Only Fools and Horses

‘Raquel’ star Tessa on Only Fools and Horses: We were so close – now we only meet at funerals

For a show that brought so much happiness to so many people for so many years, belonging to the cast of Only Fools And Horses has been a gloomy business just lately.

Tessa Peake-Jones, who played Del Boy’s girlfriend Raquel for 15 years, reveals sadly that she only seems to see her former colleagues at funerals.

First there was writer John Sullivan, who ԁıеԁ from pneumonia at the age of 64.

Then Roger Lloyd-Pack, who played dopey ­roadsweeper Trigger, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 69.

And in September Roy Heather, who played cafe owner Sid, ԁıеԁ at the age of 79.

Tessa, 57, says: “As a team we were all incredibly close. We were like a big family. But we have been to a lot of funerals recently and another one hits the dust with Roy.

“I was quite shocked about Roger because I didn’t realise he was ill. And John Sullivan was supposedly getting better.

“You think, ‘Oh God, you weren’t prepared for these.’

“John and Roger were only in their 60s so it’s a bit miserable. You don’t know what is around the corner, so now I live for every day.”

Tessa’s best memories of Roger Lloyd-Pack are how he regularly had her and other cast members in hysterics on set.

“His funeral was lovely,” she says. “God, he was so popular. We adored him. In rehearsals every time we came to his lines we would brace ourselves because we knew we would be in hysterics. He was fantastic. He was a very kind man too.

“When I first joined he was very understanding of me going, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never done TV with a live audience before’.

“He was very calm and explained how things worked and said, ‘Don’t worry – if you go wrong you just do it again. The audience quite like it when you laugh.’

Only Fools And Horses attracted ­audiences of 25 million at its peak and after seven series the main cast were all national treasures.

Even though the last new episode was filmed in 2003, David Jason (Del Boy) and Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney) are still recognised everywhere they go, making it hard to live a normal life.

David Jason & Tessa Peake

Tessa says: “I still get spotted because it’s repeated on UK Gold all the time. But I feel like if I put my glasses on I am less recognised when I get on the Tube.

“It’s a hard one because as actors we desperately want that success. You couldn’t have more approval from the nation than with something like Only Fools. But with that comes the slight boxing-in of who you are and what you are known for.

“I don’t see it as a drag – it hasn’t stopped me doing other work and I will be forever grateful that people enjoyed it so much. I’m proud of the show and I can’t see it as a bad thing.”

John Sullivan

In March, David and Nicholas reunited for a five-minute Only Fools sketch with David Beckham for BBC Sports Relief. But Tessa says she can’t imagine a full-scale revival of the show without John Sullivan to write the scripts.

“A reunion would be brilliant and if John had stayed alive we would have got back together. But it’s difficult now. He was the genius behind it. I don’t know who else would take it on.”

Last year Tessa separated from her partner Douglas Hodge, a distinguished stage and screen actor who made his own appearance in a “flash-forward” episode of Only Fools playing a grown-up version of her screen son Damien.

The couple had been together for 27 years but she says the split is “all amicable and fine”. The couple have a son Charlie, 14, and daughter Mollie, who is studying at university.

“I’m very proud of both of them,” says Tessa, currently starring in ITV’s detective drama Grantchester as housekeeper Mrs Maguire. She says roles like that for mature women are all too rare on British TV.

“The writers and producers, who are very young, aren’t interested in storylines for the 50s to 60s,” she explains. But if you look at who watches television, it’s mainly that age group. That’s the thing I get told most by the public, “We are not seeing stuff on the telly about us and our lives.”

Tessa has another bugbear about TV and film – actresses who wear full make-up for bedroom scenes.

“No one in real life goes to bed with lip gloss on and mascara – you don’t do it,” she says. “That drives me mental and it’s only actresses being obsessed with vanity. Why can’t they just be real?

She adds: “I think there are a lot of actresses and actors who are very worried about their looks. It’s never bothered me.”


However, she finds that the older she gets the worse her nerves about performing have become.

“I think in some ways there is more ­arrogance with youth. You think as you get older that surely it gets easier – but it doesn’t.” Having endured many highs and lows in showbusiness, Tessa has not encouraged her children to take up acting.

“The most important thing in my life are my children,” she says. “They won’t be following in my footsteps and I’m relieved.

“You have to have a thick skin because of the insecurity and the rejection. I asked them, ‘Are you able to be rejected many times?’ I wouldn’t want that for them.”

After those three unexpected funerals, Tessa knows where her priorities lie now.

“You have to make the most of your loved ones,” she says. “That’s the most important thing.”

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