My painful battle with depression: Robert Lindsay reveals therapy made him a better husband and father


By Kate Bussmann

Robert Lindsay likes to view the world through yellow-tinted glasses, especially as the nights draw in.

A depressive for most of his life, the My Family star is also susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which descends during the grey months of winter.

Astonishingly, the special glasses he wears have made all the difference. ‘The lenses are yellow: they make everything look lighter,’ he says. ‘They really do work.’

Not all a bed of roses: Actor Robert Lindsay reveals all about his painful battle with depression

He began wearing them, after abandoning anti-depressants, to cope with the unhappiness that dogged him for years. A course of therapy also helped; as has his decision to stop worrying so much about his career.

He takes life a lot more easily these days. For a start, he doesn’t have the pressure of My Family, having just ended an 11-year stint as grouchy dentist Ben Harper opposite Zoe Wanamaker who played his wife.

And he is enjoying his new role as a secret agent in new TV sitcom Spy.

The irony isn’t lost on him. Twenty-five years ago, he came close to being the most famous spy of them all, auditioning for the role of James Bond.

The Living Daylights was all ready to roll but with no leading man in place.
Lindsay was a major candidate in the studio’s eyes - they called him back four times, and for one screen test he had to wear a tuxedo.

At the last minute the role went to Timothy Dalton. But Lindsay, 61, took it in his stride.

‘My trouble was, I couldn’t take James Bond seriously enough,’ he says. ‘I did well in the auditions, but as the final decision got closer, I realised I’d never been a Bond fan - you always know he’s going to get away. I prefer Jason Bourne, from The Bourne Identity. He’s been trained to kill, but doesn’t know why. It’s such a great concept.

‘But I believe that if things don’t work out, it’s for a reason, so I had no regrets.’

In Spy, he is known simply as The Examiner, and the comedy kicks in when he accidentally recruits Tim (Green Wing’s Darren Boyd), a bumbling single dad in a dead-end job, into MI5.

‘There’s no comparison between The Examiner and James Bond,’ laughs Lindsay. ‘He’s short on sophistication and big on clumsiness. He doesn’t pack a Walther PPK like 007. Instead, his favourite weapon is a ninja star, which he throws at someone every few minutes.’

When he reported for his first day on set, Lindsay was taken to one side to be taught how to throw one. ‘But I’d already learned how to do it - or so I thought - from watching YouTube clips,’ he says.

‘Unfortunately, my first attempt to show off hit the prop master in the stomach before he’d even had a chance to explain what I had to do. He wasn’t hurt, but the rest of the crew fell about laughing.’

Lindsay looks back fondly on My Family. Even the Duchess of Cornwall was a fan of the sitcom. ‘Ah, so pleased to meet my favourite TV dentist,’ said Camilla when they were introduced at a party.

‘It really was extraordinarily popular,’ says Lindsay. ‘But Zoe and I had had enough. It was filmed in front of an audience, and required so much adrenalin that we were absolutely knackered.’

He doesn’t knock it, though.

‘As I got older and had kids, I realised I couldn’t just travel the world to work or swan off with the Royal Shakespeare Company for months on end. I had to knuckle down and earn some money.

‘My Family gave me a nice lifestyle and time to be with my wife, Rosie, and the children [sons Sam, 12, Jamie, nine, and 22-year-old actress daughter Sydney Stevenson, from his previous relationship with actress Diana Weston].’

He was away a lot during his daughter’s childhood. ‘I wasn’t there much,’ he says. ‘I was very preoccupied with being a success, very self-absorbed.

‘For years I escaped reality on film sets, which seemed much more attractive than taking kids on camping holidays or doing the shopping. But these days, being a good dad and husband are the most fulfilling things for me.

‘When Spy came along, I took it because it was a cameo part, not a leading role, and I was happy to let someone else carry the burden.

‘It was fun, too. I based my character on Robert Duvall playing the mad captain on the beach in Apocalypse Now. And the more seriously I tried to play it, the funnier it became.’

Fond memories: Robert, with the cast of My Family, eventually he decided time had come for a change, and co-star Zoe Wanamaker followed suit

Lindsay first rose to fame in the Seventies as hapless Tooting revolutionary Wolfie in the TV comedy Citizen Smith. His own roots were modest. Brought up in the mining town of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, his mother, descended from travellers, was a cleaner, and his joiner father suffered from TB most of his life.

Lindsay studied drama at his local college of higher education and admits he went into acting with a chip on his shoulder: he and Wolfie had a lot in common.

‘Back in those days I was fired by working-class indignation. I was intolerant of people from a different class; suspicious of people with a lot of money; defensive because I hadn’t been to university.’

As former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was to discover for herself. It was during a London run of the play Becket 14 years ago that the Iron Lady, who was in the audience, invited Lindsay and his co-star Derek Jacobi to supper after the performance. Lindsay said no thanks.

‘Mrs Thatcher came shimmering into my dressing room wearing a black and silver evening gown,’ recalls Lindsay. ‘She asked me why I didn’t want to go out to dinner. I said: “Actually, ma’am, I don’t agree with your politics,” and she quipped: “Well, that doesn’t affect your appetite, does it?”

‘All I could do was protest rather lamely that it did.’

Since then, he has come to lament his churlishness.

‘It’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t accept her invitation to dinner that night,’ he admits ruefully. ‘Even my dad, who was so Left-wing he was almost communist, told me I’d been stupid. But I’ve let all that go now.’

He is surprisingly open about his mistakes. He admits that when former partner Diana Weston suffered a miscarriage, he failed to give her the support she needed. ‘I behaved very badly, but I was too bound up with myself to realise,’ he recalls. ‘I blamed her for losing the baby because she’d carried on working and doing what she wanted to do.

‘Diana told me: “You’ve got a problem,” and off I went to see a Harley Street shrink. It proved transformative. It released some anger.’

The psychiatrist asked Lindsay if he had a ‘problem with women’. Out of the blue, he exhumed a childhood incident in which his mother had hit him repeatedly with a knitting needle for swapping a toy. The reprimand happened when, fraught after two miscarriages, she had finally become pregnant. Lindsay, who had been an only child for ten years, found out about the happy event by accident.

He now recognises that his mother’s apparent rejection and the unexpected news about a sibling disturbed him profoundly. It also shaped his future relationships with women. This self-awareness helped change his behaviour. So, years later, when Rosie suffered two miscarriages before becoming pregnant with Sam, he was able to offer her support.

‘I was a completely different person as a result of the therapy. I stayed by Rosie’s side and helped her through.’

Rosie — a former dancer who, as Rosemarie Ford, was a hostess on The Generation Game — gave up work to raise their sons, though she still teaches dance and is on the parish council near their Buckinghamshire home.

‘I keep reassuring her that if she wants to pursue her career, I’m happy to stay at home with the boys. But she says: “I don’t want to miss bath time.” ’

He is now preparing to return to the stage opposite Joanna Lumley in The Lion In Winter, which opens at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket next month. ‘The stage is what I do best,’ he says. ‘My wife says that’s when I’m happiest.’

Lindsay is affable company. So is he ever as grumpy in real life as his character in My Family? ‘Oh, I can be quite rude if people stop me when I’m out with the family,’ he says equably.

En route to rehearsals, a fan recognises him. Lindsay beams and pauses to sign an autograph. The old curmudgeon seems reformed. It must be the rosy glow imparted by those specs.

Learn fast: Lindsay, as The Examiner talks about interrogation as Moritz, played by Ed Coleman, is strapped into a lie detector