Patrick Stewart begins this long-awaited memoir with an epigraph from Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well: “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together”. The actor certainly sets about mingling his own yarn; he opens Making It So with descriptions of a startlingly rough childhood in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, where his first house was a tiny one-up, one-down with shared toilet facilities on the street.
Stewart’s father, Alfred, was a Dunkirk veteran plagued by PTSD and alcoholism, whose brutish sway scarred Patrick and his younger brother Trevor for years. The young Stewart was guilty of becoming a bully in turn: he describes his malicious taunting of a schoolmate with a deformed hand. But there were also moments of bliss. He writes about absconding on the day of his 11-plus exam, walking to a bluebell wood with a view of school and nodding off in the May sunshine. He’d later take girlfriends to the same place. There were many. Even after Stewart lost his hair prematurely – a common family trait – he kept his winning way with girls.
Even now, Stewart’s age hasn’t quite caught up with some of the walk-on parts he played as a novice – an 85-year-old butler, or someone’s ancient American father in an obscure Shaw play. “I was dreadful and everyone knew it,” he recalls of the latter. He describes some of these early humiliations with the self-deprecating wisdom only 60 years’ hindsight can bestow.
There’s a fair bit of hedging, though, on his career as a ladies’ man, or his path to what he describes as “true love” with his third and current wife, the singer Sunny Ozell. Not that his first, 23-year marriage to Sheila Falconer is described as a mistake – just a case of a “loving couple growing apart”, ending with infidelity on his end (with the actress Jennifer Hetrick) and much pain for his two children. His second wife Wendy Neuss, the TV producer he married in 2000 but divorced in 2003, gets only a few mentions over a 10-page period, before being ousted by another actress, a then-23-year-old Lisa Dillon. As Stewart bluntly puts it, “I had cheated on my wife with a younger woman – again – and there is no getting around that.”
Elsewhere, he trots out starstruck anecdotes that have a well-rehearsed ring. Fair enough: if you were a little-known stage actor tossed the keys to Paul McCartney’s Aston Martin DB4 by Macca himself, since you were Jane Asher’s co-star in a farce, wouldn’t you dine out on it? There’s a ribald bit, too, about a mutt called Blackie, whom Stewart found in 1970 to play the dog who shared his scenes for the RSC’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. One night, there was uproar from the audience when the dog was spotted licking his (own) “large, pink erection” and upstaging Stewart’s big speech.
Stewart clearly maintains a gift for friendship, and a love for the fellow actors he most admires – Vivien Leigh, Ian Holm and (more recently) Star Trek’s Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes. He didn’t know Ian McKellen well until they were cast as adversaries in X-Men (2000) and “began a conversation that has continued, more or less without pause, for 23 years” – including on stage, in a much-touted Waiting for Godot. We hear of one or two aggressive rivalries as well. When Stewart was miscast (in his view) as Cassius to John Wood’s sarcastic Brutus in 1972, it’s a wonder they didn’t ignore Caesar and start stabbing each other.
In fact, snubs from creative titans have tended to rankle with Stewart, not least the icy reception from Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, when, in 1986, Stewart was first put forward for the role of Jean-Luc Picard. Long after that made Stewart a household name, the late Queen, on the occasion of his knighthood in 2010, showed not a glimmer of recognition: ouch. Throughout Making It So, Stewart gives the impression of never forgetting such slights. But he has, at least, always had the knack of sending up his own classically-trained pomposity. His writing may not have the rugged truth of his best acting, but a wry, conversational charm sees it across the line.
Making It So is published by Simon & Schuster at £25. To order your copy, call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books