Eight in the morning in Hampstead, London, N.W.3, isn’t the most enchanting hour. Newsvendors yawn. Flowergirl shivers.
Not a sparrow nor a taxi in sight. So I am not in the mood for hailing the smiling morn… I mean, I’m all for mornings. And working through them. But right now it’s hardly light.
Still, finding Hugh Manning at the door of his six-room bachelor flat with a cup of coffee is reassuring. Hugh is an early morning man. It’s the best time to talk to him about Mrs. Thursday and the role of Richard Hunter, the lady’s financial adviser which he plays in the series. In a royal blue dressing gown he looks like a man who has been up for some time. “And I have,” he says, running a hand through his hair and slightly ruffling its well-ordered appearance, “since before 7.30, in fact!”
Now this morning I can make the same claim. But for Hugh, it’s the same each day. Up by 7.30 a.m. Doesn’t matter how late he retired. He’s up. Has a sluice. And ambles down for a cup of strong tea, without sugar.
Here, in this lofty-ceiling, airy kitchen, Hugh sits looking rather like a character out of a Noel Coward stage production.
A bath. Then breakfast, which is usually sketchy. “Sometimes just bread and cheese,” he says. “But of course, we’re talking about mornings when I’m not out and playing tennis.”
That’s a relief, anyway. Interviews I can manage at this time of the morning. Tennis is another thing altogether. But regularly Hugh abandons all but his tea and scoots off to a local tennis club (which he co-founded some years ago). After an energetic set or two, he might breakfast frugally on an egg.
At 9.45, he’s off to the television studio. Between breakfast and then, he attends to the “little jobs a wife might do, if I had a wife.” Like laundry and shopping. Hugh relishes shopping. But he doesn’t clean. A cleaner does that for him.
The lounge is comfortable, warm, yet dignified. Lined with books, on subjects from anthropology to Mrs. Beaton’s Book on Cooking and Household Management. “I do a great deal of reading,” he says, lighting his first cigar of three he smokes every day. “And I like to listen to good music, too.”
He cooks with abounding enthusiasm. But ignores recipes. Pours in what he thinks is right. Tastes as he goes along. And delights in experimenting with sweet and sour contrasts, like sugar and yoghourt. “You could say my cooking speciality is Chicken Marengo,” he says. “But don’t ask me what goes in — it varies every time! I have a great liking for Indonesian food, too. It combines the subtleties of Chinese cooking with the power of Indian.”
Hugh dines out three times a week normally. Usually in a “rather splendid Indian place down the road.” A great curry man. But doesn’t make them himself.
“Can’t master the technique,” he says, furrowing a brow. “And I’d rather go out and get the real thing than make do with a pale imitation.”
He lives alone. But is never lonely. Has a wide circle of friends. Didn’t marry because “I was in love with a girl at 18, it all fell through and that was it as far as I was concerned.”
Once trained as a chartered accountant, gave it up because, typically, “I didn’t like it.” Started acting, aged six “and stopped the show by waving and shouting to my parents in mid-poem.” Now an urbane 47, a contented 14 stone, and “thoroughly enjoying life” in Mrs. Thursday. A series which means him getting, for the first time in his career, fan mail.
“Mostly from elderly ladies,” he says, just a teeny bit embarrassed. “And mostly charming. Mind, I did have one letter from a six-year-old boy who said he thought my face lit up like a headlamp!”
Tries to answer all his fan mail. Personally. Hugh wouldn’t want it any other way.
Finances. Does he care for his own cash with the same polished precision as Richard Hunter shows for Mrs. Thursday’s windfall? “Oh no,” he says. “I have an accountant; never worry about money myself. Never have an inkling how much I’ve got in my pocket. If I have a lot I spend it. I’m dreadfully extravagant. I don’t think money is worth worrying about.”
Which is just the sort of answer I expect from Hugh Manning, a gentleman to his fingertips, and a most interesting early morning companion. It’s not nearly so grey outside now. And what’s this? A taxi lurking right outside. I’ll wager Hugh even organised that.