The Line of Duty actor Tommy Jessop remembers the moment his life changed, 20 years ago, at a pizza party in his family home to celebrate turning 18. It was when he stood up and told everybody gathered, friends and family: “I want to be an actor”.
His family were in no doubt that Jessop would succeed in his goal, despite the fact that when he was born and identified as having Down’s Syndrome, his mother, Jane, was told he would never read. A young midwife wept. Doctors avoided her eye. This baby, it seemed, was a tragedy.
Today, Jessop, now 38, who first acted aged 10, is a widely-known award-winning actor, thanks to his part as Terry Boyle, a vulnerable man with learning disabilities in the last two seasons of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, which attracted 12.1 million viewers. He has also played Hamlet and Prospero among many more; one of his latest roles is in the vast upcoming Stephen Spielberg epic, Masters of the Air. Now, he has written his autobiography, A Life Worth Living: Acting, Activism and Everything Else.
When I arrive to meet him at a pub in Winchester, near where he lives, Jessop jumps up to greet me, and performs a comic little bow, much like a courtier might to visiting royalty. It is the same love of performing which brought the house down at the National Television Awards in September 2021. He went up with the cast of Line of Duty to collect two awards, danced on stage and did a Bruce Forsyth pose, placing his knuckle to his forehead: “I don’t know what came over me,” he recalls, “It made the audience go wild. I felt so alive.”