It’s a long time since I was in touch with Robbie Coltrane. But I loved him so. He was a complicated man. With comedians, people always think that you look at them and you laugh, but there was so much more to Robbie than that. He had quite a sour, angry look at the world in many ways. I think that’s what gave him a depth in his acting that was quite stupendous. He was a major actor – I thought he was really gifted. One of the problems about Harry Potter is that it tends to obliterate all the other things that you do, because it’s such a powerful franchise. But Robbie was so much more than Hagrid.
Of course he was funny, but he made you laugh on both sides of your face, so to speak, because he saw the pain of life as well. And I think his last years were not happy. He retreated from the world a bit. I wasn’t in touch with him, but it wasn’t because we stopped being friends. You didn’t stop being friends with Robbie. He was a real presence in my life.
I worked with him on a BBC programme called A Kick Up the Eighties, which ran from 1981 to 1984 and was filmed up in Glasgow. It was me, Tracey Ullman, Rik Mayall, Ron Bain and a few others. It was a sketch show, and Robbie was just brilliant. He was good at accents. He wasn’t working-class. He came from quite a middle-class background in Rutherglen outside Glasgow. His father was a doctor, as was mine.
He had a rollicking, expansive spirit, which made you want to be with him and bask in his warmth and in his appreciation of life and food and drink and sex. It was all very active and confident. He was roguish and daring. He was the sort of person I would have liked to have been if I was a man.
He was lusty and occasionally belligerent and very greedy. He laughed a lot and enjoyed laughing. He relished other people’s talent. And politically, he was, as I was, on the left, which is always very nice, to meet people on the left. We like that. He was just very gifted. He had a way of sizing up situations and sizing up people that was accurate and occasionally cruel. He wasn’t above cruelty. He could slice you in half if he wanted. But his nature was basically benevolent. Barbed benevolence – that would sum it up.
He was very occasionally barbed with me. And I deserved it. But I think he was fond of me, because when I spoke about him on the radio [after his death], his ex-wife wrote to me afterwards and said that he loved me and I was a friend, even though we didn’t see each other in later years.
I have a lot of emotion about Robbie. I feel I wished that I’d seen him more. I wish I could have helped him not to drink so much. I wish I could have told him how wonderful he was, and how his work will live on.
There probably was a vulnerable side to him, but he’d never let you see it. But the fact he got very fat and drank a lot shows that he was vulnerable. I think life got too much for him, and he couldn’t take it. So he more or less destroyed himself. He went downhill in health. That came out of real pain, I think.
He was very proud of being Scottish. He’ll be remembered as an outsized personality and a great actor. He was one of our absolute top people and I want him to be recognised as that. He was special. I’ll never forget him.