Noel Clarke’s twin Bafta statuettes sit on the bookshelves of his West London home.
Once they represented the pinnacle of his achievement as an actor, writer, producer and director. Today the bronze faces stare blankly out over a career that lies in tatters.
Until a year ago Clarke was part of the British film and TV establishment. He could be seen on screen in the BBC’s Doctor Who and top-rated police dramas on ITV and Sky.
He’d traced his roots in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and written and starred in the acclaimed Hood Trilogy of youth culture films, directing two of them.
Today he is a pariah after a string of highly damaging allegations led to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts suspending his membership, and withdrawing his 2021 Bafta award for outstanding contribution to British cinema just nine days after he was handed the coveted gong.
Until a year ago Clarke was part of the British film and TV establishment. He could be seen on screen in the BBC’s Doctor Who and top-rated police dramas on ITV and Sky
Amid an extraordinary public fall from grace, Clarke’s TV cop show Bulletproof was canned by Sky, even though a fourth series was anticipated. ITV pulled the finale of his big-budget thriller Viewpoint on the eve of broadcast, posting it briefly on its streaming service ITV Hub. It goes without saying that all Clarke’s invitations to the VIP world beyond the velvet cordons of showbusiness have been lost in the post. Many industry allies have fled, terrified of disgrace by association.
Clarke, 46, a married father-of-four, is accused of being a sexual predator and a bully. Allegations – made by more than 20 women and spanning a 15-year period – include claims of unwanted touching or groping, sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments on set, the covert filming of a naked audition and the sharing of explicit pictures without consent.
Clarke, who grew up in a tough and impoverished part of West London, vehemently denies the claims. He has not, he says, been granted the presumption of innocence, let alone a fair hearing.
‘Twenty years of work was gone in 24 hours,’ he says, speaking for the first time about the allegations that destroyed his career. ‘I lost everything. The company I built from the ground up, my TV shows, my movies, my book deals, the industry respect I had. In my heart and my head it has damaged me in a way I cannot articulate.’
In the past year, Clarke and his wife Iris, who have been together for two decades, have had a new baby they haven’t dared tell anyone about. Financially the family has been left ‘running on fumes’. Most seriously, at his lowest, Clarke was suicidal. He pocketed a folding hunting knife bought as a souvenir while filming Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in Arizona 20 years ago and planned to cut his own throat.
Until a year ago Clarke was part of the British film and TV establishment. He could be seen on screen in the BBC’s Doctor Who and top-rated police dramas on ITV and Sky. He is pictured with Billie Piper in Doctor Who
‘I needed to do something unsurvivable,’ he says today. ‘I was reaching for a book and the knife fell out of my pocket. My 11-year-old said, “Daddy, why have you got that?”
‘I said, ‘‘It’s just to pick the dirt out of my nails…” And he said, ‘Oh, OK,” and somehow the ordinariness of that snapped me out of it. Up to that point, I had been waiting for the right moment to kill myself. I was out of here. Done. I didn’t care about anything. My mind was destroyed.’
Clarke is not the subject of a criminal investigation. After ten months of assessment by specialist detectives with the Metropolitan Police, none of the allegations made against him has been found to meet the threshold for further police inquiry.
‘There has been no arrest, no charges, no trial, no verdict but I have been criminalised,’ he says, pointing to the rush to judgment accelerated by social media. ‘This is a form of modern McCarthyism.
‘If we don’t need police and judges and juries any more, if we only need social media and the broadcasters, then what world do we live in?’ Clarke asks. ‘At what point did the broadcasters in this country become the judges, juries and executioners of people? At what point did Bafta decide they were no longer about films, but they were about judging people’s lives? This is not about me, it’s bigger, it’s about due process. Yes, people have said these things about me – but if I say you’re a donkey, it doesn’t make you a donkey, does it?’
