During the Seventies, actor Simon MacCorkindale was one of our biggest heartthrobs. These days, he runs his own film company and has returned to the small screen in Casualty. But it could all have turned out differently…
My father was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and in the first 17 years of my parents’ marriage — I was born in the second year — they moved house 21 times. So it was a very nomadic upbringing. There was a bit of rogues and vagabonds about it, which is what actors used to be.
I always invented games, which I think came out of being a child in the air force and never having the same group of friends for very long, so, in the end you have the potential to become quite insular. My brother, who is a couple of years younger, and I used to invent things together.
I regret not having anybody I grew up with who I can call a chum from any great distance. You end up being very self-contained, but in a way that suited me. I was always a natural leader, too, and that’s helped me very much in the acting profession, but, overall, I have just always had a burning desire to do it. My mother tells me I went to a panto with my grandfather when I was small and came back and someone stupidly asked me did I enjoy the pantomime — and I told the entire story. Apparently everyone was very surprised at the detail I had taken on board.
I also remember being about eight and deciding I wanted to write a play and having an overwhelming feeling of excitement. It was my own version of Sleeping Beauty and the school staged it, which gave me an enormous buzz. While I had that excitement my school-work was better; the more I was doing, the more productive I became and my life has continued to be like that. My energy comes from a sense of achievement, and drive and purpose.
However, when I decided I wanted to make acting my living, my father didn’t understand it at all. He just thought there was no security in it. I told him that I didn’t ever want to be in the position where I held something against him. I knew he wanted me to be the youngest general in the army because of the money he’d spent on my education, but, to give him his credit, he said, “OK, do it, I’ll give you a bit of money to go to drama school. But I want you to know that if at 25 years of age you’re still digging around doing nothing, I’m going to say to you, ‘Get a proper job.'” That was the deal and I bought it. I went to drama school and felt very liberated; I’d sort of got his approval.
Once I got there I knew I’d done the right thing. I was passionate about it. I wasn’t after fame and fortune, it just felt like the right thing to do. But I suppose I did end up getting that celebrity thing, whether I liked it or not, when, in the Seventies, I became successful and married the actress Fiona Fullerton. We sort of became one of the glamorous couples, and I got labelled with that heartthrob tag but it was so unexpected it didn’t mean anything to me. I got married young the first time round; this was the residue of that military background. I felt that this was what young people did, so there was a part of me that had that regimented outlook. But there came a point when I reached a block with the relationship. I couldn’t live a lie. I couldn’t carry on with the marriage, just as I couldn’t pretend I wanted to be the youngest general in the army. I decided to leave Fiona, but I also tried to do the right thing by leaving before we’d had children and the responsibility that comes with that. I’d had success with the film Death On The Nile and on the back of that I got the offer to go to America and put the miles between us, which I felt was the right thing.
America was a massive leap but I got a lot of work — theatre and eventually high-profile TV such as Manimal and Falcon Crest. I was always busy, but after a while I went through my arch period, where I looked at the work and realised I was making the money but felt it wasn’t “proper” work. I had an offer to continue on Falcon Crest but I said I didn’t want to do a third year.
I’d also married Susie by then [actress Susan George] and my home life was something that became very important to me. We had to think about her family and mine back in England and I suddenly felt, ‘It’s time to come home.’ So we came back to England and set up a film company, Amy International, in 1986. Susan and I love taking on new projects. The reason marriage has worked for me the second time is that it’s perpetually stimulating and perpetually challenging and I couldn’t be with someone who doesn’t do that to me.
Susan is a maniac, like me, and she is a terrier. She gets an idea and she will not let it go. We go for it — like the production company and the stud farm we run at our home in Exmoor. It’s an enormous undertaking, but from Susan’s point of view, she decided she was going to be one of the best breeders of Arab horses in the world — not just someone who has Arab horses, but one of the best in the world — and I admire that about her enormously.
The fact we’ve never had children is not a problem; we’re not filling a gap, it just wasn’t meant to be and we’ve both accepted that absolutely. This time of my life, in particular, is very, very fulfilling. I always felt from early on that my time would be now. I thought my best period would be between 45 and 65. I never doubted that it would come together in one way or another.
I believe in synchronicity. The way I landed the Casualty job is an example of that. In 2002, I had set up a production that would be shot in and around Bristol and I had a small role in it. The prosthetics guy needed to do a head cast of me for that role and took me to the Casualty warehouse to do it. I didn’t even know the show was based in Bristol. I got home that night and Susan said my agent had called to say that the Casualty production office had called wanting to know if I’d be interested in a part. I said, “I was in their building today!” Neither of us could believe it. I hadn’t even gone for a part, it was completely out of the blue. So I certainly felt that was a message from somebody to say this is the right time and the right place.
I’m really enjoying being part of something so high profile again, but I’ve seen people come and go so many times in this business that I don’t take it for granted. If I’ve got a talent, it’s for effort and endurance. One of the things that’s always stayed with me is a sermon at Haileybury [Simon’s public school] given by the headmaster. He was the second most influential man to my father — a big man with a big heart. During this particular sermon he said, “Have a sense of purpose. Don’t just drift through your life.”
And that really struck a chord. Every single day counts for me. That’s why I don’t understand the drink culture — getting out of your head. I live to achieve; achieving, to me, is restful.
And in that sense I do think I’ve made my father proud. He’s 80 now and not at all well, and I feel guilty that I might have been too busy for him, but, as Susan pointed out, he has taken enormous pleasure from my work and was able to rationalise the things about acting that troubled him. I remember the time he came to a movie set when I was working with Sir John Mills. He saw this man who is highly regarded and had a wonderful marriage, a pillar of the realm, standing next to his son. Then my father sat and had a conversation with him in the same way he might have had a conversation with a marshall of the Royal Air Force. So this education that he thought was going to be wasted wasn’t wasted at all.
I now lead a very conservative life. I run a business which employs people and I have a solid marriage. In fact, all the things he wanted for me. So, I’ve come full circle — but not in the way either of us would ever have planned or dreamed.
BORN: Ely, Cambridgeshire.
EDUCATION: Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, where he became head boy.
STATUS: Divorced from former actress Fiona Fullerton. Married to actress Susan George since 1984. No children.
CAREER: Death On The Nile (1977); Jaws 3 (1982); Manimal (1983); Falcon Crest (1985-1987); Poltergeist: The Legacy (1998). Currently starring as surgeon Harry Harper: in BBC1 ‘s Casualty. Along with wife Susan, also runs his own production company and a stud farm in Exmoor with more than 50 horses.