All right, mate? Bit naughty, but this year I’m breaking with Christmas tradition to send a massive cheers to you, pal. Because although I’ve never been one for celebrities, some figures seem to travel with you through life and somehow you’ve been everywhere with me, bringing joy, inspiration, maybe even advice. Is this a bit much? Let me start from the beginning.
Like you, I grew up in working-class east London. Maybe it was this commonality that made you such a superstar among the teenage boys at school but they adored you. There would always be one lad pushing to watch a film of yours at any school gathering, and over time I must have seen them all.
At uni and after, I still watched your films, but it was different. These new people in my life – often middle class, maybe even posh – enjoyed your stuff in a cultish way (see: The Business) but with irony, with an implied sneer under the smile. I joined in because I wanted to seem cultured and I didn’t know, then, that some people will never see people like us as creative contenders, whatever we do.
I don’t remember the order of how things went after that. At some point I was reading up on Harold Pinter after his death, how he had championed your talent when no one else could see past your accent, and how you finessed difficult stage roles that even renowned actors couldn’t manage. I saw an interview with you where you said you took naff parts in crap films because, unlike the Eton actors, you couldn’t afford to turn a job down, and those jobs were something. I felt that deeply. I know how heavy something can weigh, how sometimes something can trap you and keep you in your place. I think of all the odd jobs I took – writing instruction manuals, editing a magazine about stepladders – while my peers flew. But I never grumbled, because it was something.
Still, I wanted someone to give me a break and I must have wanted the same for you, because when I heard you had landed a lead role on EastEnders I cheered aloud, an involuntary “Yes mate!” that I didn’t know was coming. Sure, I’m an avid EastEnders watcher glad to have you back in my life, but it wasn’t that. I was happy because I knew you had finally got your break. You did it, Danny! National treasure status was always your destiny and my oh my, haven’t you delivered? Whether it’s slagging off David Cameron or bamboozling Who Do You Think You Are?, the nation falls ever deeper under your thrall.
So that’s why I’m raising a glass to you – a toast for all the laughs over the years and because you taught me a valuable lesson: don’t look for the endorsement of those who will never give it to you. Instead, find those who share your vision, work with your friends (find your Pinter!) and the rest is history. If the gatekeepers won’t open the door, blow the bloody doors off. And if they continue to underestimate you, well, they’re a bunch of mugs anyway.