Timothy Spall reveals his battle with leukaemia

Timothy Spall has revealed how his wife helped him beat cancer.

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

The actor was told that he had leukaemia on the day he was meant to fly to Cannes with his wife, Shane, in 1996 to celebrate Secrets And Lies winning the film festival’s Palme d’Or.

Timothy, 57, who plays JMW Turner in the new Mike Leigh film about the British painter, told Radio Times magazine how his wife helped him.

Timothy Spall and wife Shane

Timothy Spall and wife Shane (Ian West/PA)

“I thought I’d be on the red carpet, not lying in hospital with a raygun up my arse,”, he said of missing the festival.

The father-of-three added: “You never know what is going to happen to you in life. I’m lucky because I have Shane. She’s my Rock of Gibraltar.

“We were always a very close family, but particularly when I was ill and she stood sentinel. We were in it together. I do believe in the power of love.”

Timothy, who is being tipped to get an Oscar nomination and won the best actor award at Cannes this year for his role in Mr Turner, said of his wife: “She wasn’t having it.

“One day, after the doctors thought I’d relapsed and I was about to have a bone marrow transplant, I watched Shane pegging up the washing in the garden. She was just carrying on.

“All of a sudden I thought, ‘F*** this. I’m having people tell me I might not… live’.

“I went down there and said to her, ‘I’m going to tell you something, darling. I’m not going to die. I just decided. It’s tough, but I know you know I’m not’.”

He added: “Surviving a serious illness gives you an understanding that life is very much about other people. I don’t think Turner, a genius who was obsessed with his work, did that as well as he wanted to. He tried to consider other people, but he found it incredibly hard.

“I’m lucky. I’ve learnt that there’s no point in just living for yourself.”

Timothy said that his preparation for his role as Turner included getting in character while ordering a drink from a London bar.

“One weekend early on, I was still struggling to find out what made Turner tick. I couldn’t get out of character. I went into an empty bar in Clerkenwell and said: ‘Are you a purveyor of wine?’

“I had to go outside and lean against the wall for a minute. Calm down now, sport! I went back and said (in his usual south London accent), ‘Can I have a pinot grigio, please?’”


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