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Stratford actor Nicholas Asbury on his year in lockdown: from stage to delivery driver

Stratford actor Nicholas Asbury has starred in some great stage, TV and film productions – including working at the RSC, playing Winston Churchill in BBC drama 37 Days, spots on The Inbetweeners, Call The Midwife, Coronation Street, Sherlock, and was turned into a Zygon in Doctor Who. But when the pandemic hit he had to find other means to make a living, he tells the Herald about his year in lockdown.

I moved to Stratford in 2006 after coming to work at the RSC. I loved it and decided to stay and then met my partner in 2010. Our daughter is five and I also have a 17-year-old step-daughter.

Thank goodness my youngest daughter was able to start at Thomas Jolyffe in September in reception which has meant she had a term where she found out what it was all about, so home schooling has been easier because she knows her teacher and wants to interact with all her mates online. Although this week because of some positive tests at the school she’s back home learning.

I’ve been lucky to find a lot of work as an actor but I’ve also had massive periods out of work, but actors and artists live on hope, and most of the time that hope has been realised and you stumble to the next job that pays the rent.

After lockdown started last year for the first time in my adult life I started to apply for proper jobs, as I would call it. When there’s no alternative you’ve got to do it.

I applied for farming and deliver jobs because that was the only growth industry around. I grew up working on a farm but even so it took me six months to get a job.

Actor Nick Asbury. Photo: Mark Williamson W10/3/21/4428. (45227739)
Actor Nick Asbury. Photo: Mark Williamson W10/3/21/4428. (45227739)

Normally I would do about 20 auditions a year and I might be offered five of them, so one in four chance. But all of last year I had four auditions that means that the prospect of getting any acting work was almost zero. As it was I did get a bit of work and I did a couple of days filming with Martin Clunes on his Manhunt series. I also did a low budget film called Brian and Charles in November which had been postponed from April – it involved massive amounts of social distancing.

By September I reapplied for all the jobs I didn’t get in March, and Tesco came through and saved me and I started work as a delivery driver. They were fantastic, it was joy to start frankly after seven months of worry.

It’s tough work but it’s good work and it’s low pay but at least it’s a job, so I’m very lucky. It took the pressure off, and I’ve got to put the family first.

At the start it is a difficult adjustment to make because for 27 years I’ve made my living as an actor and musician and writing. All of those things require some form of creative input so when you start doing a delivery job one can feel can find sort of like a muggle after being a magician. But I am keen to stress that you find magic everywhere.

The team that I work with are all great people. I know that sounds like I’m trotting out a line, but there is always magic to be found even though it does take a mental shift.

I’m incredibly lucky that three weeks before lockdown I filmed the pilot of a new comedy Alma’s Not Normal – which went out on BBC Two last April, and it was commissioned for a series. So I’m going to film that in Bolton in May. It’s wonderful and I’m fortunate to have had this fantastic thing to look forward to through everything else.

Whether I will stop driving I’m not entirely sure. It is a bit odd to be in a BBC show and driving for Tesco at the same time – but then the times are odd.

I miss being with actors in a community space and having that physical interaction. I did an audio drama recording with Tom Baker and David Tennant while I was sat with a mattress over my head in my daughter’s room as the cuddly toys lend better acoustics. It was fantastic to do that but I miss talking and the company of actors, which is not to say I don’t love the company of drivers who are a great bunch.

I don’t want this to come across as a sob story – what’s the line from Withnail and I? “I'm a trained actor reduced to the status of a bum!”

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