Powell also claimed that Clarke secretly filmed a naked audition by the actress Jahannah James, and then showed Powell the video. Clarke claims he wanted to ensure Ms James would be comfortable in a role that required nudity, but now regrets organising a naked audition. He vehemently denies that it was filmed, adding: ‘I never showed Gina a video of Jahannah James naked, because I never had one’
He is speaking about the events of March and April last year when an anonymous dossier was sent to Bafta immediately after the announcement that he was to be honoured with the outstanding contribution award at a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall. Weeks later, The Guardian newspaper published multiple accounts of alleged egregious behaviour by Clarke between 2004 and 2019. Ten of the women agreed to be named, including Gina Powell, who worked for Clarke as a producer between 2014 and 2017.
She claimed he constantly harassed her, and that during a work trip to Los Angeles in August 2015 he exposed himself in the car they were travelling in and that he later groped her in a lift, telling her he had got ‘what he was owed’. Clarke categorically denies her claims, saying: ‘I never harassed Gina. I never groped Gina in 2015 in LA or showed her my penis in a car.’
Powell also claimed that Clarke secretly filmed a naked audition by the actress Jahannah James, and then showed Powell the video.
Clarke claims he wanted to ensure Ms James would be comfortable in a role that required nudity, but now regrets organising a naked audition. He vehemently denies that it was filmed, adding: ‘I never showed Gina a video of Jahannah James naked, because I never had one.’
His account was supported by the only other person who witnessed the audition. A casting director told The Guardian there was ‘absolutely no way’ Clarke would have covertly filmed the actress.
Clarke is now suing Bafta, on whose influential film committee he sat for seven years, and The Guardian for defamation. He is also suing magazine publisher Conde Nast, which ran a piece about the controversy in its glossy men’s monthly GQ.
His career has been cancelled, he claims. He spends his days at home caring for his new baby, on the touchline when his older children play football, going to church on Sundays and attending therapy. He has been so traumatised he hasn’t been able to watch TV for a year because he only sees people who have turned their backs on him.
He agreed to speak to The Mail on Sunday because there has been no day in court, no forum in which to publicly defend himself. He wants the film and TV industry to create a framework where ‘women and vulnerable people are protected but which also protects people who may be thrown under the bus unjustly’.
Clarke makes a plea for the context of incidents and conversations to be considered and for women to ‘differentiate between an evil guy and someone who might have made a mis-step’.
He also believes the entertainment industry needs to clean out its Augean stables in a calm and rational manner, saying: ‘I am not trying to excuse evil men. But I think we are all here’ – he means at this impasse – ‘because of them.
‘I’m not a predator. I have crossed the road to avoid walking behind women since I was 15 years old.’
He acknowledges that not all of his past behaviour has been beyond reproach, particularly when events of almost two decades ago are judged by the standards of today.
‘I’ve been a regular dude, for sure, I flirt. Have I ever made a saucy comment? One hundred per cent. But not to the extent that it warranted the destruction of my life.
‘I can’t say I never talked about sex at work. We’re adults in a workplace and people make jokes and have conversations with each other that cross the line. Sometimes you’re with each other for six, seven months, away from home.
‘I think sometimes these are just normal, or slightly inappropriate, conversations that people have. I was never involved in any conversation that I didn’t believe was mutual, wasn’t being reciprocated. Maybe I should have known better. But you know what, I didn’t always know better.’
Asked if he regrets this and wishes he had been more circumspect, he says again: ‘100 per cent.’ Similarly, he concedes that he may have sometimes been ‘over-tactile’ but says he has never groped or tried to kiss a woman who ‘didn’t want to be kissed’.
His accusers disagree and allege sexual harassment. Norwegian film producer Synne Seltveit claims that Clarke slapped her buttocks during a night out in Glasgow in 2015 and then later sent her an explicit picture via Snapchat.
On her first allegation, Clarke responds with a clear denial: ‘I never slapped her bottom and would never have done that.’
But his response to her second allegation is less definite. He claimed that they, along with others, engaged in ‘banter’ about sex that evening, and says: ‘I don’t recall sending anything. But if I did, it was in the context of the conversation that we all had. I now know that what I regarded as banter is far from appropriate – and it has taken this experience to understand that.’
Several of the women accused Clarke of being a bully. They include Philippa Crabb, a runner on the film Brotherhood who drove Clarke to work. She claimed he screamed at her for arriving late. Another woman, a 23-year-old script supervisor, alleged that Clarke’s behaviour led to her having a panic attack on set.
