Alan Steele will be performing as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest this month at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. Mark Brown sat down with the actor to hear the 10 things that changed his life...

A turbulent childhood in Renfrew

My childhood created a massive insecurity in me. I was with my grandmother one minute, then with my mum, then I was fostered out.

I’ve got five siblings, but, from my teens forward, I didn’t see them or have contact with them for 25 years. That wasn’t through any fault of theirs or mine, it was just because of the way things went with the family.

Being raised by my grandmother

Much of my childhood was spent with my grandmother in Renfrew. Although I was shunted about a lot, my early teens were spent with my grandmother.

If there is any humour within me, I got it from her. She was a severe woman, I got away with nothing, but she was also extremely funny.

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It was almost like Scottish variety theatre humour. My earliest experiences of theatre were going to see people like Stanley Baxter and Rikki Fulton.

Reconnecting with my sister

A few years back, through the power of technology, my sister, Angela, got in touch. That broke open the floodgates. It was really a life-changing moment for me.

Discovering my gay identity

Discovering my sexuality was an important thing for me, as it is for everyone. I found my tribe, and started going to Bennett’s [gay club in Glasgow] on a Tuesday night. That was incredible for me.

The influence of music in my teens

MUSIC gave me such a sense of identity. I know Morrissey’s far-right politics are dreadful now, but putting on The Smiths’ first album was like, “oh my god. I’ve found my music!”

Morrissey’s androgyny was really important, and the lyrics were great. When I was at high school I’d get, “whit de ye like David Bowie fur? He’s a poof!”

Preparing to turn 60

I’m reaching the big Six O at Christmas. You reach a stage where you think: “It’s time to stop pleasing people, trying to fit in and do the right thing.” I don’t mean floating about being an idiot, but you realise you have one life and you have to live it. I’m very much at that stage just now.

Being a performer from childhood

Even as a wean, I had within me the desire to perform. I was such a pain in the arse. I used to do Bible stories, with a tea towel on my head with tie wrapped round it.

I’d be Moses parting the Red Sea. My granny would just sit there confused and bewildered with a slight smile on her face.

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I started off as an actor at the Ramshorn Theatre with Strathclyde Theatre Group. The first thing I ever did on stage was Edward Bond’s Passion Play. I played the Prime Minister, and I played it as Margaret Thatcher. Thereby hangs a tale!

Acting training in Glasgow

In the 1990s I did the acting course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) as it was (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). It was a revelation in many ways.

When I arrived at the Academy, I was too busy in my body mannerisms, I didn’t know how to modulate my voice. I was also trying to shake off camp mannerisms.

There’s nothing wrong with being camp, and everyone’s got the right to be exactly who they are. I just think, if you limit yourself to just one thing as an actor, that’s what you’ll become.

I learned a lot from people like [Conservatoire teacher] Eve Jamieson, who directed me in The Seagull [by Chekhov]. She also directed me in [Michael Frayn’s] Noises Off, which was life changing.

She was fantastic. She was the one who taught me that you can do one hand gesture and hold it, you don’t have to do loads.

In my year at the Academy there were some cracking actors, like Martin Docherty, who’s rehearsing [Eilidh Loan’s] Moorcroft at the Tron [in Glasgow] just now, and Andy Clark.

Being a working-class actor

You look at a lot young, male actors in particular, these days – your Benedict Cumberbatches and Eddie Redmaynes – and you’re like, “aye, you’re going to be fine, you had the money.” It’s so important to have working-class voices.

I remember years ago doing a deadly production of [Shakespeare’s] Twelfth Night. There were these rather posh and lovely young actors, then there were people like me and [Scottish actor and, later, theatre director Alasdair McCrone] playing it in Scottish, working-class accents.

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At the end of one performance we had a chat back with the audience. One audience member said [of the “posh” actors], “it’s so lovely to see Shakespeare done properly, with English accents.” I swear to god, it was as if somebody had put a firecracker up my arse. One of my fellow actors literally had his hand on my arm, holding me back.

Performing with Bard in the Botanics

What Communicado theatre company did, in terms of performing European classics in Scottish accents, ties in very much with what we’re doing at Bard in the Botanics [the summer mini-festival of Shakespeare and other classics at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow].

We’re doing The Importance of Being Earnest [by Oscar Wilde] just now, and I’m the closest thing to RP [“received pronunciation” / “proper English”] in it, so that gives you some idea of how we’re approaching it. We’ve got Australian, Glaswegian and Irish accents.

I’m grateful for my years with Bard. It’s given me the opportunity to play characters like Malvolio [in Twelfth Night], Prospero [in The Tempest] and Falstaff [in Henry IV]. When I work with a company, I tend to work with them quite a lot.

That happened with Mull Theatre and with Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and it has happened again with Bard. You learn with every job you do and every company you work with.

Alan Steele is playing the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow until July 29. You can find tickets here.