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Interview: Outnumbered star Daniel Roche

PUBLISHED: 12:56 03 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:00 20 February 2013

With Stavros Flatley and the Noah’s Ark team at the opening of the charity’s shop

With Stavros Flatley and the Noah’s Ark team at the opening of the charity’s shop

Barnet's Daniel Roche, 12, talks to Pat Parker about playing the mischievous Ben in Outnumbered, starring in the award-winning Just William, and why he's doing his bit to support his local children's hospice, Noah's Ark...

HE may only be 12, but Hertfordshires Daniel Roche is already a child star, having played hyperactive handful Ben in the sitcom Outnumbered since he was six, as well as taking the lead role in the BBCs 2010 remake of Just William, which recently won Best Drama at the Childrens BAFTAs.


Daniel has become used to attending premieres and award ceremonies, but a few weeks ago he took on the role of guest celebrity for the opening of the new Noahs Ark Childrens Hospice charity shop in his hometown of Barnet.


Daniel cut the ribbon for the new shop in Barnet High Street on November 12, in a ceremony which attracted enthusiastic crowds. He also donated a signed collection of Just William books, a signed photo of the cast of BBC1s Outnumbered, and a DVD box set of the series for an eBay auction to raise money for the hospice, which helps children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Several other celebrities also contributed, including Matt Lucas, Barbara Windsor and Stephen Merchant.


Daniel told me he was keen to do what he could to support the hospice, which helps sick children and their families in the area. Noahs Ark asked me to get involved, and I said, Of course, why not? he tells me. I live just down the road from the new shop, and I wanted to do my bit to help.


I was really nervous opening the shop, as it was in my hometown, but it was fine. He is also urging local children to donate unwanted toys and Christmas gifts to the shop.


Daniel, a former pupil of Christ Church Primary School, has lived in Barnet all his life. My family has lived here for ages, and its a nice place to live, he says. Its the closest part of Hertfordshire to London a sort of ultra-suburb. Theres a high street, but also fields, farms and forest, which stretches for a few miles.


Last September, he started at the independent University College School in Hampstead, and loves the school, even though he has to face a daily 90-minute bus journey there and back. He first discovered his acting talent at Barnets Susi Earnshaw Saturday theatre school. It was fun, but I stopped going a few years ago because I play rugby on Sundays and Saturday is my only day off! he says.

Chatting to Daniel, you soon realise he is an unpretentious, honest, and extremely intelligent 12-year-old. And its not hard to see how much of Ben the unruly, irrepressible, imaginative middle child of Pete and Sue Brockway in the semi-improvised Outnumbered stems from his own character.


It was at drama school that Daniel discovered a natural ability to improvise. I just used to make stuff up on the spot, he says. I just thought of it as fun I didnt really understand anything about talent.


Ben is famous for asking surreal and wildly imaginative questions that baffle his harassed parents. That, Daniel believes, is a gift most children have, but society teaches them to suppress it at an early age. I started Outnumbered when I was six, so I was still wondering and asking the sort of questions most young children ask, but society forces them to hide all that away really early. In primary school, they teach you to grow up, and so kids forget, and learn to ignore the questions which go round in their heads. Its seen as craziness. But because of Outnumbered, I was able to keep that questioning part of me, and bring it out, and thats why Ben is still here. I reckon Ben is a part of everyone.


Much of Outnumbered, written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, is improvised, and Daniel explains how the actors move seamlessly from scripted to non-scripted sequences, as the three children, Karen, Ben and Jake, outwit their frazzled parents.


They tell us the scenes about five minutes beforehand, he says. With improvised scenes, you have a bit where the script ends, but the scene doesnt, so they give us a few ideas and tell us if its supposed to be a conversation, an argument or a discussion. The fun part is you never know what people are going to come out with. Hugh Dennis (Pete) and Claire Skinner (Sue) are such experienced actors, they just react really realistically to whatever we say. The best time for improvising is when everyones there, because there are more ideas and it goes on for longer.


