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Nigel Havers talks about his show Art, his unlikely mate Shaun Ryder — and his love of stuffed fish

What are you up to in Art?

I play a character called Serge. It’s a play about three men who have a terrible fight over a white painting. I did 500 performances in this play 18 years ago at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. It’s my favourite modern play — it’s funny, intellectual and it’s only an hour and 20 minutes long. It’s perfect.

How has your performance changed 18 years on?

I’m 18 years older and there’s 18 years’ more gravitas.

Will you be doing Benidorm again?

I don’t know if there will be another series. It depends on viewing figures, I suppose. I loved doing it. It’s great fun — like a holiday gone mad! I get to go to Benidorm, an amazing place. Everyone’s there to have a good time. It’s just like the programme.

Is the acting profession excessively dominated by the privately educated?

I don’t think it is. Maybe people are talking about three actors who went to Eton. There are about 40,000 in Equity, so I don’t think that’s true.

Have you spent much time out of work?

No, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve gone from one job to the next. But when I started, you got one job on telly and 17 million people watched it. It was much easier to become well known back then. It’s an advantage for getting work. I did a comedy called Don’t Wait Up, which ran for years. It was on BBC1 and at the same time our show went out, ITV showed a political programme no one wanted to watch, so we got a huge audience.

What’s the most unusual place you’ve been recognised?

When I was in Fiji, somewhere quite remote, a Fijian woman came up to me and said she liked me in Coronation Street. That was quite unusual.

You did I’m A Celebrity. Did that put you off doing reality shows?

No, not really. I just haven’t been asked to do any others. I think I put the kibosh on myself.

Proper rock’n’roller: Shaun Ryder

Why did you walk out of the jungle?

It was just too boring. Deadly boring. I couldn’t read anything, listen to music or have a proper conversation with anyone. Every day felt like a year. There was nothing to do and Lembit Opik drove me insane. I just wanted to kill him after a couple of days.

What did you find disagreeable about him?

I couldn’t believe he was an MP. He didn’t seem to have a brain. It’s just some people can get on your nerves. I didn’t mind the tasks, they relieved the boredom, but I didn’t get picked to do them.

Who did you get on with?

Shaun Ryder. He’s a good guy. I got on very well with him. He said to me one day: ‘I’ve done every drug known to man… except petrol.’ I thought that was a brilliant remark. I didn’t know petrol was a drug.

Have you stayed in touch with him?

I have. I had lunch with him a few months ago before he went on his last tour. He’s a proper rock’n’roller. I didn’t see the tour but the Happy Mondays were brilliant. His music’s great.

Who have you learned the most from in your career?

When I did Art years ago, I worked with Barry Foster and Roger Lloyd-Pack and I learned a lot from both of them — just ways of approaching the part and watching how they worked on stage.

Why do you collect stuffed fish?

Victorian relic: Nigel has 18 stuffed fish

I was in an antiques shop and saw a beautifully stuffed fish in a bow-fronted case by a company called Cooper & Son. I enquired about it and was told they were the top stuffers of the late 19th century. Someone would catch a nice big trout and stuff it and put it in the games room. So I bought it and then bought more. They’re great relics of the late Victorian period. They’re hard to find. They’re great decorative items and I have quite a few. I know I sound mad but that’s what I do.

How many do you own?

Eighteen, and they’re all on display together, but I’m very picky — they’ve got to be good quality. There are a lot of fake ones around.

What lessons has your career taught you?

That the most important thing is to be honest. Life would be a lot easier if we were all truthful with each other. That’s my message to politicians — just be honest with us, we can take it. Wouldn’t it be great? Andrew Williams

Nigel Havers appears in Art on UK tour until June, arttheplay.com