Life among the stars
PUBLISHED: 16:24 02 September 2015 | UPDATED: 16:24 02 September 2015
Call the Midwife's Jack Ashton chats to SARAH FORD about working with acting royalty, his football heroes and skateboarding in Somerset
When I catch up with Jack Ashton he’s just finished filming with two of our most celebrated English actors Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.
He played a personal trainer in the hilarious ITV sitcom Vicious; and I’m glad to hear that it was as fun to work with these legends of stage and screen as it was to watch.
But viewers of the BBC’s hugely successful Call the Midwife will know Jack best as Tom Hereward, the handsome young clergyman who strikes up an unlikely romance with fun loving nurse, Trixie.
And judging by the pairs of eyes swivelling in his direction as we walk around Tyntesfield House taking photos for this article, I am guessing there are a fair number of fans of this Sunday evening drama here today.
Yet Jack seems unaware of the attention and tells me he doesn’t get recognised much.
“I’ve been asked for an autograph once on the tube, which was lovely. I may dress up as a vicar and wander around London asking for directions to Poplar to see if I can finally use my new autograph pen!” he laughs.
Although he lives in Hackney, Jack, whose real surname is Lewis, was born in Bristol and he is back as much as possible to visit family and watch his beloved Bristol City at Ashton Gate. He has admitted to being ‘star struck’ after playing in a charity game with some of his football heroes and is such a devoted fan that when it came to finding a stage name with West Country connotations, ‘Ashton’ seemed the perfect choice.
As a youngster Jack also lived in Burnham-on-Sea for a couple of years and has fond memories of the town.
“I grew up in Clifton until I was nine and then my parents decided they’d move out to Burnham as my dad was an artist and he craved a quieter life,” he recalls. “I went to St Andrew’s School and my sister went to King Alfred’s. We were both sad to leave when, in my first year at King Alfred’s, our parents had grown homesick and we had to go back to ‘Brissle’.
“I remember being into skakeboarding in Burnham and was a little disappointed with the lack of hills. My favourite memories will always be playing sports on the beach with my dad and friends on Saturday mornings and the great little cinema. And I spent too much time in the arcades. I also remember fondly the carnival and how everyone came to support it.
“We used to play out until teatime, and then after tea, until it got dark. My mum would have to find me in the park as we’d play well beyond dusk. I think our eyes adopted a sort of night vision to cope with the lack of light!
“I also have lots of family in and around Weston-super-Mare and Worle. When I lived in Burnham, Weston was its glamorous cousin!”
Jack, who is 32, says the idea of acting came late for him.
“When I look back it was always something I loved, it just hadn’t occurred to me that you could do it as a profession until I went to performing arts college in Bristol and was blown away by what was possible to achieve personally, collectively and professionally.”
After Bedminster Down Secondary School Jack attended Filton College of Performing Arts – now the South West Academy of Dramatic Art – before getting a place at drama school in London. He has performed at the Tobacco Factory in Bedminster and says he would love to work at the Bristol Old Vic – hopefully in something connected to the West Country.
It’s refreshing to hear that Jack has not lost his West Country burr – despite the fact that the character he plays in Call the Midwife speaks with an RP accent.
“It takes a few hours to slide back into my Bristolian accent afterwards,” says Jack, who describes acting on the series as a ‘dream’.
“Everyone is lovely and so helpful. Jenny Agutter was there on my first day and she is the most calming influence you can hope for; she does not panic, ever. I am constantly in awe of her and the other ‘nuns’ who are all acting royalty. They just get the job done and produce some amazing work.”
Similarly, on the crime drama Broadchurch, he says he got to act with some talented people and he describes his experience on the detective series Endeavour as an adventure and something he is proud of.
His first TV appearance was in Holby City, playing a fork lift truck driver who accidentally skewers his boss while racing his truck around a warehouse.
When not acting, Jack works as a cover teaching assistant in a school; part of his job is to provide one to one help for children who have statements. A keen football player and runner, Jack ran the Bristol Half Marathon in aid of St Peter’s Hospice.
He says: “They do such an amazing job and yet they have the constant burden of having to raise money to do it. I will always try to support them if I can.”
Now, on one of his trips back to see his family, Jack seems very impressed by his first visit to Tyntesfield and is keen to see all the rooms of this spectacular Victorian Gothic property in Wraxall.
National Trust staff are eager to take his photo for their Facebook page before we explore the country house and estate.
I wondered if Jack had any favourite Somerset locations he likes to return to when he comes home.
“I love Cheddar, Bath, Weston and Burnham for different reasons – mostly nostalgic. I’ve been to the Glastonbury Festival twice; I love it there but it’s hard work.
“I really like anywhere that’s a bit sleepy and sells proper cider,” he adds.
“What a wonderful part of the world to be from. It has everything. The trouble is everyone else has noticed how cool the West Country is and they are heading here en masse.”
Look out for a Call the Midwife Christmas special. The new series is due on our screens early next year..