it’s goodbye and good luck to the Hooper family!
Bakare himself has three children, all under five years old, with his wife Prisca (who is his real-life wife, as well as playing Rosey). Several previous stars of Death in Paradise have hit a similar point in their personal lives and decided that shuttling between Guadeloupe and England, or doing long-distance parenting, was no longer practical for their families: Ben Miller (DI Richard Poole) and Kris Marshall (DI Humphrey Goodman) both come to mind.
But in the end, the reason Bakare decided to leave had nothing to do with that at all.
“There’s the media answer, and then there’s the real answer,” he says, when asked why he felt now was the right time to quit the show. “The media answer is: I’ve been on the show for quite a while, and there’s an exploration of what’s to happen next in my career. And not just that – you know, my daughter’s going into school. That all sounds great.
“But actually, that’s not the reason why. Because if another project came up and required me to travel – for me and my wife to travel – we’d weigh it up, you know what I mean? So I wouldn’t want to lie to anyone and say that’s the reason why we’re going to stay in the UK.”
Because the real answer is that, back in 2017, Bakare already knew with absolute certainty that he had leave at the end of series 10.
“Some people may know, some people may not know, but I’m a believer,” he tells us. “I’m a Christian. And actually, something happened in season seven. I was in a church in Guadeloupe. It’s a very charismatic sort of – it’s really interesting. It has so many colours. You know what I mean? Everyone wears everything.
“The preacher mentioned seven years in a message. As soon as he mentioned seven years, I don’t know what happened. It just clicked. It was like a moment of realisation. I had three more years left. It was three more years until it would be seven years, but it just hit me so hard.
“At this time, my wife was in the UK, and I told her that I know when it’s going to be time for me to leave the show. But I wanted her to go away, pray about it, and think about it. She’d done so, and called me up the next day, and said, ‘2020’. So the exact time of the seven years. So we were like, ‘Yeah, that’s the time.’ That’s the actual reason.”
Of course, Bakare could not tell everyone about his decision at the time. “To be honest with you, I told my agent immediately, and my agent was like, ‘OK, Tobes, don’t say anything, because, you know, we’ve still got to negotiate next year’s fee,'” the actor says with a laugh. “I told you, I’m not going to give media answers today. I’ll give you the real answer. ‘No, don’t say anything! Because we’ve got to negotiate next year’s fee.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, cool. I’ll keep it under wraps.'”
Finally, at the end of series nine, Bakare decided he had to let the producers know he was ready to go at the end of series 10: “I eventually just told my agent, ‘Look, man, I need to say something, because I want to make sure that it’s not going to be a story that’s not befitting of seven years on the show. I want them to build into it.’
“But thankfully, they naturally were building towards that seven-year mark — they were actually building towards this storyline with JP becoming a sergeant. It was just happening organically anyway. So the show has done well to sort of wrap it up, and how they ended that storyline.”
The classic follow-up question to ask an actor in an exit interview is: “Would you ever come back?” But after the latest series of Death in Paradise, we can now ask that question knowing that comebacks are a serious possibility. After all, Joséphine Jobert is back as DS Florence Cassell (despite apparently leaving for good), and the 10th anniversary season also brought back Sara Martins (DS Camille Bordey) for a guest role and Ben Miller (DI Richard Poole) for a cameo.
“Well, you know what? You never know, you never know,” Bakare says, seeing the question coming from a mile off. “I don’t like to be so assertive about my future, because, to be honest with you, 14 years ago, my future was to be a football player. That’s what my plans were. You know what I mean? And here I am, acting.
“So I don’t know. I don’t know. Who knows? But what I can say is, it wouldn’t be a hard decision if I did decide to go — I wouldn’t be um-ing and ah-ing, because the show has been phenomenal to me.”
Straight-laced, by-the-book, dedicated Officer Jean-Pierre “JP” Hooper joined Honoré Police straight out of police college, and was paired up with Officer Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules). As Bakare puts it, “JP started off like a deer caught in the headlights – wide-eyed and very insecure, because he wanted to get everything right. And he’s grown into himself, you know?”
At first, he was working under Dwayne’s wing, and trying to find his way. But in the later seasons, JP became more of a leader – first taking charge of Officer Ruby Patterson (Shyko Amos) and then Trainee Officer Marlon Pryce (Tahj Miles). He also took his Sergeant’s exam and passed with flying colours.
Bakare explains: “The changes are his maturity and his own autonomy… he was trying to do it in other people’s ways. He was sort of always on the fence on how to be. But over the years, he has basically become himself. He said, ‘This is what I am. This is who I am. I like to get things right. I like to do things by the book.'”
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We have also seen JP mature in his personal life– becoming a husband, and a father, and a mentor to young Marlon. Bakare says: “He’s a person who didn’t even know how to swim or to be in a relationship, or to say, ‘I love you,’ or to say all of these things. He’s now owning it. And I think that’s beautiful.”
In series 10, as JP made his final appearances (not that viewers knew it at the time), there were plenty of special moments for the character – and for Bakare himself.
One of those was the chance to work alongside his wife, Prisca, who is also an actress – but who has put her acting career on pause to have children. Filming for series 10 was delayed by several months due to the pandemic, and by the time filming did begin in Guadeloupe later in 2020, the actress who originally played JP’s wife Rosey (Fola Evans-Akingbola) was no longer available. At late notice, the team came up with the idea of casting Prisca instead.
“You know what? I think it’s just one of those miraculous things that happened,” Bakare says. “It was two or three days before filming. I remember sitting in the makeup truck when they were having these discussions. They were like, ‘This is real, Tobi. We’re actually potentially going to contact your wife.'”
And so Prisca became Rosey Hooper, and as Bakare proudly says, “She was phenomenal.”
After seven years of going to Guadeloupe each April, not starring in the next season of Death in Paradise will be quite a jarring experience.
“You now can’t see what you’re building up towards. For the last seven years, I’ve been building up towards April. So the emotions are scrambled. Everything is scrambled. But I’m willing to let it out, man. I don’t mind expressing it, you know?” he says. And watching series 11 next year will be weird, too: “That may be when the tears come out.”
But for now, he’s re-entering a COVID-hit job market (as is Prisca, who’s back to auditions).
“I’d forgotten what it’s like to audition, because everything I would have auditioned for clashed with Death in Paradise,” he says. “It’s absolutely crazy. I’m going into the room quite a lot at the moment. Nothing’s secure yet.
“But I’m OK, because I realised I’m only now in the same predicament as many other actors in the industry, where we are just vying and searching for the next project. This is sort of the price of leaving what is deemed maybe as ‘secure’. So, yeah, I’m just auditioning again, and spending time with the family, and catching my breath.”
Will he be watching the finale when it goes out on BBC One? “Yeah. A million per cent.” The kids might even get to watch: Death in Paradise has been a huge part of their lives, and in Guadeloupe they started to learn how to swim and to pick up a little French (and to deal with many, many mosquito bites). And Bakare is leaving the show behind with only good feelings: “I have lots of pictures, lots of photos. I have numbers, and I have just deep memories of this show,” he says. “Honestly, my heart is for the show.”