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Casualty actor Phil Goldacre reveals his real-life hospital hell


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It’s been a difficult few years for actor Phil Goldacre. After developing diabetes he lost both his legs and nearly his life to sepsis.

But now, with more roles than ever before, he’s carved out his own niche in the TV industry and believes he’s finally made peace with the debilitating disease. John Nurden reports...

When actor Phil Goldacre was booked to appear in a new episode of the BBC medical soap Casualty, memories of his own real-life hospital drama came flooding back.

The former soldier and lorry driver has spent many days in casualty for real, having lost both his legs because of sepsis. Doctors had to amputate them below the knee and have fitted him with two artificial limbs.

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre on the beach near his home at Minster
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre on the beach near his home at Minster

But Phil, 67, who was born in Sittingbourne and now lives in Minster on the Isle of Sheppey has refused to let them hold him back. In fact, they have given him a new lease of life.

He is now in demand playing disabled roles on TV and the stage. His latest booking was a three-day shoot this month in Cardiff where he was hired to play a patient.

He has previously been a sub-rector in His Dark Materials with James McAvoy and also had a stint in Bodies at the Royal Court Theatre, London, playing a character suffering from motor neurone disease.

For His Dark Materials he had to audition remotely using his laptop’s camera. There was no tramping up to London for an audition.

Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) quickly snapped him up.

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre as sub-rector of Jordan College, Oxford, in His Dark Materials with James McAvoy. Picture: BBC TV
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre as sub-rector of Jordan College, Oxford, in His Dark Materials with James McAvoy. Picture: BBC TV

Phil said: “The incredible thing is that now I’m sometimes invited without having to go for an audition. I think they know I can act by now and just call when they have a part.

"My agent Louise Dyson who runs the Visable People agency exclusively for disabled actors is very good. There is a definite demand for actors with real disabilities these days. It’s all about inclusivity. “

But he admitted the latest shoot had left him “completely exhausted”. He said: “The last time I had one that long I was about 31 and on Tucker’s Luck, which was a long time ago!

“This time, the whole of the last day was about my character. It was very tiring. The next day I had a 200-mile drive home. I just collapsed in front of the box but I had loved every second of it. Yes, I was tired but very happy indeed. The cast and crew were fantastic. Every one.”

This year he had been planning to take part in the Island road race to raise funds for Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham where he has undergone both of his leg operations.

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre at home in 2018
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre at home in 2018

He said: “They have collectively and individually worked heroically hard to keep me alive over the past few years. I had already begun training with the aim of walking the course.”

The former Borden Grammar schoolboy had his right leg amputated in March 2015 and lost his left leg below the knee in July 2019 after three bouts of sepsis. He now has two artificial flesh-coloured legs and size nine feet.

He admitted: “It’s been a long haul. It was harder to learn to walk again than it was when I had one leg. People need to be warned about the dangers of sepsis. It can strike any time to anybody. "It very nearly killed me twice. I’m very lucky.”

After school, he joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers aged 17. He went on to study computers and later became a lorry driver. But long days sat in a cab with little exercise was the ruin of him as it led to Type 2 diabetes.

He warned: “People still don’t take diabetes seriously enough. It is a deadly disease which kills people. Ignore it at your peril. I have lost two legs and nearly died twice from heart attacks.”

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre in Bodies at the Royal Court Theatre
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre in Bodies at the Royal Court Theatre
Phil Goldacre, right, in Doctors. Picture: BBC
Phil Goldacre, right, in Doctors. Picture: BBC

He admitted: “The first I knew of it was when I had a routine medical check for my HGV licence in 1999 and doctors found sugar in my urine. They put me on pills but to be honest I didn’t think too much about it. Like many people, I didn’t know how serious it was.

“I ended up on a strict regime of diet control and eight or 10 tablets a day. It was then I took notice and gave up smoking, drinking, taking sugar and eating sweets.”

Before that, he had been a 20-a-day smoker, a beer-drinker at weekends and had spent up to 11 hours a day sitting still at the wheel of a lorry.

When told he would lose his first leg because gangrene was eating his toes he recalled: “The surgeon was worried I appeared to be taking the news rather too well. But as I explained, it was either take my leg off or lose my life. I had no other choice.”

He admitted: “I have cost the health service a fortune. There is no way I could have afforded all this treatment if I had lived in America. No one would have insured me. This is when you realise the true value of the NHS.”

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre on the beach near his home at Minster
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre on the beach near his home at Minster

Swale has one of the highest rates of diabetes in Kent, along with Thanet, and it is on the increase. Health bosses predict it will rise by up to 30% in the next decade.

Phil said: “I never had any of the typical symptoms such as a desperate thirst, tiredness or needing to go to the loo every night.”

He began his television career in 1984 as a copper in the Merseyside soap Brookside. He’s been on Crimewatch, The Bill, Tucker’s Luck and starred as Rodney Witchelo in the pilot episode of Michael Winner’s True Crimes. Films have included The Vision with Dirk Bogarde in 1987 which was about the birth of pay television.

Theatre includes Harry Hyman in the National Theatre’s Broken Glass (Arthur Miller), Messenger in the original production of Steven Berkoff’s West, Cassio in Othello, Philip in Alan Aykbourn’s Relatively Speaking, Monty Blatt in Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup With Barley, several roles in St John’s Gospel and more recently the lead Barry in The Reappearance of Christ in the East End.

He said: “Strangely, I’ve been offered more jobs now because I’m in a smaller niche. They say every cloud has a silver lining but sometimes you have to look a bit harder.”

Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre in the BBC TV show Casualty filmed in Cardiff
Sheppey actor Phil Goldacre in the BBC TV show Casualty filmed in Cardiff

His episode of Casualty is set to be shown in the new year.

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