Luke Evans: ‘The littlest of naps calm me down’

Cats, caravanning and cakes… that sums up a lot of my childhood. My mum and dad both came from big families, so they decided to have one child and give him all their attention. Dad was a bricklayer. Mum has always been my best friend. Being handed over the nursery wall by her as I screamed to high heaven refusing to leave her side is my first memory.

I was clearly a performer from an early age, always acting out full-length cooking shows in the kitchen. Mum would be my assistant, Doreen. I’d force her to put all the ingredients into bowls like they do on telly. She moaned about the washing up, but always indulged me.

Bullies made my life hell in my teens, and it got worse as I got older. I loved to learn, but secondary school wasn’t pleasant. Surviving was a struggle. I felt I didn’t fit in anywhere and suffered.

Biting the skin on my thumbs is an awful habit of mine. Not my nails – they’re gorgeous – but the space around them. I started by copying a childhood friend. She stopped, I carried on. I’m 44. It’s pathetic.

I left home and Pontypool at 16 and moved alone to Cardiff. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and had questions the Bible couldn’t answer. It was tough to walk away from everything and everyone I knew. I was a gay kid with nobody to talk to. I started again on my own entirely. Looking back now, I see how strong and courageous that teenage boy was. Good on him.

Learning to say no is a powerful thing. It’s terrifying, to turn things down. But doing so allows you to value yourself. You never know what might happen by standing strong and waiting.

They blow smoke up your arse at first in Hollywood. They tell you you’re going to make it massive. Having grafted from 16, I’ve never let it get to me.

Dogs on Instagram make me cry. I know, tragic. Last week, I watched a video of a puppy being rescued from a gutter and given a whole new life. It destroyed me.

Cutting hair is a talent of mine, despite a total lack of training. I spent a childhood watching Mum in the salon. I got bored of watching the women, so sat with the barber boy and picked up the technique. Now I’m always at it.

Acting on screen was never on the cards. I worked in theatres for years and hustled hard: I’d do a play, then wait tables, work in shops, find a nightclub door gig. At 30, I suddenly had movie parts alongside Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I kept my head down, paid off mine and my parents’ debts. If it had lasted a year, I’d have been grateful. I’m still going 15 years later.

I have a temper, but it rarely shows itself. Usually it’s when I’ve lost control of a situation and I get stressed. And normally it’s short-lived, and I’ll immediately apologise rather than hiding from it.

The littlest of naps calm me down. I can fall asleep quickly, almost anywhere, and wake up shortly after, revived entirely. I often have one just before a performance.

Anyone who says they don’t get nervous before stepping out on stage is a liar. But I’ve never suffered with stage-fright, though: a crowd who wants to listen to me? Nothing could keep me from them.

Backstairs Billy runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, until 27 January (


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