Sixty Seconds: Stephen Mangan on getting to know his neighbours during lockdown and raising funds for the National Brain Appeal

Stephen Mangan

The actor, 52, opens up about how lockdown has changed him, loving the anonymity of a face mask and why The National Brain Appeal has a special place in his heart.

How has lockdown been?

The biggest thing has been the kids going back to school, thank goodness! I’m not sure I could handle any more home schooling and I’m not sure the kids could, either.

When lockdown started there was a novelty to it, the whole world was going through this really peculiar first-time-ever phenomenon, and now months later we’re all wondering, ‘Is this it?’, ‘Is this the way we live?’, ‘Is this going to be it from now on?’

The whole world is suffering and a lot of industries are struggling but the acting profession and all people who work in live performances are all really struggling and it’s heartbreaking as it’s such a huge part of our national identity.

Our artistic output is admired around the world, and everyone in our business is used to ducking and diving, but it’s at a horrible point at the moment. I really feel for people who rely solely on opera, dance and music – it’s a tough, tough time.

Did you duck and dive in your early days?

I had this weird double career because I decided I only wanted to do theatre and it was still quite hard to dovetail the start of one job with another so I had enough time free for a dual career, doing foreign commercials.

So I would be doing Shakespeare in Birmingham and then I’d jump on a plane and fly to Estonia to do a chewing gum advert.

In Europe, the advertising guys usually had a beautiful woman and a ‘characterful’ man who could be funny so that’s how I made extra money.

Has lockdown changed you?

We’ve all learned how to live in a different way and to plan ahead. At home, the five of us have become more of a unit. We have dinner together every night, which we didn’t always manage before. We’re even good for toilet roll, thank you!

Meanwhile, the children are desperate for a puppy but with three boys I don’t need another element of chaos thrown into the mix.

One of Grayson Perry’s artworks will be up for sale as a part of the National Brain Appeal (Picture: Karwai Tang/Getty Images)

Once again, you’re backing the National Brain Appeal…

It’s a unique art exhibition that can viewed online from 11am today. There’s a load of incredible artists and celebrities who have all done unique artwork, which can be purchased for just £85, which is an incredible bargain.

One of them is a Grayson Perry, then there’s Chantal Joffe, designer Zandra Rhodes, actors Kevin Eldon and Phyllida Law, and my neighbour presenter Andrew Marr has also done something this year.

Like a lot of charities at the moment, the National Brain Appeal’s taken a hit, but my God, when the chips are down, the National Brain Hospital is a lifesaver.

This sounds personally important to you…

It is. I lost my dad to a brain tumour and last year my cousin-in-law Paul, who was only 44.

People who are shielding loved ones who are sick right now need the support of this incredible service more than ever. I watched the impact of a brain tumour on my dad and I watched how he lost who he was.

So hats off to these incredible people who research, care for the sick and help their families.

I have a profile for being on the TV playing adulterers and occasionally doctors, and I can’t go to a lab and work out how to cure Parkinson’s, but I can ask people to donate to the clever people who do – and it’s a relief to be able to do something to help.

Andrew Marr, who suffered from a stroke in 2013, is also involved with the National Brain Appeal (Picture: Ollie Millington/Getty Images)

Did you ask Andrew Marr to get involved yourself?

No, I wasn’t buttonholing Andrew Marr over the fence while I was asking to borrow a cup of sugar. Having said that, it was nice to be able to lock eyeballs with various neighbours as we stood outside our terrace to clap for the NHS.

I got to know many of our neighbours better. I got to meet the sons and daughters who were visiting elderly neighbours too, and the whole thing gives me optimism for humankind because people are fundamentally good and kind and want to look after each other.

Normally we’re too busy running around to show that side of human nature.

Presumably you don’t get recognised when you’re in a mask…

That’s the upside. If you want to be a bit private and you feel a bit shy one day, you wear your mask and nobody recognises you. Let’s face it, if you wandered around with a big mask on a year ago, you’d probably have been arrested!

The National Brain Appeal’s A Letter In Mind: Everyday Things starts at 11am tomorrow at the charity’s online gallery. People can preview the artworks online from 11am today. All sales of artworks will be via the charity’s online gallery.

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