Clarke says he was annoyed with Crabb but did not yell at her and he denies bullying the script supervisor or anyone else. But he admits he could be ‘too blunt’ and ‘too direct’ and some people may have found this intimidating.
‘Look, if somebody’s done something bad, if you have assaulted someone, then you should be dragged up on it. That’s an absolute. But I think judging people by today’s standards on things from years ago, it’s baffling because we all grow and change. I was not the person in 2004 that I am now.’
Back in 2004, Clarke was young and hungry, breaking into the industry without any of the private school and Oxbridge privilege of his contemporaries, actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne.
Told he wouldn’t make it because he had no stage experience, he bagged a role at the Royal Court Theatre which earned him an Olivier award for Most Promising performer in 2003. ‘All I knew was hustle,’ he says.
He rose to acclaim with his 2006 film Kidulthood, a brutal look at the lives of teenagers in the area around Notting Hill’s Grenfell Tower where he grew up, in a council flat, with a single mother. She was a paediatric nurse who worked shifts, making him a latchkey kid at the age of six. The television was his babysitter and has transfixed him ever since.
Of his tough teenage years, he says: ‘If your best friend said “I like your trainers”, it didn’t mean he liked your trainers, it meant he wanted them. And you had to work out how to keep them.’
Clarke recalls going to an audition when he was an unknown. ‘I heard them talking as I was waiting for the lift. One person said, “Oh, my God, he’s a bit intense. I don’t think I’d ever watch anything he was in.” My mindset was if you’re not going to watch anything that I’m a part of, then you’d better not buy a television, because I’m going to be a part of everything.’
That’s where he was in 2021 when he won his second Bafta, although by the time he walked on to the Academy’s stage in his dinner suit to accept the outstanding contribution award, he already knew of the allegations levelled against him.
It was his agent who had alerted him to the dossier sent to the Academy. ‘I’m paraphrasing, but I was told that broadly it said, “You’ve been doing all these things for your whole career, and they’re coming for you.” All I could think was Noel, who have you annoyed that much?’
Bafta confirmed: ‘In the days following the announcement [of his award], Bafta received allegations in relation to Noel Clarke. These were either anonymous or second- or third-hand accounts via intermediaries. No first-hand allegations were sent to us. No names, times, dates, productions or other details were ever provided.’
It went ahead with the presentation last April because, it said, ‘no matter how abhorrent these allegations are, they cannot be dealt with without due process. Bafta is an arts charity that is not in a position to properly investigate such matters’.
Whoever was behind the ‘assassination’, as Clarke refers to it, then emailed the TV companies he worked for. And anonymous requests for information were sent, unsolicited, to women who might know him, saying: ‘We are working with and led by survivors of Noel Clarke. The number is very high…’
The emails urged women who considered themselves to have been his victims to contact The Guardian, the newspaper whose investigation put the allegations into the public domain.
At home, Iris, who was pregnant, asked Clarke outright if he had ever raped or assaulted a woman. ‘I told her, “No. Never.” ’
Iris will not speak publicly to preserve some vestiges of normal family life, but in private she is feisty, loving and very, very angry at what’s happened to her husband.
Now Clarke sees only a long struggle to come back from what he claims is his cancellation by Bafta and the TV companies.
‘None of them wants to be wrong. They made such big, bold statements. Then there’s the current climate, the moment anyone speaks out, or even says, “Hold on a second, what’s the context?”, society turns on them too.’
He thinks he knows who started it all, and why. ‘I wouldn’t even say it was a campaign or a conspiracy, I think it’s a lot of people who were sent emails and WhatsApp messages and were told this guy – me – has done these vile things and asked, “Has he ever done that to you?”
‘And a lot of people said, “No, but he did shout at me one time.” Or, “No, but he did say my butt was nice.” Then for me, you know, it was death by 1,000 cuts.’
The Bafta statuettes which Clarke can’t bring himself to put away in a cupboard are based on the tragicomic masks of ancient Greek theatre. So far, his story has had a prologue and its main act played out. But the final scene is still being written.