Ross Kemp on being a dad, living in Berkshire and plans for the future
PUBLISHED: 14:10 17 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:11 17 June 2019
© Justin Downing | BSkyB
Sarah Rodi caught up with dad-of-four and actor turned BAFTA Award-winning investigative journalist Ross Kemp to talk about his career, and what he’s working on right now
What made you choose the village of Cookham as the place to call home?
I played a rugby match here 20 years ago and loved it, but it took 20 years for me to save up to buy a place here! The people in Cookham are genuine, and there's a great community spirit. I knew what I was aiming for; it's good to have direction in life.
What are your favourite bits about Berkshire?
Berkshire is a good place to raise a family. We love the National Trust land, the greenways; you can walk freely round here. It's so great for walking the dog. My wife, Renee, and I feel very lucky and privileged. I'm a member and supporter of the National Trust, and Cliveden has played a major part in my life. They had a connection with my drama school and in 1983/1984, I performed in As You Like It in the grounds. I also swam in the original pool there. Now we go back as a family and always have a lovely time. We stay over at the hotel on special occasions and also enjoy daytrips there.
I've always loved being by the water. I lived by the River Thames when I was in Battersea Park in London. That attracted me to Berkshire; the fact we would be so close to the river. It's the next best thing to being by the sea.
Other places we love around here include Bucklebury Farm Park, Windsor Great Park and the Savill Garden. We eat out at the Bel & the Dragon in Cookham, The Beehive in White Waltham, The Royal Oak, Paley Street, and The Waterside Inn in Bray. It's very special to sit outside there, drinking a glass of pink and snacking on smoked almonds.
As a dad of four, what do you love about being a father?
Oh, definitely the lie-ins. And getting on my hands and knees with the Dyson after every meal! And, of course, the nappy bin! [laughs]. No, I love the kisses and cuddles. The kids are my best friends.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on four documentaries for ITV on issues affecting society today. It's called Living with. The first one sees me living with the homeless in Cardiff; many of them have substance abuse issues. The second one sees us in Huddersfield and South London and it's about knife crime. The third was filmed in Blackburn and it's about young carers. It's shocking; they save the National Health Service so much money. The fourth one is about online gambling addiction, which is a problem for many people. It's all too easy to go to an app on your phone these days.
I've also just finished a documentary about the Hatton Garden Job. It will be coming to ITV very soon. I'm off to Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh to make a documentary there as well.
Do you think your hardman image, from playing Grant Mitchell in EastEnders, has helped with the interviews you've gone on to do?
Unfortunately not. My tough guy image didn't help at all. Being known for Grant Mitchell can be a help and a hindrance. It can get me through doors, but there's also an element of snobbery. Even though I have become a reporter I still get typecast. Also, when you arrive at a place ready to do a documentary, such as when we arrived in Delhi, we were trying to do a piece but it was impossible as people kept asking me for Grant Mitchell autographs, so we had to give up. I don't get annoyed. As my dad once said: "You'll miss it when it doesn't happen." And that's why I've never said no to an autograph or a selfie − as long as people are polite!
Do you ever get scared, or are you willing to do anything for a good story?
It's essential that you get scared, as it sharpens your reactions. There's this fear but also a surge of adrenaline, knowing you're getting a good story. You feel exhilarated afterwards. But I never forget that when we leave these places − Columbia, the Congo, Peru, South America… people who have helped us get the story have to remain behind. It's never worth risking someone's life for a story.
You've had the chance to meet and interview many people. What's the worst thing you've witnessed?
I was back and forth to Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013. I didn't do the tours, but I built up such a strong relationship with the army and navy teams on the ground. We'd go out into the hot zones and the most upsetting thing is seeing a life cut short, especially children being killed.
Obviously I've seen torture, witchcraft, barbarous things too.
How do you cope with this?
I used to drink too much wine. I can't now as I have kids. It helps to talk about it. I'm an ambassador for the Endeavour Fund [it helps wounded Servicemen and women, created by the Royal Foundation, of which the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex are all joint patrons] and I'm a Patron of Help for Heroes [the charity that supports those with injuries and illnesses attributable to their service in the British Armed Forces]. It helps to talk to others who have been through similar things.
Who is the worst person you have met?
The sex trafficker Mr Khan was truly the wickedest person I've ever met, mainly because he felt sorry for himself for killing all those girls. However, I've also met some fantastic people too, like Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Mukwege who we made a documentary with. He helped women who had been mutilated.
How easy or difficult is it to intervene and help?
We interviewed some kids who were addicted to sniffing horse glue and it was so awful we got Save the Children to step in and help. In Papua New Guinea we attended to people's wounds, and we gave people on the La Bestia train in Guatemala food and water. We kept them alive. But it's not our job to get involved. Our job is to raise awareness. If we can change people's perceptions, maybe it can make a difference.
Are you making a difference?
I changed professions from an actor to a documentarian as I wanted to inform people. The more informed you are, the better judgement you have. We always try to put across an unbiased story.
How hard is it to come back to Cookham and live a normal life after seeing these things?
Cookham is my sanctuary. It's why we chose to live here. I love to lie in the garden at home and look up at the trees. I know just how lucky I am.
How involved are you in your local community?
I have dished out prizes at the Gravity Grand Prix and was involved with the Cookham Festival and a recent quiz night. One of the reasons we moved here was to be part of the community.
What have you learned about the world?
We all have more in common than we think. There's more that unites us than divides us. Also, a little compassion can go a long way.
What is your take on the environmental crisis?
My generation is the plastic generation. Thousands of species are endangered. We will make ourselves extinct if we don't do something. Future generations will not look favourably on us. We must look at the damage we're doing.
Are you still passionate about politics?
Politics have never been more important, yet I think respect for politicians is at an all-time low. Even so, we need to support them. If your team aren't doing well, you support them anyway.
Who inspires you?
My family inspires me to get up and go to work, go to the gym and get fit so I can do my job.
Sir David Attenborough has always inspired me too. I had the honour of meeting him once at the tennis, and I also got to hand him one of his BAFTAs. I remember him calling me by my name and the impact that had on me. He's an incredible human being. He's seen so much. He's also able to explain to us what a mess we're making of our planet.
What's your motto in life?
"Listen before you judge." I've learned not to rush into making opinions, and to stand back.
Ambitions for the future?
To carry on doing what I'm doing for as long as possible.
I'm so lucky to have found something I enjoy doing and to be working with people I love. I have the rare opportunity to go to extraordinary places and meet interesting individuals. And I'm proud of what I have achieved. I might just do some acting as I get older as well.
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