How will Rowan cope with being a new dad at 62?

  • Rowan Atkinson, 62, is to become a father again with girlfriend Louise Ford, 33 
  • The comic already has two children by his ex-wife Sunetra: a son, 23, who is at Sandhurst, and a daughter, Lily, 22, who is a burlesque performer
  • The news comes a month after it was reported that Lily had changed her name

By Alison Boshoff for the Daily Mail

Published: 17:45 EST, 12 November 2017 | Updated: 18:16 EST, 12 November 2017

Serious by nature, Rowan Atkinson has described himself as ‘shy’ and ‘dull’ — the total opposite of his funnyman public persona. For decades, apart from the times he is filming, he has been seen as a bit of a recluse.

So the showbiz world has been taken by surprise by the news that, at the age of 62, Atkinson is to become a father again, with his 33-year-old girlfriend Louise Ford. The couple are expecting their first child together in the next few weeks.

Divorced from wife Sunetra Sastry, who was devastated when he fell for a much younger woman, the Mr Bean star and his lover divide their time between a spectacular ultra-modern house in the Cotswolds and a charming cottage in Hampstead, North London.

New love: Rowan Atkinson out on the town with Louise Ford in 2015
New love: Rowan Atkinson out on the town with Louise Ford in 2015

New love: Rowan Atkinson out on the town with Louise Ford in 2015

Famed for working very sparingly, it is notable that recently he has been happy to take on a lot of lucrative film and TV work, such as Johnny English 3, a sequel to his successful spoof spy series.

How very different from some years ago when he said: ‘I like to juggle with one ball at a time. Then I put the ball down and do nothing for extended periods of time.’

But slowly, during their three-year relationship, RADA-trained actress Ms Ford has introduced Atkinson to her social circle, which includes many of British comedy’s new generation of bright young things.

Louise is best-known for playing the Duchess of Cambridge in Channel 4’s wildly irreverent drama The Windsors and has narrated Steph And Dom’s One Star To Five Star, featuring the posh couple from Channel 4’s Gogglebox.

Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford
Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford

Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford

Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford
Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford

Rowan Atkinson's girlfriend, Louise Ford, is seen with a huge baby bump as she jumps in to the actor's BMW. Ford

Her circle includes Phoebe Waller-Bridge (creator of the edgy comedy Fleabag, about a young woman trying to cope with life in London), actress and stand-up Yasmine Akram (who played Janine Hawkins in TV’s Sherlock) and a rising young comedian called Cariad Lloyd.

Atkinson has been seen about town wearing jeans and blue suede shoes in what has seemed to be a rather unconvincing bid to appear more youthful.

Friends were quoted yesterday as saying he is ‘over the moon’ that he is to be a father again. And although it’s hard to imagine the Oxford-educated comic to have uttered such a cliche, certainly his life has dramatically changed.

Up to now, Atkinson was not noted as one of the showbiz world’s great ladies’ men. Indeed, there was always more than a hint of the gaucheness of eternal bachelor Mr Bean about him.

The comic already has two children by his ex-wife Sunetra: a son, 23, who is at Sandhurst military academy, and a daughter, Lily, 22, who is a burlesque performer.

The news of Ms Ford’s pregnancy comes just a month after it was reported that Lily had changed her name — ditching ‘Atkinson’ and adopting the maiden name of her mother, from whom the Black-adder star was divorced in 2015.

The Mail’s diarist, Sebastian Shakespeare, reported at the time that it was a ‘real mystery’, with a source saying: ‘Atkinson has been her name all her life, but she’s now dropped it and is styling herself as Lily Sastry.

‘I hope she hasn’t fallen out with her dad. The divorce was really hard for everyone in the family.’

Lily also disappeared from social media earlier this year and deleted all of her photographs online.

A rare public appearance: Rowan with then wife Sunetra and daughter Lily at the Johnny English Reborn premiere in 2011
A rare public appearance: Rowan with then wife Sunetra and daughter Lily at the Johnny English Reborn premiere in 2011

A rare public appearance: Rowan with then wife Sunetra and daughter Lily at the Johnny English Reborn premiere in 2011

Despite huge success, Atkinson has shied away from the spotlight. ‘At a certain level of so-called celebrity, you are asked to do interviews, open supermarkets and perform charity shows, and I’ve decided to steer well clear of most of that,’ he said. ‘I dread becoming a professional personality.’

His manager, Peter Bennett-Jones, explained: ‘He is very reserved and very English.’

And until his late-flowering romance with Ms Ford, it seemed he was reserved when it came to women, too.

I’ve always been a loner, and driving a lorry is a loner’s dream

Raised on a 400-acre farm in Durham, Rowan is the youngest of three brothers and their childhood was spent tinkering with cars and other boyish pursuits. They attended the all-boys Durham Chorister School, where Rowan was called ‘Atkinson Three’ by teachers, while fellow pupils nicknamed him Dopie, Zoonie and Moonman because they thought he resembled an alien.

Headmaster Canon John Grove said that Rowan was ‘very shy’.

Indeed, the actor’s biographer, Bruce Dessau, says Atkinson was so nerdy that he didn’t have girlfriends until he was well into his 20s. His passions were mechanical — chiefly lorries — and he dreamed of running a haulage firm.

Atkinson told an interviewer: ‘I’ve always been a loner, and driving a lorry is a loner’s dream.’

He took a degree in electrical engineering at Newcastle University, gaining the highest marks in his year, and then studied for a Master of Science at Oxford.