During the couple of months it takes to film a whole series, Daniel and fellow child actors Ramona Marquez (Karen) and Tyger Drew-Honey (Jake) are taught by a tutor. The series is made on location in Wandsworth, and two houses are used one for filming, and the other as a green house, where cast and crew relax and eat, and the children are tutored. Tyger is doing GCSEs, so sometimes he goes into another room to do tests and stuff, but usually we all sit together, and its pretty calm, and we can sit and discuss things with our tutor. Its different from school because there are fewer people, and we dont get homework!

Daniel says now hes at secondary school, hes slightly more concerned about staying away from his peer group for long periods of time, because friendship groups can change so quickly at his age.


Are there any similarities between the way Daniel and the mischievous Ben behave at school? Im very dreamy, he replies. I always do my work, but the teachers think Im distracted, and they get cross with me for fidgeting. Like in Outnumbered, I can make jokes really quickly, and well laugh and our teachers get really angry with us. So most teachers think Im very talkative and not paying attention.


So quite a bit like Ben then? Yeah! he admits.


Academically, hes not keen on maths or science, but loves English, history and Latin. Im not really much of a modern person. I enjoy learning about the past.


Playing Just William in the BBCs adaptation of the Richmal Crompton stories, gave him an insight into what childhood used to be like. Im sort of jealous of William and his friends, because they had more freedom than we have today. Children now cant really play in the woods any more, but if we could, it would be so much better than playing on a computer at home. I know children who cant even climb trees, and that would have been unheard of back then. I only use technology because its there, but if it wasnt, I wouldnt really miss it.


Daniel had a nasty experience a year or so ago when someone stole his identity on Facebook. Someone pretended to be me. It irritated me, because he made me sound really stupid; really cheesy and stuck up, when Ive spent most of my life trying not to sound like that. He made me seem the total opposite of what Im like.


Daniels mum called the police and contacted Facebook, but nothing was done until a Sunday newspaper took up the story. The impostors page was rapidly removed after that.


Despite this unpleasant experience, Daniel has coped remarkably well with being recognised and the pressures of celebrity. Ive grown up with it, so its pretty normal for me, he says. I reckon if Id never had it, I wouldnt be as patient and calm as I am now. I just let it happen. It never irritates me or anything.


Hes settled well into his new school, and made some good friends, but I wondered how fellow students react to his celebrity? They still make jokes, because its a new year, and I dont know everyone really well yet.
His dad, Tony Roche, is a rugby journalist, and his mum, Judi, a teaching assistant and former journalist. Daniel has two grown-up half brothers.


Daniel has several future acting projects lined up, which he cant tell me about as yet. But is there one role hed particularly like to play when hes older?


The Joker from Batman, he replies, instantly. I like clowns the look of them, the smile, and The Joker has everything the wit, the rhyming, the look, the gestures to make the perfect villain. I love the insanity of it all.


Not that Daniel sees acting as his main career when he leaves school. He has another cherished ambition.


Ill always have acting as a back-up or hobby a hobby you get paid for, he says. But Id really like to be an author. I want to write fantasy or horror fiction. I already have tonnes of stories on my computer. So hes obviously putting that vivid imagination to good use.


As for Outnumbered, Daniel cannot confirm yet whether there will be another series.


Already, he feels nostalgic for the early episodes when he was little. I dont really like looking at myself when I was younger. I used to be so cute, and it makes me sad to see how much Ive changed.


But he says hes enjoying being on the show more as he gets older. He finds it hard to imagine life without Outnumbered. Everyone gets on so well. Its like having a second family. The best thing about the show is definitely the warmth of it. It doesnt feel like a workplace at all.



CAN YOU HELP?


The Noahs Ark charity shop is keen to recruit volunteers, and would also love you to donate any unwanted Christmas presents such as toys, clothes, handbags, etc which can be sold to raise money.


To donate either goods or money, call 020 8449 8877 or text NOAH to 70777
http://www.noahsarkhospice.org.uk/

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