As a portrait of a man’s mental collapse, Trevor Eve’s debut novel is brutal. Its central character, Ever Millen, has a mind that fragments despite the pharmacopoeia of uppers, downers and sleeping pills he snatches at to halt his decline. It’s fiction, but you have to wonder just how familiar Eve is, personally, with the subject.
The actor, one of Britain’s most bankable TV stars and an award-winning thespian, has no known history of black-dog depressions or breakdowns during his 45 years in the public eye. But I have to ask because I don’t see how he could have imagined the character of Millen if he had not at some point lost his own mind.
‘This was not a slide into depression. If you can imagine driving into a brick wall at 100mph, that’s what I did,’ says Trevor Eve
And it turns out that yes, in his early 40s – Eve is now 67 – his life ‘stopped, literally stopped’ with a collapse so catastrophic he had to have daily psychotherapy. Twenty years later he was still seeing a therapist regularly, if not so intensively.
‘This was not a slide into depression. If you can imagine driving into a brick wall at 100mph, that’s what I did. I’m very private in my life and I’ve never exposed this part of it. What I will say is that I have had my dark moments, I understand the concept of depression and emotional collapse. Mine was acute, but with levels of superb help I have managed to get through it and be OK.
‘I feel uncomfortable talking about it because no one knows anything about that period, but when you read a book which has such intricate detail then…’ he says, admitting he’s outed himself in his writing. ‘It happened a long time ago, but it was sufficient to inform my imagination about the extremes that mental breakdown can go to. I researched Lomita [the female protagonist] but I understood Ever. I am very aware of psychiatrists and psychotherapists and doctors and what they want to do to you, what is effective and what is a blanket over it all. I understand all those drugs. As for therapy, I needed it to function.’
Was he ever an in-patient? ‘I feel like I am digging my own grave here,’ he says, moving on without answering. Nor does he want to reveal what caused his breakdown.
Is he still in therapy today? He smiles, saying: ‘You may not think so, but it worked. I need it, maybe less, but I am always open to going back.’ Interestingly, he has not felt the need for a session on the couch since he started writing Lomita For Ever. ‘It gave me time to explore things, to think, to sort them out.’ He doesn’t take antidepressants any more either, though he praises the work of comedian Ruby Wax, who suffers from depression and bipolar disorder, for destigmatising those who do.
Like anyone struggling with mental health issues, external measures of success – a happy family life, an illustrious career, wealth – are no defence against inner bleakness. Trevor Eve enjoys all three. He has been a dominant name on TV since he found fame as troubled detective Eddie Shoestring in the eponymous 1979-1980 BBC series. Since then there have been Hollywood movies (Troy with Brad Pitt), costume dramas (Death Comes To Pemberley with Jenna Coleman), the cold-case police procedural Waking The Dead, which ran for 92 episodes, as well as acclaimed stage performances of Shakespeare and Chekhov.
His 39-year marriage to actress Sharon Maughan (best known for the iconic Gold Blend adverts of the Eighties) has founded a mini showbusiness dynasty. Both of their sons – Jack, 33, and George, 25 – work in the industry and their daughter is Hollywood actress Alice Eve, 37.
Trevor Eve with wife Sharon and children Jack and Alice in 1986
The star himself is still knockout handsome, elegantly dressed in a black jacket and dark jeans, his silvery plumage of a quiff and neat beard set off by a Los Angeles tan.
His literary debut is a novel from the LA noir tradition, exploring the broken dreams of Tinseltown. It’s an off-kilter love story between Ever, who is 30, and Lomita, 76, and, since someone meets an unfortunate end with a Beretta fired at close range from inside a leopard-skin handbag, it’s a crime thriller too.
That’s already enough to separate it from the family dramas and feelgood romances celebrities habitually write when they’re hoping to breeze to No 1 in the bestseller charts. But where the book really parts company from Eve’s mainstream, prime-time acting appeal, is his decision to make Ever, at the age of 13, guilty of a sin so repugnant, so sexually transgressive, it will appal readers.
Eve explains: ‘I often think of those stories of a single incident, a brief moment that determines a person’s life for ever. What if you make a mistake there is no coming back from and that leads to mental disintegration?’
He is very, very clear that although he has borrowed bits of his own childhood and mined his own experience of a breakdown to create Ever, the sin is wholly imagined. ‘I’m an actor. You don’t have to kill someone to play a murderer,’ he points out.
Anyway, be warned it’s a challenging read rather than a book to toss into the beach bag this summer. ‘Too dark?’ Eve wonders aloud. He’s very anxious about his novel’s likely reception: ‘When you are acting you are rarely alone, whereas I am fully responsible for this.’
Eve was born in Sutton Coldfield to parents who hoped he wouldn’t be a painter or an actor but would get a job with ‘prospects’ instead. To satisfy them he spent three years studying to become an architect before dropping out to enrol at Rada. Lomita For Ever speaks about the flight from small-town life, ‘the ticket to escape all provincial dreamers believe will fall into their laps’. Eve’s own was a one-way fare, his big break being tucked under the wing of Sir Laurence Olivier when he was only 24.
‘It was me and him reading in a room in Golden Square in Soho. I got the part and did a play with his wife and acted alongside him in a movie, then he got me my Green Card and wrote me some letters [of introduction]. He always said, “Success, dear boy, is 90 per cent lucky break and ten per cent talent”, and in terms of catching a lucky break it doesn’t get much better than Olivier.’
Shoestring, broadcast at a time when Britain only had three TV channels, followed. It won Eve 23 million weekly viewers and heart-throb status, but by then he was already spoken for, having met Maughan on a touring theatre show in 1977. Their marriage has been dogged by rumours of infidelity, notably in 2011 when Eve was spotted enjoying the company of his dresser on location in South Africa. Maughan, however, was his first reader when the novel’s manuscript was finished and the book is dedicated to her.
‘It’s been hard over the years, yes,’ he admits. ‘You have to decide whether it is worth it, to put in the effort and energy required, and we think it is. Without question she is the best thing that could have happened to me. I never gave marriage a second thought, which is odd for me because I give everything about a hundred thoughts. It is my life, it defines my life, along with my family. Husband. Father. Gravestones don’t have your CV on them, do they?’
I query what he’d have on his and he says ‘Rage Rage Rage’ because he’d be so cross about dying, although he is coming to terms with getting older in an industry that adores youth. Right now he’s too grizzled to be ‘the guy running down the alley chasing the villain’ and not old enough to play King Lear. ‘Everyone keeps asking when I am going to do King Lear and I think, Lear! Doesn’t he have Alzheimer’s or something?
‘It never hit me until I was 63 and I was being sent these roles and I’d think, Yeah, that’s a great part and they’d go “No, No, No… we want you for this one!” It was like they realised, “Whoa! He was born in 1951.” ’
Eve has indeed been around for a long time. The breakdown now revealed by his authorial debut happened when he was already famous and we all thought we knew him. ‘I am strangely private,’ he says, ‘not an extrovert. If you are recognised it means people have watched your work, which is great. You can’t just act in the kitchen, can you? But everyone has their own mental story, so I have always kept quiet about mine.’
‘Lomita For Ever’ by Trevor Eve is published by Unbound, priced £9.99