Dr Who, anorexia and a tough act to follow

Dr Who, anorexia and a tough act to follow: Christopher Eccleston reveals the drive behind his onscreen performances in fascinating memoir

  • Christopher Eccleston is best known for portraying the ninth Doctor Who
  • He details his career and 30 year battle with body dysmorphia in a memoir
  • He admits to channeling his father Ronnie Eccleston from Salford in his acting 
  • Christopher reveals what drives him and briefly mentions his ex-wife



by Christopher Eccleston (Simon & Schuster £20, 336 pp)

We know what to expect from the autobiographies of most actors, I think: anecdotes, charm, more than mild self-satisfaction and faux-modesty by the bucketload.

But Christopher Eccleston is not most actors, and his autobiography is not most autobiographies. This is a superb book, full of revelations, as intense and tortured as its writer and not an easy ride at all.

Eccleston is best known as the ninth Doctor Who, but he has also played intense and tortured in Cracker, The Second Coming and Hillsborough, and tortured and intense in Our Friends In The North, Shallow Grave and Let Him Have It.

Christopher Eccleston (pictured) who is best known for portraying the ninth Doctor Who, documents key moments from his life in a memoir 

But it hasn’t all been fun and laughter. Christopher was the third son in his family, arriving slightly unexpectedly eight years after his twin brothers. ‘I had a sense of being alone, an only child in a family setting. I was sat on the outside, being novelistic, freezing moments, cataloguing.’

That’s a pretty good sentence, and there are many more like it here.

The headlines, usefully spun, have concentrated on Eccleston’s admission of anorexia, which he says has blighted his life. He has always felt he is too big and chunky to be an actor, too much the stereotypical northern working man.

His response to this body dysmorphia has been to starve himself to the point of illness for 30 years. He says at one point he thinks he’s over it, and at another that he doesn’t think he’ll ever be over it.

The main theme of the book, though, is not Eccleston’s own mental frailty, but his hero-worship of his father, who died earlier this decade after a long and slow decline through dementia. Ronnie Eccleston was a tough, angry, often intransigent working man from Salford who was nonetheless highly intelligent and clearly very sensitive under the carapace. Eccleston says that when he’s acting, he’s sometimes channelling his brothers or his mother (all of whom are still alive), but more often than not, he’s playing his father, whose complex character continues to obsess him.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest this father-son relationship has been the spine of an impressive and singular acting career. ‘Dad wanted a life of the mind,’ he writes. ‘Unlike me, it was never in his sway to find it.’

Christopher (pictured) revealed he often channels his father, Ronnie Eccleston in his acting, although he was an ‘abusive monster with a powerful presence’

A lot of this book is eminently quotable. ‘Anger was not a rarity in lives like mine; it had a constant existence.’

‘My dad wasn’t an abusive monster, but he was a very, very powerful presence.’

‘I’ve been cast as someone who carries anger a lot. The fact is I genuinely cannot fight my way out of a paper bag. But I look like I can — and I knew a man who could.’

Anorexia was his mask. ‘Look, everybody, I’m northern, I’m hard.’ Except, of course, that he’s not. He’s shockingly sensitive. It’s the dichotomy we’ve seen in all his performances. The tough exterior, the soft interior, the eyes telling you more than you need to know: these are the motor of his entire career.


Length in feet of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who scarf

Eccleston idolises Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis. He has no illusions about his ability as an actor. ‘There are far more talented actors than me, far more, but I am so focused and driven when I go after something. Same as when I played football. I wasn’t the best, but I was the fittest.’

As you might expect, he is staggeringly hard on himself when he feels a performance hasn’t worked, for whatever reason. He doesn’t even like his performance in Our Friends In The North. Too one-note, he thinks. Maybe, if you’re being picky, which he usually is.

My one caveat about the book is that certain areas seem to be out of bounds. He mentions his now ex-wife by name once. Otherwise she’s not here at all. Maybe it’s none of my business, but I felt I’d have liked to learn something about that marriage, even if it’s just why it failed. Is he in a relationship now? We never learn.

LOVE THE BONES OF YOU by Christopher Eccleston (Simon & Schuster £20, 336 pp)

And he’s positively Trappist about why he left Doctor Who after only one season. Gossip has flowed between Whovians over this, but no one knows for sure what happened and Eccleston isn’t saying. The nearest we get to any hard information is in a picture caption: ‘I loved playing the character almost as much as I loathed the politics of making the show.’

Actually, the picture captions are good value. Of a performance in a now-forgotten film called Gone In 60 Seconds, he writes, ‘A terrible performance. I was informed recently that I was so bad in it, I’m good. I’m happy with that.’

And the title? His father never told his son that he loved him, except once, when his dementia had advanced to the point at which his inhibitions had started to fall away. Eccleston had been to visit him and as he left, his father rapped on his car window.

‘I love the bones of you,’ he said. With anyone else, you might not believe this story. But with Eccleston, you know it’s true.

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