When Damian Lewis was summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive his OBE — awarded for services to acting — he decided to treat himself to a new morning suit.
He hadn’t worn one since his school days at Eton, where it is the uniform, but as he would be receiving his honour from Prince William, himself an Old Etonian, he thought it would be an appropriate reminder. ‘I had it made by a Jermyn Street tailor called Favourbrook, but as I’d spent five years at Eton wearing a black morning suit, I had my new one made up in blue material,’ he says.
‘And when I met the Duke of Cambridge at the Palace, I told him: ‘I hope you don’t mind that this is navy blue, Your Royal Highness — I didn’t want you to think I was just showing up in my old school uniform.’ And, quick as a flash, he said (ever the actor, Damian tightens his jaw and drops into a perfect imitation of the clipped royal tones): ‘Well, I should think that would be a bit tight for you by now, wouldn’t it!’
‘And then he stuck the medal on my chest and said, ‘Nice to see you, Damian, we’re great fans, Catherine and I.’ And off I trotted home.
‘Now I’ve been given a gong, I feel like I have been made a school prefect, so I can’t misbehave.’
Not that the impeccably mannered and well-brought-up Lewis is likely to stray off the straight and narrow. If he has a problem, he says, it is his children realising that their father and mother, actress Helen McCrory, are, well, a bit different to other parents due to their day jobs. ‘The street posters don’t make things easy. There was one huge hoarding of me to advertise my TV thriller series Homeland near our home in London.
‘We drive the children to school and it’s only a ten-minute journey, but there’s always a jam at the same traffic light every morning — you know, that achingly frustrating 15 minutes when you’re stuck in traffic trying to travel 100 yards to get your kids to school.
‘Of course, the jam would have to be opposite this 40ft-wide poster of me that was there for about six months.
‘I kept distracting the children from it by changing the radio and talking about anything I could think of, and for three months it worked. Then one morning, my son Gulliver looked up and said: ‘Dad! There’s a huge picture of you on the wall!’ ‘
It was, he admits, the conversation he and Helen had been trying with all their might to avoid.
He says: ‘The children know what Helen and I do for a living, because they come on film sets and meet the crew. They don’t really understand what acting is, because what on earth does acting mean to a child — or to anyone, quite frankly?
‘We tell them we are storytellers because that’s something they understand, that we get paid to tell stories and that makes us very lucky. But very occasionally, one of them will look at me and say, ‘You’re famous, aren’t you Dad?’ And that’s a conversation we try to move on from, it isn’t healthy for anyone.’
It is a subject that will only become more difficult to avoid as far as Damian’s children, Manon, nine, and Gulliver, eight, are concerned.
In the past decade and a half, between being cast as the upright Richard Winters in Band Of Brothers, the grasping Soames in The Forsyte Saga, the conflicted Nicholas Brody in Homeland and, most recently, Henry VIII in Wolf Hall — ‘looking like a beautiful big bumble bee,’ he notes, affectionately — Damian has been a part of some of television’s most visible and successful series.
Now he’s about to hit the small screen again in Billions, a drama series set in the world of New York high finance, in which he will play ruthless hedge fund dealer Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod, who clashes with U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti) in a 12-episode battle of wits that reputedly will make Homeland look like a vicar’s tea party.
It is likely to be screened in the UK early next year.
Continue reading Damian Lewis – Wolf Hall’s Henry VIII – on why it’s his TV star wife Helen McCrory who rules their marriage