Wild at Heart star Stephen Tompkinson returns as DCI Banks in dark and gritty new series

VET, priest, cop... Stephen Tompkinson seems to be a TV favourite whoever he plays.

Now he is out to turn DCI Banks into a screen detective as ­ ­popular as Morse, Frost or Wexford.

Stephen, 45, has been enjoying ­success in Wild at Heart playing an ­animal doc in ­sunny South Africa.

It is a far cry from the gritty police role in a British city – but despite the change of scenery and climate he could hardly be happier.

Stephen Tompkinson

Wild: With co-star Dawn Steele

Stephen said of DCI Banks: “This is very dark and a great contrast to Wild at Heart. It felt like the right time to do ­something more serious.

“Having been associated with ­giraffes for the last five years it’s quite nice to do something darker.

“I suppose any actor looks forward to variety in their roles. Variety is the spice of life and I’m spoilt rotten as an actor really.”

Raincoat

Stephen has certainly rung the changes in his career.

After emerging into the limelight as a reporter on Channel 4 sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey in the 1990s, he was a hit as a builder in ITV drama Grafters, co-starring Robson Green.

His fame soared as he played an English priest posted to Ireland in BBC1’s Ballykissangel.

Stephen Tompkinson

Grafters: Stephen and Robson Green in 1998

And as Danny Trevanion in ITV1’s Wild at Heart, Stephen has been ­giving the nation a feelgood fix on Sunday nights with happy endings set against a glorious African backdrop of clear blue skies.

A year ago when the star ­first appeared as DCI Banks in a two-part drama on ITV, the show won seven million viewers, beating BBC1’s Spooks in the ratings battle – and proving Stephen is one of the most ­popular leading men in Britain.

He is clearly relishing playing ­detective Alan Banks. Stephen said of the character: “He takes everything ­personally.

“Banks is the sort of cop you’d want on your side because he will ­never ever let ­anything go.

“He’s no supercop and he’s not interested in ­opera or ­anything like that.” Instead he is more like Stephen’s TV detective hero Columbo, dogged and dour in a crumpled ­raincoat. He said of the US lawman, played by Peter Falk: “I absolutely loved him. I loved his ordinariness. Banks is a bit like that.”

Stephen Tompkinson

Let's get serious: Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks in new series

Stephen has had more than enough drama in life – with a drink problem, two failed ­marriages and a doomed relationship with his Ballykissangel co-star Dervla Kirwan, 39.

He said: “I gave up drink about five years ago. You are never quite sure what you are doing when you are ­really drunk and I think I’m too much in control to really like that. Plus you need the energy for working.”

Stephen, who faced up to his booze ­problem after the sudden death of his mother, does not even have a sip of wine with a meal. He explained: “I’ve got an addictive personality so I know if I had one drink it would lead to ­another. It’s why I’ve never tried heroin. I understand it’s very moreish, as Harry Hill might say.”

The public are ­hooked on seeing Stephen on screen, judging by the huge success last September of DCI Banks: Aftermath.

If you meet Stephen you feel like you’ve known him for years.

There is something very familiar about the six footer, who is the son of a Yorkshire bank manager.

He told The People: “I would say I do have that Everyman quality.

“My parents taught me to be grounded and respectful to people, to take anyone from any walk of life on the merits you meet them with. It must come over in my acting.”

He comes over as calm, well ­mannered and sensible. His 10-year-old daughter Daisy from his marriage to publicist Nicci Taylor helps keep him grounded. He said: “You shift your priorities as you get older and become a dad. When I was in my twenties I used to spend all my time chasing my tail, expending useless energy, ­worrying about stuff I didn’t need to. I’m much less stressed now.”

He split from Nicci five years ago and is happily in love with Foreign Office diplomat Elaine Young.

Trek

For Daisy’s sake, though, she has to be his No1 girl. Throughout our chat he mentions his daughter ­frequently. He is clearly incredibly proud of her and his face lights up as he talks about the teenager.

“The worst thing that could happen to me is I would be parted from her,” said Stephen.

“I see her all the time when I’m here and when I go to South Africa to film Wild at Heart. She comes out at school ­holidays and we’re on Skype all the time. She taught me how to use it because to be honest things like that are like Star Trek to me.”

Stephen split from his first wife Celia Anastasia, a radio producer, and went on to have a high-profile ­engagement with his co-star Dervla Kirwan for two years.

He met Elaine in a bar in Glasgow. “It was very random,” he explained.

“I was up there touring in Charley’s Aunt and she was up visiting her family.

“I walked into this bar one night and saw her. It was pretty instant.

“I think it was meant to be. I mean, what are the chances of the two of us being in that place then?” Elaine also ­visits him in South Africa and ­fortunately gets on great with Daisy.

Stephen Tompkinson

Love: Stephen and his Elaine at a bash in London

Stephen smiled as he revealed: “Yes, they get on really well, which I’m pleased about. The three of us have a lovely relationship.”

So all in all, with two very different but successful TV dramas on the go, a loving relationship and being a dad, Stephen is very ­happy. “I am,” he admitted.

But there is no sign of smugness or complacency about the successful star. He said: “I just ­remember what my parents taught me, ‘Keep a level head’.”

DCI Banks, which has started a six-episode run is set in the criminal underbelly of Leeds. The murky tales of murder and violence are based on top-selling Peter Robinson books.

It is a world of gangs, drug dealers and pathological individuals. “Great,” Stephen said with a laugh.

Born on Teesside and brought up in Lytham St Annes, Lancs, Stephen added: “Plus we’ve been ­filming in Leeds. I love that city.”

TV cops often seem to be drinking just to get drunk.

Stephen said: “Well you wouldn’t find me like that, not these days anyway.

“I used to drink. I couldn’t imagine life ­without it. Not any more.

“Banks carries around this quote by the poet John Donne. It says, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.’ It sort of sums him up really.”

features@people.co.uk

DCI Banks, ITV1, Fridays, 9pm

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