10 minutes with EastEnders legend ‘Nasty’ Nick

John is releasing an album in time for Christmas Photo: Paul Harris

John is releasing an album in time for Christmas Photo: Paul Harris - Credit: Archant

John Altman talks about his home life in Surrey, new music career and love of rock ‘n’ roll.

John at Sandridge Studio Photo: Mark Christopher Lee

John at Sandridge Studio Photo: Mark Christopher Lee - Credit: Archant

To me, home is...

Richmond, surrounded by Bushy Park, Home Park, Richmond Park and the river. It’s all very convenient and all very beautiful. I’ve got a little garden which is great, a patch of sky, one tree and lots of flowers!

Where are your favourite views in Surrey?

Leith Hill, which is the most spectacular, Fox Hill is pretty famous, but the most amazing view is King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park because when looking directly through the telescope you can see a picturesque view of the Thames Valley and an uninterrupted view of St Paul’s Cathedral.

What is your favourite pub in the area?

The Anglers at Teddington Lock, they do a really good Sunday roast.

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Where do you like to shop?

You can’t really beat Kingston town centre. It’s got the lot really!

What would be your perfect day in Surrey?

Have a lie in and then bring my daughter, Rosanna and granddaughter, Lily over to take a stroll in Bushy Park. Then we go for lunch at the Angler’s in Teddington Rock and finish off the day with a film perhaps at the Odeon in Kingston. That would be a nice birthday day actually.

What began your passion for acting?

We didn’t have a TV, my Dad banned it. So, I used to go to my Aunt’s and friend’s houses to watch TV or to the cinema. I started acting like whoever it was I had just been watching; Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood or James Bond and I think that’s how I got the taste for it. I joined the local amateur dramatics society and I played Noah Claypole in Oliver, then many years later I grew up a bit and played Bill Sikes. I couldn’t afford drama school so I rang around all the theatres in the UK and bluffed my way into an assistant stage manager job in Leeds at the Grand Theatre and I met lots of people in the business.

How did you land the role of Nick Cotton in EastEnders?

Well my agent said to dress as Nick Cotton would for the audition, leather jacket, tight blue jeans, earring in and talk with a cockney accent and so that’s what I did. Once again, I fibbed a bit and said I was actually born in the Eastend and the rest as they say, is history.

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What motivated you to write your autobiography In the Nick of Time and then recently release an audiobook version?

I think it was some badgering from my daughter, a few friends and my girlfriend at the time. She said, ‘you’ve got some funny stories John, why don’t you put it all down’ so that was it. I always wanted to because I write every day and keep a journal. Thankfully, myself, Andrew Mark Sewell and Helen Quigley from B7 Media managed to record the whole audiobook, tidy it up a bit, add three extra chapters and a few other new inserts all just before lockdown began. This is the new and improved version of the original.

What type of projects have you been doing since leaving EastEnders?

I did Pantomime at Christmas last year, a couple of films, a little bit of TV recently, but the biggest project for the last 18 months has been working on my first, 12-track studio album, single and music video. Under the name ‘Johnny Altman’ I released my debut album It’s Never Too Late To Rock n Roll in November, which I would say is an eclectic anthology of tracks that I have written and co-written over the last 20 years. There’s just a whole variety of stuff on there [from] hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll to punk and the ballad, Hallucinating You which released as a single in October.

When did you start performing musically?

I have always felt torn between rock ‘n’ roll and acting, I always played the guitar, drums and wrote music. Back in the punk days of the 1970s I was known as Johnny Rio, but I went for acting at the time because I thought maybe I could do that for longer, which isn’t actually the case when you see bands like The Rolling Stones still bashing it out. I used to bump into people like Tony James from Generation X, Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols and even nearly got into a fight with Sid Vicious once. I was listening to his girlfriend pour her heart out to me, and he wasn’t there and then when he learnt about it, he said he wanted to do me in!

Where does your inspiration for your song writing come from?

When I’ve been in a relationship, whether it’s been good or bad, I’ve written rhymes and songs down just to kind of get it off my chest as a form of release. And as an actor I also put my frame of mind into the process, so for the track ‘Outrageous’ I was thinking about being a bored student and wanting to go out and do something outrageous. It’s not one you play on the radio probably [laughs] but it’s quite catchy!

What does rock n roll mean to you?

It’s never too late to rock n roll, as long as you are on your own two feet and can move about then it’s something you can do and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll will never die.

The single and music video for Hallucinating You are out now and the album, It’s Never Too Late To Rock n Roll, is out on November 20. In the Nick of Time is now available on Audible.

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