My Yorkshire: Actor Tom Kay on his favourite people and places

Actor Tom Kay, who returns to Yorkshire in the touring production of Birdsong.
Actor Tom Kay, who returns to Yorkshire in the touring production of Birdsong.
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East Yorkshire-born Tom Kay won a scholarship to Rada and is now a professional actor. The 28-year-old is currently starring in a touring production of the First World War drama Birdsong.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory? My sister Sarah is a year older than me and I can distinctly recall a birthday trip out with her when I was about five. There was still very thick 
snow on the ground and we were lifted up onto a five-bar gate, looking out over fields of white.

Tom Kay would like to own Castle Howard for the day.

Tom Kay would like to own Castle Howard for the day.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? East Yorkshire – the family now lives at South Cave. I particularly remember, when I was in my teens, going out for a long walk, and finding a rather mysterious grove of trees. I thought it was absolutely magical until a cow charged and I had to run for cover. I’d love to wander around to rediscover it. Hopefully, without the cow!

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? Borrowing the family dog, Maisie, finding a nice cottage somewhere remote to rent in the Dales or Wolds, and going off for a day’s ramble. On our return I’d light a big log fire, just to snuggle in front of for the evening.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view? It would be coming down from the Wolds, near Shiptonthorpe. There is a spot at which you can stop, and there, below you, is what looks like a relief map of the entire county spread out before you. Breathtaking.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? The Northallerton-born mountaineer and climber Alan Hinkes, who is remarkable in that he has reached the summit of the 14 mountains in the world that are over 8,000ft high. He’d have a few adventures to recount.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? The dinner would come after Dame Judi Dench and I had taken a long and leisurely stroll around central York, a city I know that she loves. I admire her for her acting talents, her formidable intelligence, and her complete charm.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? I am going to suggest going on one of the Open Studios events that you can find in the county, usually in summertime, where artists let you in to see their work in progress. I had an inspirational teacher at Pocklington School, a marvellous man called Pete Edwards, who opened my eyes to so many things.

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? Any of the great houses that we have within the borders – Castle Howard, Burton Agnes, Burton Constable, take your pick, I’m spoiled for choice… you’d need a full day in each to really explore what lies within those nooks and crannies.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? The landscape, the accent, and the breadth of its history. You can’t walk along a street in Yorkshire without getting a story somewhere.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? The Old White Swan, in York, which is tucked away off Goodramgate, and which I believe dates from around the 16th century. A lovely place to pop into after a day of rambling around the city. And it’s said to be haunted, too.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Any actor will tell you that it is the nearest one to the stage door, but I have very fond memories of dear old Cooplands – which was quite near school – and the smell of Yum-Yums and cheese straws being baked. A specific aroma that you don’t find anywhere outside Yorkshire.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it? I am bowled over by the transformation that has gone on in Hull, which has completely reinvented itself. It would be good to see some other communities do the same.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? I would have better rail links, for a start. Having just passed my driving test, I’m looking forward to being my own master in getting from A to B, rather than relying on delayed trains with no trolley services. But I’d also have all the pylons that march across the county dismantled and buried, so that none of the amazing views are marred.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? My dad, Martin Kay, who has been a hard grafter all his life, a builder by trade. He also loves the countryside, and he’ll always quiz us on “What crop? What’s that bird singing? What’s that animal in the field?” Along with Pete Edwards, he’s an inspirational human being.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work? My growing up years told me a lot about the characters that live here, and the land itself, which I think got inside me, and which still inform me greatly. Oddly enough, I don’t think that I have ever been asked to play anyone with a Yorkshire accent – Wraysford in Birdsong apparently comes from Lincolnshire, so that’s the nearest I’ve got to home – so far.

Who is your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? There are so many – I really do like Hockney’s paintings and drawings, and there’s some of Larkin I love. Then there’s Wuthering Heights, and, of course The Secret Garden.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? The Castle Museum, in York. Like a lot of people, I first went there when I was a youngster, and it made such and impression that I have returned there many times since.

Birdsong, West Yorkshire Playhouse, February 13 to 17; York Theatre Royal, June 4 to 9.