Men Behaving Badly? These days, it's more like 'Dad Behaving Mildly'
Published 15/12/2012 | 06:00
Deirdre Reynolds finds out the 'Oliver!' star has turned over a new leaf by drinking more Berocca than beer
Cult TV star Neil Morrissey is set to spend Christmas in Dublin treading the boards in Oliver! at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
But it's not the Guinness he's most looking forward to – it's midnight Mass.
"You know you're getting old when you start looking forward to midnight Mass," jokes Neil (50). "Both my parents are Irish, so growing up, it was a big family thing.
"I've got family coming over to Dublin for Christmas, so I'll probably drag them all out.
"It's a great theatrical event – and you don't even need to be sober to go!"
Incredibly, it's almost 20 years since Neil became a household name playing laddish Tony Smart on the iconic BBC sitcom Men Behaving Badly alongside Martin Clunes.
But he admits that people still mistake him for the character, who offered to shave his pubic hair for charity in one memorable episode.
"People still call me Tony," says Neil, who replaced Harry Enfield in the second season of the show.
"It did put us up there and it continues to be in the ether. I'm very proud of it.
"Now with the 20th anniversary box set out, there's a whole new generation watching it. When I saw the cover, I just thought, 'Who's that young fella?'"
Off screen, it was Neil's own bad behaviour that made headlines when his affair with Amanda Holden – which infamously led to her separation from husband Les Dennis – was exposed in 2000.
He also dated Hollywood sex symbol Rachel Weisz in the 1990s.
"I've learned my lessons that if you get embroiled in a relationship that is slightly clandestine and you're very popular on the television, it's going to come and bite you," says Neil, who divorced actress wife Amanda Noar in 1991 and is now in a long-term relationship with lawyer Emma Killick.
"I hold my hands up – I got caught out. (But) there mustn't have been anything going on in the world at that time for me to get so much column space."
Despite claiming to be "no Pavarotti", the dad-of-one is currently generating more favourable column inches for his turn as ne'er-do-well Fagin in the classic Christmas tale. But his real-life story has more in common with street urchin Oliver.
In the past, the actor revealed how he was taken into care aged just 10 after stealing sweets from a local shop.
"Both my parents came from slightly broken backgrounds, so it was kind of the cycle," recalls Neil.
"It's very easy to put the blame on people, (but) it was probably more to do with circumstances than any ill-intent.
"When I arrived (into care), I didn't know when I was going to see my parents again.
"No one explained to me where I was, what was happening and why I was even there – it was just a strange place full of children.
"I think of myself as glass half full and not half empty," he adds. "But the one thing that stays with you forever is that kind of rip from your family."
During the musical's five-week run in the capital, star Neil will share the stage with 36 local kids, as well as Bullseye the dog.
It's not the first time that he's broken all the rules of showbiz by working with children and animals.
As the voice of Bob The Builder, he once infamously beat Westlife to the UK Christmas No 1 spot – and reckons the lads still haven't forgiven him.
"Back in 2000, Bob the Builder prevented Westlife from getting their eighth No 1 in a row and breaking the Beatles' record," explains Neil. "I remember being on a morning TV show with them and they didn't realise that I was Bob The Builder.
"They brought out this guy dressed as Bob The Builder and all the boys ran over and started whacking him. When I told them I was the one who sang it, they just yelled, 'Arrgh, Neil Morrissey!'"
But not even Bob The Builder could fix it when the actor's pub and hotel company collapsed three years ago.
"Basically the whole business went down and pretty much everything I've got went down with it," says Neil, who signed up to an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA) to repay his debt after reportedly losing £2.5m (€3.1m). Now he vows to be debt-free by next year.
"Pretty much everything I earn has to go out to pay (the creditors) back. A lot of business people call me stupid because I could have just gone bankrupt and walked away – but that's not the way I do things."
Two decades after shooting to fame as a layabout Tony Smart, one thing is for sure – Neil certainly isn't behaving badly any more.
"These days, I drink more Berocca than beer," laughs the TV personality. "We do eight or nine shows a week, so you've got to be match fit. I only finish work at 10.30pm, then it's off home to bed.
"The great thing about acting is that you can have a massive hit like Men Behaving Badly and a generation later, it's something completely different.
"From Bob The Builder to Men Behaving Badly, I've run the whole gamut really.
"There's no set retirement age for actors any more," adds Neil, who's just starred in BBC comedy Me and Mrs Jones alongside Love/Hate's Robert Sheehan.
"As you get older, you just embrace different roles – and midnight Mass!"
Cameron Mackintosh's Oliver! is running at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from December 12 to January 12, 2013. See www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.