John Sessions recalls his life in St Albans

WHEN actor John Sessions heard about the plight of a St Albans HIV support centre’s struggle for funding, he knew he had to use whatever influence he had to highlight The Crescent’s cause.

But his connections with the charity haven’t just brought him back to his old stomping ground, they have taken him almost to the doorstep of his former home in the city centre.

When he and his parents first moved to St Albans, they lived at 6 Upton Avenue – steps away from The Crescent on Russell Avenue. He said: “I couldn’t believe how close it is to where we first lived, before my parents moved out to Park Street. I was devastated at the time because I thought they’d killed my social life by moving out of the city centre.”

John’s memories of living in St Albans and later Park Street are full of colour, especially his time at what was then St Albans Boys’ Modern School now known as Verulam School.

“It was a wonderful time and continued to be throughout my teenage years, although as I got older I was a bit of a hippy. I spent many days in Verulam Park playing the bongos, smoking and thinking I was a real hippy.

“This was a time when skinheads ruled St Peter’s Street and someone like me in an army surplus jacket was very much a target. Although I look back at that period as rather marvellous, I do remember their presence was something me and my friends were quite frightened of.”

John recalls with fond affection the characters of St Albans during the late 60s – he moved to St Albans in ’64 – but it is Ginger Mills, an iconic figure in the recent past of the city, who really sticks with him. “Everybody knew Ginger and one clear memory I have is of him and my dad.

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“My dad worked at the gas works at the bottom of Holywell Hill and Ginger was there for some reason or another and he was angry, causing a scene and waving a knife around. My dad just walked up to him, took the knife off him and told him ‘stop being an idiot and go’ – and that was that. My dad just disarmed him without any fuss.”

Although John left St Albans in 1974, he continued to visit his parents and later his brother and nephews in Harpenden. And while he no longer has a personal reason to return to St Albans, his work with The Crescent is bringing him back to a city that remains “remarkably unchanged” and a place to cherish.

In a bid to raise awareness of the charity’s need for funding, John is planning to put on a solo show in the city, featuring a mix of comedy, showbiz anecdotes and recollections of his time in St Albans.

All this will be put together while he balances a busy filming schedule – he’s just wrapped on a feature film with James McAvoy and Jim Broadbent. The movie is an adaptation of Filth, a novel written by Irvine Welsh. He’s also just finished working alongside Jennifer Saunders on Dead Boss. Next he’ll play Mr Selfridge in a story about the iconic department store chain.

Despite a hectic schedule, his commitment to The Crescent remains.

He said: “We cannot let this great place close. They need money and whoever donates can know that not only are they keeping the centre open, they’re helping hundreds of people.”

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