Jimmy Nail, singer and actor
THEN & NOW:Ain’t no doubt about it: for a former welder from Newcastle-on-Tyne with a pugilist’s face, an “okay” voice and little or no acting experience, the lad done good.
In 1992, Jimmy Nail was all over the shop, starring in his own top-rated detective series, Spender, popping up in repeats of the ever-popular sitcom, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and topping the charts with his smash single, Ain’t No Doubt. By cannily combining his music, acting and writing skills, Nail had firmly embedded himself in pop and TV culture. But though pop fans and TV viewers were in no doubt about the 6ft 3in Geordie star, critics and commentators were confused. Was he an actor playing at being a pop star, or was he a singer trying to be taken seriously as an actor? And what the hell does “arrr dinna wat am ganna dee wi yae lyk pet” mean anyway?
Football was the first love of young James Michael Aloysius Bradford – and it almost became his undoing. His dad, Jimmy Bradford, was a professional who played for Huddersfield Town, and Jimmy junior, born in 1954, grew up a supporter of Newcastle United. He was also angry, hard-drinking and hard as nails, and the terraces were his stomping ground. After one post-match altercation, Jimmy found himself banged up in Strangeways prison, wondering why his life was heading for the bottom of the league. “I was racing through life, utterly confused and angry,” he said in a 1996 interview. “I couldn’t make sense of things. But then I began the process of civilizing myself and trying to become a decent human being. I’m still working on it.”
He swapped the football scarf for a guitar strap, playing in a band called The King Crabs in the late 1970s. Though he didn’t have much success in those early days, he did have a wealth of experience to draw on when it came to writing his 1994 series, Crocodile Shoes, about a country-singing factory worker playing the pubs and clubs of the north-east.
When he auditioned for his first acting role, Nail hit paydirt right away. At his wife Miriam’s suggestion, he tried out for a part in a new comedy-drama series about English brickies working in Dusseldorf. He didn’t think he had a chance, so he just acted his natural gruff, Geordie self. Auf Wiedersehen, Petwent on to become one of the iconic TV series of the 1980s.
Although Auf Wiedersehen, Petand his subsequent series, Spenderand Crocodile Shoes, stuck closely to Nail’s northern blueprint, his role as Augustin Magaldi in Evita, starring alongside Madonna, couldn’t have been further from his Tyneside roots. He looked more at home on Still Crazy, a film about a band of ageing rockers making one last stab at glory, which also starred Bill Nighy and Timothy Spall.
In 2002, Nail resurrected Auf Wiedersehen, Petfor a new series, almost 20 years after it first aired, and millions of viewers eagerly followed the brickies’ latest misadventures in foreign climes. This year, the multi-talented Novocastrian (that’s someone from Newcastle to you, pal) joined several of his famous northern mates in a special DVD tribute to something very close to his heart: the river Tyne. Big River, Big Songs – The Tynefeatures Sting, Mark Knopfler, Brian Johnson from AC/DC, X-Factor singer Joe McElderry and members of Lindisfarne, the band behind the classic Fog on the Tyne. Nail has joined with his Auf Wiedersehen, Petco-stars Kevin Whately and Tim Healy for a version of Blaydon Races; he also duets with his sister, Val McLane, on Canny Tyneside.