‘I don’t like to dwell on the dark side’: Jane Horrocks on life on her own, family and first love, Ian Dury
Simon Hattenstone/ The Guardian:
ane Horrocks is a tiny woman surrounded by vastness. There is the vastness of her Regency flat, with its towering ceilings and huge, open spaces. And then there’s the far greater vastness of the Channel across the road. We are sitting in her belvedere on a freakishly hot winter’s day, taking in the sea. Horrocks is barely a speck on her own landscape. And this is how she likes it. “Any issues I have are minor compared with what you see there. It’s so elemental. What am I in all this? Tiny. My little issues are tiny.”
Horrocks is wearing black trousers, black boots and an orange velveteen sweatshirt perfectly coordinated with her hair. “It would be totally grey now if I left it,” she says. Horrocks is a girlish 58. In her 20s she was a girlish twentysomething. And on it went through the decades, though the reality was a little more complex. Now she’s at a new stage in life – living by herself in Brighton since May, after the 21-year relationship with the father of her two grownup children, the TV writer Nick Vivian, finished in 2017; after the recent end of a relationship with the actor Danny Webb; and after the death of her mother last year. From here, Horrocks has been looking back on her early adulthood, and the result is a Radio 4 drama about her combustible relationship with the singer-songwriter, actor and maverick extraordinaire Ian Dury. In 1986, she and Dury were cast in Road, Jim Cartwright’s then new (now classic) play about life in a northern community eviscerated by Thatcherite politics. Horrocks was 23 and just starting out. Dury was 44, had enjoyed belated success as a pop star with hits such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and What a Waste, and was re-inventing himself as an actor. Horrocks was an innocent, Dury was notoriously scary. “It was my first real relationship,” she says. And your first love? “Yes.”
Horrocks offers me a cup of tea. “I’ve not got ordinary milk, just almond milk. Is that too hideous?” That’s fine, I say. She heads off to the fridge. “ Do you mind if I eat a little bit of my shepherd’s pie?” she asks ever so politely. She’s starving after an early morning swim in the sea. She pauses. “But then I’m not offering you any shepherd’s pie,” she says anxiously. “I’ve only got one piece left. D’you want some hummus?”
No thanks, I say.
Her relationship with Dury lasted a tumultuous year; their friendship until he died in 2000. Horrocks says she had remembered the relationship as “toxic”. At times she was petrified of Dury (he broke down her glass door with the back of his head), at others she felt rubbished (he told her that she was empty). When she was moving house in 2020, she came across his old letters in the loft. She was astonished by the tone, which gave her a new insight into their relationship. Sure, there was the callousness, but there was also a profound, romantic love. She began to realise how much he had adored her. The letters reveal so much about Dury – by turns poetic, vulgar, bullying, impassioned and funny. They are as playful as they are soulful, as terrifying as they are tender.She decided she wanted to do something with them. Horrocks has kept a diary throughout her life. So she went back to her entries from 1986 and 1987 and synchronised the dates with his letters. The result is Love Pants, a moving exploration of their dysfunctional relationship, with Horrocks playing herself and the actor Jud Charlton a convincing Dury. She admits she’s not sure how to refer to Love Pants. “I see it as a little art piece,” she says, before coming to a self-conscious stop. “Is that wanky? OK. What it is then is a little reflection. Is that less wanky?” She smiles.
Why did Horrocks, who is famously private, want to make public something so personal? “I kept asking myself the same question. And I thought, actually they’re really beautiful letters. We know a lot about Ian’s tempestuous side, and I thought this also depicted a lovely soft side of Ian that maybe not many people were aware of. I thought it was a shame that nobody else could see them.” But Horrocks is also looking back on her own life as much as his, trying to make sense of the woman who went on to become a successful actor and the person she is now. Her diary entries take us from first meeting Dury on set (“He’s lovely with lovely eyes’’) in December 1986 to him declaring his love in February (“He said he wants to take me out for a meal on my own. Dodgy!”), their first snog in March (“We ended up kissing for about three hours. Lovely!”) He calls her Janey Buttercups, tells her he wishes “my head was on your busters” and they enjoy more kissing sessions. But, by late March he has already shown his aggressive side, reducing a friend of hers to tears (“I got so upset I slapped his face”). After he smashes down the door with his head, she writes: “I was really scared and ran upstairs, went to bed, and said a long prayer.” A few days later, they are talking about having children. She writes: “Realised how much I liked being in Ian’s company. He’s so entertaining and exciting.” While Dury is wholly uninhibited, Horrocks can come across as prudish and self-absorbed. After entering a rehearsal room that stank of dope, she writes: “Thought about my career and how I want to get on with it and not be wasted with Ian. Feel he might hold me down.”
When apologising for being possessive and trying to convince her that things could work out despite their differences, he writes: “Sexual jealousy is not in my nature, spiritual jealousy is what stirs my guts up. You enjoy me being a loony as much as I enjoy your airs and graces.”
Was that fair? “I did have airs and graces,” she says. Where did they come from? “My family. It was very lower middle class, the world I grew up in. My family did have a few airs and graces.” In what way? “It was an aspirational thing. My mum would go to fancy cooking classes. The circle they mixed in was aspirational.”