Rowan Atkinson Actor Comedian and girlfriend Leslie Ash 1984 at the TV Times Awards
Rowan Atkinson Actor Comedian and girlfriend Leslie Ash 1984 at the TV Times Awards

Rowan Atkinson Actor Comedian and girlfriend Leslie Ash 1984 at the TV Times Awards

There, he met up with comedy writer Richard Curtis and, much to his surprise, began a performing career. He auditioned for a sketch show at the Oxford Playhouse and stunned onlookers with his brilliant mime and face-pulling performance — talents later used for Mr Bean.

It launched his career and became his trademark, although he once said: ‘All people want from me are my bloody silly faces. And if there’s one thing I hate about myself, it’s my face.’

He also confessed he was more thrilled by passing his HGV licence than by making people laugh.

All people want from me are my bloody silly faces. And if there’s one thing I hate about myself, it’s my face

It wasn’t long before Rowan appeared on the satirical TV show Not The Nine O’Clock News — the BBC series in which he found instant fame at the age of 24. He admitted he found the effect alarming. His childhood stammer returned during interviews and he hated fans repeating funny lines back at him. His biographer says he found it ‘unbearable’ and would ‘run away’ rather than chat to fans.

He began dating actress Leslie Ash and in his late 20s they lived together. Ash hinted that she was waiting to be asked to marry him.

But it wasn’t to be. Later, she said Atkinson had admitted that he simply didn’t love her.

She said: ‘We were from quite different backgrounds. He had many male friends with whom he always felt more comfortable and secure. But as our friendship deepened, he confided in me.

‘I would have done anything for him, but Rowan was always completely honest.

‘He told me he was always very fond of me, but didn’t think he could ever fall in love with me.

‘I think he was afraid because he knew how completely wrapped up I was in him and didn’t want to hurt me. The relationship was ruining the friendship and I knew it would end sooner or later. Inside, he was the most beautiful man you could meet, and he really didn’t want to hurt me.’

Three years later, on the set of Blackadder, Atkinson spotted make-up artist Sunetra Sastry, the daughter of a mechanic. Smitten, he asked the actor Stephen Fry if they could swap make-up artists so that she could work with him.

After months of superficial chit-chat, he plucked up the courage to ask her on a date.

It is said (probably apocryphally, but very much in character) that on that first date, in a West London restaurant, he was so shy that it took 20 minutes to open a conversation — and only then to ask if she wanted ketchup.

However, the relationship prospered and they were married in February 1990 in a private ceremony at the Russian Tea Room in New York City, attended by just a few witnesses and with Fry as best man.

The couple set up home together in a former rectory near Oxford. Rowan attended parish council meetings and sometimes read the lesson at their local church on Sundays.

He also began collecting cars. Once, filming a Barclaycard advert, he was told to look smitten at a girl getting out of a car.

When the director told him: ‘Look at her as if you are looking at your wife’, his wife reportedly suggested: ‘No, tell him to think of his Aston Martin!’

The huge success of Mr Bean and the Johnny English films made him seriously wealthy, and his collection of super-cars became famous.

The couple’s children were sent to boarding school and the marriage was considered a happy one. Prince Charles became a fan and a friend.

Yet despite the royal friendship, it has been said that Atkinson has turned down various honours — possibly even including a knighthood — because he can’t stand the thought of the attention which it would bring.

Indeed, such was Atkinson’s reclusiveness that he and his wife were only seen in public when he was required to attend a movie premiere. At Christmas, he refuses to join in charades because he feels too self-conscious

‘Sometimes, I honestly wonder what I’m doing in showbusiness,’ he has said. ‘I’m just not the type. It’s as though I wandered in accidentally and there’s no way out.’

So it was all the more shocking when in 2013, like a cliched, older actor roue, he fell for a woman 29 years his junior when they were both cast in a West End production of Quatermaine’s Terms.

He and Sunetra were divorced in 2015 on the grounds of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

So what of his new partner?

Louise Ford attended a grammar school in Kent, then went on to study English at Southampton University. She has pedigree on the comedy circuit as well as in acting — much like Rowan Atkinson.

Describing herself, she has said: ‘I guess I’m a bit of a head girl. I’d love to think I’m spontaneous and crazy, but I’m more of a nerdy control freak.’

Today, the couple spend a lot of time in a futuristic house which Atkinson had built while he was still married. It has a bridge over its central courtyard and a huge garage hidden under a grassy mound next to the house.

The terms of the divorce are said to have been generous, with Atkinson buying his ex-wife an £18 million house in Holland Park, West London.

There was speculation that this could have been the reason behind his decision to appear as Mr Bean in the movie Top Funny Comedian, which was released for a Chinese audience in March this year. In 2015, he also sold his McLaren F1 supercar for £8 million.

Perhaps the fact that Atkinson was very badly hurt when he crashed the car into a tree in Cambridgeshire in 2011 was also a significant factor in his decision to sell it.

The truth remains that Atkinson has worked more in the past year than he has for some time, appearing as Inspector Maigret in ITV’s adaptations of the French detective novels and now reprising Johnny English.

He agreed to the project soon after he got divorced. The first two films took £224 million globally and he is on course for a bumper payday once again.

Clearly, though, life is going to change dramatically for Rowan Atkinson very soon.

He once said: ‘I’ve played quite a few of these sad, isolated bachelor figures — Bean is the most obvious — and I think I do identify with them, or aspects of them.

‘I’m well aware that I’m someone who is quite content to sit in a room and do nothing for ten minutes except stare at the wallpaper and think.’

With the joys of new fatherhood just around the corner, it seems unlikely that he will have the chance to do too much of that for the foreseeable future.


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