Headshot of Stephen McGann Credit: Getty Images

Stephen McGann: “I’ll be watching Call the Midwife on Christmas Day”

The Call the Midwife actor knows exactly how he will be spending this Christmas…

Stephen McGann on his love of babies, having three famous brothers and how he nearly lost his wife Heidi Thomas, creator and writer of Call the Midwife, in which he has starred for the past 12 years.

Advertisement

What are your memories of Christmas, growing up with your four siblings?

Getting up on Christmas Day was magical. All four McGann brothers – me, Paul, Mark and Joe – were in two bunk beds sharing one tiny room, and my sister Clare was in another room in a small, terraced house in Liverpool.

My dad, who worked at a copper factory, and mum, who was a teacher, always managed to make Christmas wonderful. It’s a special day and that’s something I’ve imparted to my own son Dominic, 26.

How will you be spending Christmas this year?

The same way I always do: watching the Call the Midwife Christmas Special with the writer and executive producer, who happens to be my wife, Heidi.

Her family will join us and my son along with his Canadian fiancée Kim, who he met at Oxford University where he is finishing his PhD in religious philosophy.

Heidi cooks a lovely Christmas dinner, and we will all sit down to watch the telly with our party hats on. For me and Heidi, our stomachs are churning because it’s a bit of a workday for us.

The 13th series of Call the Midwife is set in 1969. What were you doing then?

I was a sickly six-year-old who spent a lot of time in hospital with various ear, nose and throat problems and pneumonia. But after the hurly-burly of my life as one of five, at least I got to have a rest and a lie-in when I was in hospital!

Your three brothers are all actors too. How often do you get together?

Not as much as we’d like to because we live in different parts of the country. I’m near Cambridge, Joe is in Liverpool, Paul is in Bristol and Mark’s in Somerset. Clare, who is a government lawyer, is in London. But we have such a laugh when we do.

Advertisement

Heidi has been writing your part as Dr Patrick Turner for the past 12 years. Do you get any special treatment or a peek at the scripts?

No. I never see the scripts before any of the other actors. When it arrives she starts to get nervous. I like to go and read it in the bedroom. I hear her sneaking around outside to hear if I’m laughing and if I do she’ll come in and ask which bit I’m laughing at.

There are times when I come out with tears rolling down my face after an emotional episode. I look at her and say, ‘How could you?’ and she’ll just say, ‘Yes!’

But she did once write one of your secret skills – origami – into a script?

Yes, my speciality is the origami frog, which was demonstrated by Dr Turner in series two.

How did you two meet?

It was 1986 and I’d been sent from London to Liverpool to audition for a play called Shamrocks and Crocodiles that Heidi wrote. The script was beautiful.

In my mind’s eye I’d conjured her up as this prematurely grey, wise woman in her forties. When I walked into the theatre there was this pretty girl who looked about 17 and talked very fast. She was actually in her early twenties.

When I left, I said to myself, ‘I think I’ve just met the woman of my dreams’.

It was love at first sight, but at the time we both had partners. It took years for us to get our act together.

You’ve been married 33 years. Is there a secret for a long-lasting marriage?

Don’t let there be a part of you that you hold back. Share everything. Heidi and I have never been closer.

We love the bones of each other. It gets better every year. My marriage to that lady is fantastic. I’ve never loved her so much.

What is the most painful life-changing moment you have experienced?

When Heidi was suddenly struck down with a constricted bowel and advanced sepsis, fighting for her life.

The love of my life was nearly taken away and like Scrooge watching Marley’s ghost I was shown an alternative world. I walked the walk of a potential widower with a young child and then she came back to me. And I am forever grateful for that.

During her recovery, two nurses came to carry her out of bed. She was so weak she was crying, and they were washing her, telling her how beautiful she looked.

She said, ‘I was at my lowest ebb and these two young women gave me my dignity back. I can never ever repay them or the NHS for caring and bringing me back into the world.’

In a spiritual sense, that’s when Call the Midwife was born. The NHS saved my life as a child, and Heidi’s life. It is personal to me.

You come from a large family. Did you decide not to risk trying for another baby to add to your family?

No, we literally couldn’t have any more children. It took us a while to have Dominic. When we got married, we tried for a baby.

We left it a while and couldn’t conceive. We discovered there was a gynecological problem caused by endometriosis and Heidi was operated on, which left us with a six-month window of fertility; that’s all we had before the situation recurred again. We were lucky to have Dominic.

Tragically it was the scar tissue from that surgery that caused Heidi the problem later on with the bowel. But we are so grateful for our son when you consider the window we had.

He’s an only child, I was from a family of five. And if I’m really honest, I look at him sometimes and think it would be really cool to be an only child. We once said to him, ‘Dominic, we are sorry we couldn’t give you any brothers or sisters’. And he said, ‘What do you mean? Why do you want any more kids?’ He thought we were perfectly blessed with him – and we are.

How many babies has Dr Turner delivered during the 12 series of Call the Midwife?

It must be hundreds. The eldest baby will be a teenager now!

I used to be one of those blokes who thought picking up a baby was a bit like handling an unexploded bomb. But the minute I had my own the bonding was there.

Now I just adore babies. Can you tell this man would love to be a grandfather?

Hopefully that will happen one day. Dominic is getting married next year, and both Heidi and I are so excited.

Call the Midwife Christmas Special is on BBC One and iPlayer on Christmas Day.

Advertisement

Written by Pam Francis

Updated: