Television and theatre actor Paul Bradley has become one of the most familiar faces in drama in a career spanning four decades which has seen him surviving the perils of Albert Square and being forced to make ethical life and death decisions as a senior doctor at Holby. Attending the University of Manchester in the late 1970’s which coincided with the birth of Alternative Comedy, Paul was in the perfect setting to witness such a revolution. Meeting Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the early eighties was a significant step towards success and just a few years later Paul found himself cameoing in cult shows of the day including The Young Ones. Nearly forty years later, Paul and Ade are still great friends tragically losing Rik in 2014.
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After university, Paul made the traditional route onto repertory theatre where he learned the discipline of the acting profession and honed his stamina as a performer. Being in a company with such a massive turnaround of shows gave Paul a vital grounding in the theatrical process which would prove vital in the years to come. The magic of live theatre has always been Paul’s great love as he gets an enormous thrill from bouncing off an audience. He insists that without his theatrical beginnings he could never have moved effortlessly to television. A move up north to Granada, secured Paul his own children’s series in 1987 Stop Laughing At The Back which centred around school children getting their own back on teachers. Slowly becoming a recognised television face thanks to cameos on various comedy shows of the eighties into the early nineties, Paul was now ready to tackle a major role and it wouldn’t be long before he secured one.
In 1992 he auditioned for the part of Nigel Bates in the BBC’s heavyweight serial drama Eastenders. Shy, laid back and gentle, the character of Nigel provided great contrast to the alpha aggressive nature of the Mitchell brothers who dominated the square yet remarkably made a firm friendship with the younger of the two Grant. For the first few months Nigel was a refreshing ball of positivity, roaming around the square in his colourful shirts and fun-loving spirit. His blossoming relationship with Albert Square legend Dot Cotton was one of the most enduring in soap. Yet all this was about to end as in 1995 tragedy struck as Nigel’s new wife Debbie was killed in a hit and run. This devastated Nigel and he spent the following months in mourning whilst caring for stepdaughter Claire. Suddenly Nigel’s happy-go-lucky image had been replaced with a broken, emotionally scarred man trying to cope with recent events. It seemed that the curse of Eastenders had finally caught up with Nigel and the spirited ball of positivity was no more.
After leaving Eastenders, Paul returned to the theatre replacing??? In ??? Yet in 2001 he received a phone call from Comic Relief which would ultimately change his outlook on life forever. Teaming up with BBC News correspondent Feargal Keane in 2000 Paul was sent to Rwanda to make a heartfelt documentary surrounding the aftermath of the genocide in 1994. It was here that he met a truly remarkable woman called Esther Mujaweyo who had lost her entire family to the disaster including her elderly bedridden mother. Instead of just lying back and accepting her fate, Esther was determined to play an active role in ensuring that other women could be saved from the emotional turmoil and poverty which she suffered through genocide. In the midst of the atrocities which forced her to witness her own husband being slaughtered to death, Esther managed to find the only sanctuary in Rwanda in 1994; the Milles Collines Hotel, the safest place around and remarkably she survived. Supported by Comic Relief, Esther initiated an organisation to support victims of the genocide and became a lifeline for hundreds of women in their hour of need. This is exactly what Comic Relief is about: giving people the tools to help themselves and Paul was just privileged to witness this in action. Almost two decades since their first encounter, Paul and Esther are still in touch and he is very proud of this personal Comic Relief success story.
After conquering his Comic Relief charity work, Paul was eager to secure another successful television role and in 2005 was cast as consultant surgeon Elliott Hope in the BBC’s serial drama Holby City. Originally auditioning for a minor role, just as the character of Nigel expanded in Eastenders, there was something about Paul’s portrayal of Elliott which producers seemed to like. The character didn’t waste time with domestic storylines which didn’t hit a chord with the public. Instead he was at the centre of a controversial plot surrounding his wife Gina, a Motor Neurone Disease-sufferer, commit assisted suicide, and his relationship with his children subsequently deteriorated which lead to Elliott considering suicide himself, before reconciling with his family.
Television drama is an extreme difference to the strict schedule of theatre and for an actor they are merely required to turn up, record their scenes and leave. Whereas in theatre actors receive instant reaction from the audience which naturally makes them more invested into their role. The thrill of a live audience is something that still excites Paul and is a feeling like no other which may explain the reason why theatre remains his first love and the medium which he always returns to. His most recent theatrical venture sees Paul alongside actor and comedian Nick Hancock for the brand new theatrical farce Octopus Soup, now on a nationwide tour all over the UK. Labelled as The Sopranos meets Fawlty Towers, Octopus Soup centres around the worst dinner party in history and the awful sequence of events which take place over dinner. Hancock plays an insurance man down on his luck with everything riding on this one vital conference call. Paul perfectly compliments the piece as Seymour, who’s neurotic wife Gloria awaits news on a star TV role, a psychopathic mob boss is just around the corner and a share of the £30 billion insurance scam is at stake.
Now into his fourth decade in the business, the star of stage and screen shows no sign of slowing down and completely loves looking forward to the next challenge. It was a great pleasure to interview the great Paul Bradley and I can’t wait to see what’s next for the man of many talents.