‘This Is England’ star Thomas Turgoose: “I was a little shit when I was a kid – but now I’m a man”

Grimsby's finest was a troubled teen before he became famous, later hitting the booze big time. He details his long road to marriage, fatherhood and domestic bliss

In four months, Thomas Turgoose will become a father for the first time. After 12 years together, he and his wife Charlotte are expecting a baby in September. There’s just one thing – people need to stop saying: “Aww, you’re having a lockdown baby.” It’s ticking the actor right off. They had already been planning to start a family for a long time. “I don’t want my baby to be a reminder of the worst year we’ve ever had,” he says, publicly correcting the record. “So let’s put that behind us.”

Turgoose’s impending fatherhood might be hard for you to fathom, given the image of him you’re likely to have in your head: a baby-faced child who looked like he’d just shoplifted a bag of Quavers. The now-29-year-old actor is synonymous with This Is England, the Shane Meadows film in which he starred as skinhead Shaun Fields when he was 14. His transition to adulthood played out in the public eye – an experience that came with real challenges, as it does for many young actors. Now 29, he thought that it was “about time” he and Charlotte “created new life”.

“It’s about time I created new life”

“It’s gonna change me as a person, and it’s gonna change the roles that I wanna take on and how I play those roles,” he says over Zoom, his gingery hair cut super-short at the sides – looking less like a film star than perhaps any other film star on Earth. He says that every part he plays changes his life “because I like to get invested in what I’m doing and I appreciate the opportunities that I’ve been given so much, and it really helps me grow into hopefully a better man – which takes me onto this; I mean this was really life-changing, this job…” Oh, right, off we go.

Turgoose is in promo mode for Intergalactic, Sky’s new sci-fi show in which he plays a guard on GCC Hemlock, a prison spacecraft commandeered by female inmates. Filming the series seems to have been life-changing mainly because it was the longest shoot he has ever been part of (seven months), and because the scale of the production made him feel like a Hollywood heavyweight.

Thomas Turgoose
CREDIT: Sky

Turgoose’s character is Drew Buchanan. He is routinely insulted and threatened by the prisoners, who demand that he carry out their every whim. The writing isn’t quite as good here as it is in This Is England and the subsequent TV iterations, This Is England ’86, ’88 and ’90. But Turgoose is excited about Intergalactic and clearly enjoyed shooting, so conversation quickly turns to what he ate during the filming and how he bonded with his co-stars, who now share a WhatsApp group: “We’re all just pinging away all the time.”

Staying in Manchester, he would be joined by his family and friends most weekends during the shoot. (If there is a second series he says he will be tempted to move there because he loves the city so much.) Almost every evening he joined co-star Oliver Coopersmith in his hotel room to play FIFA. They play on a mode called Pro Clubs and became “very very good”, he says, glowing with pride. They also spent thousands on Nandos and Wagamama orders.

When the production decamped to the Gorafe Desert in Spain, the team stayed in a tiny town. One morning after they had had a lot to drink, Turgoose and Coopersmith were craving some McDonalds and travelled for nearly two hours to nearby city Almeria in order to get it. “I’m one of them that whenever I go on holiday I always do everything that I would do at home anyway,” he says. “Sometimes you just need chicken nuggets.”

This Is England
Thomas Turgoose in 2006 drama ‘This Is England’. CREDIT: Alamy

Home for Turgoose has always been Grimsby. One of the many endearing things about the actor, who comes across extremely well, is that his outlook and his location seem unchanged by fame. Since filming for Intergalactic finished in March 2020, he has spent a great deal of time at home – something about which Charlotte, a nursery nurse, has been extremely patient, he says. What has lockdown been like for him, given how difficult the pandemic has been for the performing industries? “I guess as actors we’re OK on our own,” he says. “We spend a lot of time out of work anyway. It’s almost like we’ve been training for this.”

At the beginning, he and Charlotte did all the things they had always said they should do: painted their fence; planted more in the garden; Turgoose became obsessed with cutting their grass to within an inch of its life. In general, the pandemic has been a chance for him to catch up: to drink less, get fitter, and reflect on how lucky he is. On the couple’s New Year’s Eve wedding anniversary in 2020, Charlotte bought them a “big noggin of fillet steak” and made beef wellington. They looked through their wedding photos and reminisced. “We was asleep before the countdown,” he says. “We got woken up by the fireworks. I never thought that I’d do that.” It’s an example of a way that marriage changed him “overnight”. When the pair tied the knot in 2019, he says that suddenly he wasn’t interested in going out drinking for two or three days at a time.

