Christopher Eccleston: ‘I’m a very hands-on dad. That’s where the love is – the nappies, the sleepless nights. The more you do, the closer you are to your children.’ Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones
Friday 17 April 2015 12.59 BST Last modified on Tuesday 21 April 2015 11.12 BST
Being from Salford is a big part of who I am and who my family are. Not Manchester, Salford – we’re a city in our own right. The values I live by come from that sense of identity. Hard work, honesty and loyalty were the three pillars. When I was seven months old, we moved to Little Hulton. But we never let go of Salford. I grew up with this sense that “we aren’t from here”. It made me feel like of a bit of an outsider.
There wasn’t always huge political debate in our house but there was a very strong sense that we were Labour. My dad said: “The Labour party is the party of the working man,” and that was that. The first time he turned up to my mum’s house he was wearing a suit with a red shirt and my grandma thought he was a communist. My dad’s family were Catholic. My mum was very Church of England – still is – but it doesn’t work for me.
I grew up thinking our family was a bit special because we had the twins, my brothers Keith and Alan. They’re identical but I’ve always been able to tell them apart. I worshipped them but because they’re eight years older than me, I was too young to tag on. I owe all my musical taste to them. They brought me Marvyn Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Al Greene, soul reggae.
My parents, Elsie and Ron, worked hard and met at work, in the Colgate-Palmolive factory. My mum had heard about my dad, and one day the lift opened and there he was. She looked at him and thought, “He’s all right, he looks a bit moody.” She said that as the gates closed he never took his eyes off her, he just kept looking and looking …
The way my parents were with us has had a massive effect on the way I am with my own children [Albert, three, and Esme, 19 months]. I had a great childhood – and it makes it easier for you to pass that happiness on to your own kids. As a boy, I was hugely loved and I knew it; it was always there, wrapped around everything we did.
My relationship with my dad was navigated through football. I knew I wasn’t as good as him (he’d been a great centre forward) but I tried hard and played – for Salford Boys – and he always supported me. I remember sitting at his feet, at my Nanna’s house in Blackpool when I was 14. She asked what I wanted to do when I grew up so I said, “play for [Man] United”. My dad looked at me and said, “Yeah but unless he gets a bit better we might have to think about something else.” It was said so caringly, it was a relief; he was letting me off the hook.
When I said I wanted to act, my parents backed me all the way. They bought me a Complete Works of Shakespeare. My dad told the woman on the till, “It’s for my lad, he’s an actor.” When I made Jude, they saw it at the pictures in Bolton. My dad told the other couple in there, “That’s my lad.” I don’t know if they believed him, but it was nice to know he was proud.
My mum is one of the most amazing people I know. For the last 14 years of his life my dad had dementia and she cared for him. Once he was diagnosed, we realised the dementia had been manifesting itself for two or three years. It wasn’t easy, but my mum kept him at home. She did that for all but the last year of his life.
I’m a very hands-on dad. That’s where the love is – the nappies, the sleepless nights. The more you do, the closer you are to your children and I’m enjoying every minute of it. I don’t know if I would have been ready in my 30s – I’m mellower and more patient than I was. There are only 19 months between Albert and Esme and my wife, Mischka, and I like that – we hope they’ll always have each other.
• Christopher Eccleston stars in Safe House, a four-part drama on ITV1 from 20 April.