Derek Thompson — things you didn't know about the Casualty star

Derek Thompson as Charlie Fairhead in Casualty sitting on a hospital bed and smiling
Derek Thompson has played Charlie Fairhead for almost four decades. (Image credit: BBC)

Actor Derek Thompson is Casualty's longest-serving, and only original cast member, having been with the medical soap since its start in 1986.

But after a very eventful four decades of playing Nurse Charlie Whitehead, 75-year-old Derek has decided to hang up his character's scrubs and will bow out of the show next year. 

Described by the BBC as the “linchpin of the hospital’s emergency department”, Nurse Fairhead has been at the centre of countless major storylines. 

He's been run over by an ambulance on his wedding day, shot in the chest by a schizophrenic man and suffered a cardiac arrest during a gang siege. 

There's not much Casualty fans don't know about Charlie, but what about the man who plays him? Here are a few fun facts about Derek Thompson...

Derek Thompson was saved by a nurse at birth

Derek Thompson was born on April 4, 1948 and his dramatic arrival sounds like a scene straight out of Casualty.

In a chat with The Mirror the actor revealed: “I was what they called ‘a blue baby’. I wasn’t breathing when I was born but a big Aussie nurse — whose name I have never been able to find out — picked me up, threw me around and knocked the gunk out of my lungs.”

Growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Derek was blighted by bad heath as a young boy and developed a phobia of needles. He's since overcome his fear and credits working on the BBC medical drama for helping cure him.

He sang professionally with his twin sister

Derek isn't the only performer in his family. In fact, he and his twin sister Elaine, who's ten minutes younger than him, worked as a singing duo. 

Derek and Elaine, who were both pupils at Belfast Modern School first started singing together at six years old and performed at numerous socials, parties and charity concerts.

Then at 13, fame came calling when the twins were discovered by promotor Phil Raymond and booked to appear at the Belfast Opera House. 

Recording manager Norman Newell flew Derek and Elaine to London, where they recorded their album, which was released with Parlaphone Records in 1961.

After achieving success as a duo, Derek and Elaine went on to form the folk trio Odin's People with new member Larry Johns, and recorded a couple of singles together.

Derek Thompson filming behind the scenes at Casualty

Derek has enjoyed filming at Casualty for almost four decades.  (Image credit: BBC)

He used to work as a theatre stage manager

Alongside his singing career, Derek worked as the Stage Manager in the Nonentities Theatre in Kidderminster. 

During the1970s he appeared in several productions at the National Theatre, and by the early 1980s he was becoming a recognisable face in BBC and ITV dramas, starring in shows such as Play for Today, Softly Softly and Rock Follies of 77.

Derek's big break came when he landed the lead as an IRA gunman in Harry's Game.

Before getting the call to join BBC's Casualty, the actor had a recurring role as DS Jimmy Fenton in the ITV police drama, The Gentle Touch.

His character on Casualty was based on a real-life nurse

It's impossible to imagine Casualty without Nurse Charlie Fairhead. Derek is the only remaining original cast member and has been with the show since its very first episode back in September 1986.

The iconic character of Charlie was inspired by a real-life nurse called Pete Salt, who worked as an advisor on the BBC drama.

Speaking about his decision to quit the role he's held for 37 years, Derek said: 

"Together with the writers and producers, I have tried to bring to Charlie the compassion, kindness, heroism and sound judgement that we all see and love in Pete and I want to say thanks to Pete and everyone else over that time who has inspired me in bringing this character to life."

Charlie is happy to see Donna.

The character of Charlie Fairhead was based on a real-life nurse. (Image credit: BBC)

He met his wife at work

Charlie has a lot to thank Casualty for — it's where he fell in love with his second wife, actress Dee Sadler.

The couple met back in 1986 when Dee played a potholer called Maggie in an episode of the continuing drama. Derek's character Charlie had to rescue Maggie when she was trapped underground after suffering a fit.

“I met Dee filming series two and I was sure that I knew her from somewhere because we had this immediate connection,“ Derek told The Mirror in 2011.

He has got a son called Charlie! 

Derek and and his wife Dee have a son together, and his name is Charlie. But Derek is adamant that his son wasn't named after his famous Casualty character... “Dee is the love of my life. We’ve been together for 24 years now and we have a son called Charlie. And, no, we didn’t name him after my character in Casualty!"

In 1990, Derek's son Charlie made his own appearance in Casualty as the baby son of the regular character, Duffy.

He has a medical condition called dystonia

Having played nurse Charlie for so many years, Derek has dealt with his fair share of on-screen medical dramas. But he suffered his own health scare at 61, which led to him being diagnosed with dystonia — a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions.

In an interview with The Express he shared: "I began to get cramps and spasms in my neck and tremors which caused my whole head to nod."

“Being a typical bloke, I tried to ignore it. But when it got worse I started to fear I had Parkinson’s disease, like my mother. My father told me to seek a proper diagnosis and I was told it was dystonia."

Derek now has Botox injections every three months to manage his condition and has been the patron of the Dystonia Society since 2006.

Actor Derek Thompson in a scene from episode 'Hide and Seek' of the BBC television series 'Casualty', April 10th 1986

Derek Thompson has been in Casualty since it started in 1986. (Image credit: getty)

He's been mistaken for a real-life nurse

With nearly 900 episodes of Casualty under his belt, it's no surprise Derek has sometimes been mistaken for a real-life nurse. 

Recalling one incident when he was asked for medical advice, Derek told What to Watch:  "I was on a flight home from Spain once and a couple came up to me whose child was having an asthma attack."

"They explained what was happening and asked what I could do about it. I told them that a caffeinated drink, like cola, can help. So they got some cans from the stewardess and that gradually improved things."

"It was a bit of information that I’d been told by one of Casualty’s medical advisors, who was asthmatic himself!"

Derek Thompson's fact file

Frequently asked questions about the actor...

How old is Derek Thompson?

Derek Thompson is 75-years-old and was born on April 4, 1948.

Is Derek Thompson married?

Derek Thompson has been married to his second wife Dee Sadler since 1989. 

Does Derek Thompson have any children?

Derek Thompson and his wife Dee are parents to son Charlie. Derek also has another son from his first marriage.

Where was Derek Thompson born?

Derek Thompson was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

How tall is Derek Thompson?

Derek Thompson is five foot eight.

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

Laura Morgan
Freelance writer

Laura has been a journalist for over a decade, writing about soaps, TV entertainment, fashion, beauty, and food. After graduating from university, she started her career working at a national soap and TV magazine. During her seven-year stint there she joined the cast of Emmerdale for a tour around the famous village, partied with soap stars at awards bashes, interviewed her acting idol David Suchet, and sat in the front row of Strictly Come Dancing

Her heart lies with the soaps, and her all-time favourite character has to be EastEnders' Pat Butcher - no one rocked a big earring quite like her. She's also a huge fan of detective crime dramas, particularly old school Inspector Morse, Endeavour, and adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. When she's not writing, she loves a spot of second-hand shopping and going on adventures with her young son.