“I wasn’t hanging around the wrong people, I was one of the wrong people”

The pair have known each other since they were 15, having grown up together in Grimsby. Without her, he says, he would be “buggered”. Back then, Charlotte was the only girl who drove. She made him laugh. She would text him to ask if he wanted to go for a McFlurry and would pick him up from his dad’s house (Turgoose’s parents split up soon after he was born and his mum died of cancer when he was 15). “And then we’d sit in the car, just me and her, just talking for hours. And before we knew it, it was like one o’clock in the morning.” Then they would go to bed in their separate houses. “It just sort of happened, really. We were just really, really good mates that just fell in love.”

Turgoose has talked before about being wayward as a youngster. When I ask if he was bullied at school, he says no – because he was never there. In fact, he says, he would have stood up to “the hardest kid in the town” if he saw him picking on someone because of their sexuality or the colour of their skin. “I would 100% have my head kicked in to try and defend them,” he says.

Intergalactic
Thomas Turgoose in new Sky sci-fi series ‘Intergalactic’. CREDIT: Sky

But what was going on with him? Why did he get into so much trouble? There was nothing for kids to do where he lived in Grimsby, he says, and he needed a structure that he thinks his mum, who had three other sons, was unable to provide. This gave him something of a free pass. He has learned that he took advantage of a lot of people when he was young. He smashed windows and stole cars on a rough estate he says he still loves. “I craved attention when I was a kid,” he says. “I guess trouble was the only way that I thought that I could get that. I don’t wanna say that I was hanging around with the wrong people because that wasn’t the case; I maybe was one of the wrong people.”

He was lucky, he says, that Shane Meadows walked in and gave him the opportunity to get “attention in a different way”. He backtracks a little: “But that doesn’t mean that I got my life given to me. I got given the opportunity but I worked my arse off.” After he turned 18, however, he realised that being kept busy and away from home by the industry throughout his teens had meant he missed out on some valuable partying. He made a pact that he would enjoy himself. He became a weekend millionaire, keen to enjoy time off like his mates, who were in more conventional jobs such as plumbing. “I wanted a bit of that; I wanted a bit of excitement on the weekend.” Suddenly he could drink, and he did a lot of it – something he barely does now. “Every kid needs a real group of friends. Every kid needs to do the stupid shit that kids do.”

“Stephen Graham has taught me so much”

This isn’t to say that Turgoose doesn’t make friends while filming. One of his qualities is the extent to which he becomes friends with his co-stars. It is the most important thing to him. “I spent a lot more time with these people than I did with my own family and my friends,” he says of the Intergalactic experience. “These people become the people that you rely on, whether it be for a chat or a pint of beer  or when you’re struggling. These people are the only people you’ve got to fall back on.” Normally, he says, you mean it when you say that you intend to stay in touch with your fellow actors after you’ve finished filming. On Intergalactic, he says, he does feel as though he made friends for life.

This was all the more true on This Is England, which was obviously Turgoose’s introduction to the notion of a film crew. He and his co-stars are more than just pals, he says. In fact, he has the names of around ten of the cast tattooed on his arse – not something many actors are able to say (though cast mate Joe Gilgun did something similar). Stephen Graham, who played the racist character Combo before going on to star in a list of major movies, was the first person Turgoose rang when he knew he was going to be a father. “Stephen’s family to me,” he says. “Stephen has taught me how to be a man in every sense. He’s taught me so much about being on set. He’s taught me how to be with my wife. He’s taught me how to be with my family. He’s taught me how to be with my friends.”

Thomas Turgoose
Turgoose and ‘This Is England’ co-star Stephen Graham. CREDIT: Press

With normality now looming nearer on the horizon, Turgoose is looking forward to being able to hike in the Peak District; to playing golf, which has now surpassed grass as his latest obsession; and to returning to DJing at festivals. Most of all, he’s looking forward to working, and in June he is (hopefully) making a film called Magpie about a religious cult, starring Max Harwood of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie fame. He has learned to be patient over the years, he says. “I wanna work and I wanna show my mum that, OK, I was a little shit when I was a kid – but now I’m a man and I work hard and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.”

‘Intergalactic’ is available now on Sky One and NOW