Emmerdale and Casualty soap star Ian Kelsey: 'I've died four times'

Ian Kelsey has swapped soap drama for Sussex serenity

Ian Kelsey has swapped soap drama for Sussex serenity - Credit: Graham Michael

The Shoreham-based heartthrob, known for being Emmerdale's Dave Glover and Casualty's Patrick Spiller, tells us how he’s swapped the soaps and screaming fans for the stage and Sussex sea… 
Flying to Hollywood. Escaping on tubes. Zooming away on a motorcycle. No, these are not action scenes out of actor Ian Kelsey’s many hit TV roles or a script for a new soap.  The star of Emmerdale, Casualty and Doctors has used these tactics during his thirty year plus career to dazzle on screen and escape over-excited fans. Now living in a coastal village near Brighton and starring in the stage version of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, the ‘bad boy’ of the small screen is keen to live a quieter life.  

Settled in Shoreham, he looks after his two daughters Layla and Ivy alongside enjoying a career on stage. ‘Shoreham is just the right size and has a great community, all while having the chaos and excitement of Brighton close by if I need it too,’ Ian says. ‘I love the fact I can pick up my daughters from school, and within 20 minutes be sat on the beach eating an ice lolly.’  

Apart from brain freeze, ice lollies don’t provide half the shock that his experiences have throughout the years. Being in so many well-known roles have garnered him many colourful encounters with fans. ‘I had one whole family come backstage, all in Manchester United football kits, and they turned around and had Kelsey on the back – I don’t even support Manchester United!’ Ian laughs. Of course, fangirls came into play too. ‘Another backstage memory was when a girl pulled her sleeve up, and showed me my face tattooed on her arm, which was quite a moment.’ He continues: ‘I was on the tube one day and as I was pulling away from the station, I saw a fan watching me. I knew this girl as she saw me at previous shows – she would be at the front looking miserable, so I didn’t understand why she was at the show, never mind following me. She was there the next day too – I ran and got on the tube!’ 

Funnily enough, the attention is exactly why he first got into acting. ‘I was working in York with a friend as a coach builder, and we saw an advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post calling for male actors,’ he explains. ‘We thought it would be a great way to meet girls!’ Little did he know he’d soon end up starring as jack-the-lad Danny Glover in Emmerdale, making his face a staple on girls’ walls all over the country. 

As well as being in Doctors, Ian enjoyed capturing behind the scenes chaos too 

As well as being in Doctors, Ian enjoyed capturing behind the scenes chaos too - Credit: Ian Kelsey

Although having starred in numerous roles in the past thirty years, such as Patrick Spiller in Casualty and Howard Belllamy in Doctors, his breakout role is still one he looks over fondly. ‘It was great fun – the crew were fantastic, and we were all just a family,’ he says. Ian had his fair share of memorable moments on set, too. ‘Nowadays Emmerdale is filmed on set, but when I was on the show, we’d be out in Yorkshire shooting scenes.’ Ian explains: ‘There was a scene in a coach car park where we’d have people come up to us for autographs, not seeing the cameras and thinking we were just standing about having a chat.’ Other times, the public were quick to catch on to what was happening and were keen to cash out. ‘There was one man as well who would always say he needed to fix his fence where we were shooting, and the producers would give him fifty quid to go to the pub and disappear!’ 
It wasn’t always the public that had to have their wits about them on set – Ian too had his ways of stealing the scenes. ‘In Casualty, if you weren’t in the main storyline, you were used to get storyline information across to the audience. Patrick Spiller was originally used to do that, but I visited the hospital to do some research,’ Ian tells me. He went to visit a hospital as research for his role as Patrick Spiller in Casualty. There, staff told him registrars were frustrated and grumpy as they were higher than most of their colleagues – but not as elevated as they wanted to. ‘I played into that, for example throwing a tea bag into the sink rather than putting it in the bin during a simple scene.’ The writers got hold of this quickly, making him Casualty’s starring bad boy.
‘I do get itchy feet after three years or so – I’ll have read a script and think I’ve done this sort of thing before. I’ll tell the producers I’m ready to go, and they write you off rather than just letting the character disappear,’ Ian says. ‘Unfortunately for me I’ve told every show that I’m ready, and in soaps they generally just kill you off… so I’ve died four times – a fire in Emmerdale, a head injury in Casualty, a brain aneurysm in Doctors and being shot in Corrie,’ Ian laughs. ‘I’ve got the grave plaques from three of those, and I hang them up on my Christmas tree each year – I couldn’t do that with my Corrie one mind as I was in a bin bag, which wouldn’t look so festive.’
Not every moment with the public was a laughing matter though. ‘Sometimes it would be difficult, such as when I’d go round the supermarket and people would say “oh I don’t know who you are” – why would you say that, as you wouldn’t say that to a random person? Or if they didn’t like the way my character treated a girl a scene, they’d have a go too.’ Despite this, Ian had some lovely, touching moments. ‘I starred in a Swedish advert, and a Swedish family still come and see me at every show. I’ve watched their daughter grow up and she’s become a teacher.’ 
The high maintenance lifestyle, with his life changing in a phone call (‘I had to let Emmerdale know if I’d take the part before I even knew I had it’) or being jetted off to Hollywood (‘I had to revoice Black Beauty’s young actor after his voice broke mid-shooting’), clearly has its perks. But it can also come with its challenges too. ‘Being on the road all the time is fantastic when you’re younger, as you can sleep during the day and go out at night. When you’re older that sort of lifestyle is exhausting – I’ve taken to driving a motorbike with me on tour now, which makes it easier as I can explore the areas I’m going to.’ 

Ian snapped Corrie's Connor Mcintyre, making for a striking shot

Ian snapped Corrie's Connor Mcintyre, making for a striking shot - Credit: Ian Kelsey

He also enjoys photography, taking pleasure in being behind the camera as well as in front. ‘I was known as the guy on set who could take a picture, as not everyone had a camera to hand like they do nowadays when I was first working. Capturing moments of candidness in the wings was really fascinating as well.’ Ian tells me: ‘I have pictures displayed at The Bridge in Shoreham, as well as in the Theatre Royal in Brighton – I’m hoping when we perform there, I can get some photos during rehearsals, so when people are at the bar having a drink, they can see them.’ 

See Ian Kelsey as Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Capitol in Horsham

See Ian Kelsey as Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Capitol in Horsham - Credit: The Capitol

Ian’s next big gig is starring as Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, which is showing at The Capitol in Horsham and Theatre Royal in Brighton. ‘I know a lot of people will come to watch it having seen the film, where Michael Caine plays my character. I haven’t watched it as I want to put my own stamp on Ray Say – he’s such an interesting character, I’ve never played anyone like him before.’ While Ian has played the odd surly person in the past, Ray Say is a dark, brutal character who will do anything to get back to the top. While currently still reading through the script and planning his mannerisms as we speak, Ian says he is hugely looking forward to playing the role. The perks of two of the shows being closer to home means that Ian doesn’t need to travel too far, perfect for spending time with his family.  
Instead of running away from stalkers on the tube, this tour he can leisurely travel on his motorcycle. And when he’s not on tour, he’ll be exploring our country lanes on his bike and taking in the beautiful scenery. ‘I consider myself extremely lucky to have the sea by me every day,’ he says. After all, while the hustle and bustle are all well and good, there’s nothing like the taste of the Sussex sea to settle one down.  

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is showing at The Capitol, Horsham from March 28-April 2 and Theatre Royal, Brighton from April 25-30.