Hilary and Michael Whitehall look back: ‘I wanted an agent, he wanted a woman’ | family

Hilary and Michael Whitehall in front of the Acropolis in 1985 and 2022
Hilary and Michael Whitehall 1985 and 2022. Later photo: Simon Webb/The Guardian. Style: Andie Redman. Hair and makeup: Carol Sullivan at Arlington Artists. Archive image: Courtesy of the Whitehalls

Hilary and Michael are the parents of actor and stand-up Jack Whitehall, who together have transformed their open and comical family dynamic into an entertainment brand. Hilary, an actress known for television appearances on Miranda and Bad Education, married Michael, a producer and talent agent, in 1986 and had three children. In addition to Netflix hit Travels With My Father, the Whitehall triumvirate have hosted chat shows, co-authored books, and hosted live shows and YouTube series. Hilary and Michael are now doing it alone with their first podcast, The Wittering Whitehalls, available on all the leading podcast platforms.

Michael

A man named Christopher Miles, then a respected director, was making a feature film in Athens entitled Lord Elgin and Some Stones of No Value. Nigel Havers played Lord Elgin. I was his agent and since it was his first film, I went to see him with my new – very young – girlfriend.

From this holiday on things slowly went downhill. Jack came and then [his siblings] Molly and Barney, so it was always Cornwall or Devon. I went on a camping trip but ended up staying at a hotel up the road. Most of the time I let Hilary do the camping. After all, I was a busy man who looked after international stars around the clock. I didn’t have time to wander around the beaches with my beautiful kids.

When I asked Hilary’s father if I could marry her, her parents looked pretty shocked. After we were first introduced, he said to Hilary, “You said he was older – but you never said how much older.” They weren’t very sure about me, especially since I was married and has since had another girlfriend and drove a Jaguar XJS. It was all counted against me. That and the fact that I was an agent.

I must have looked pretty flashy, but we worked well together – I got Hilary her first acting job on Minder, and I even produced a series that she starred in. That being said, Nigel Havers showed up in the delivery room during the critical moment in Jack was born. I had called a few friends before the birth and when Hilary had her feet in stirrups waiting to get stitches, Nigel arrived in a black tie walking to an event after coming to the hospital. He and I were sent out with the newborn Jack to clean him up. As we walked down the corridor together, a lady who recognized Nigel came up to us and said, ‘Oh, Mr Havers, it’s nice to meet you.’ He thanked her and as Nigel held the baby she watched Jack into his blanket and said, “Oh! He looks so much like you, Mr. Havers! Just like you! What a beautiful boy.”

There were many reasons I was first attracted to Hilary – she was very beautiful in those early days and she still is today. She is very nice too. And I liked her sense of humor. That’s something Jack obviously has too, but he gets his weird touch from me. That friction. Because I’m not a nice person. I’m terrible.

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Comedians are generally not very generous with their material. I won’t name names, but there are many successful comedy actors who can be quite difficult. Jack has never been like this. He always wanted to share his success or his humor with us, which is why Travels With My Father worked so well. Jack used to say, “I know – why don’t you do that? It would be funnier if you did it.” I would say, “No, I’m not a comedian!” And he would say, “No, dad, you do it. It’ll be better.” I don’t know of any other star who would take up a joke like that. It’s sheer friendliness, a trait Jack inherited entirely from his mother.

Hilary

Michael and I are standing on the Acropolis in front of the Parthenon, which was closed for filming. It was a rare occurrence so I went insane taking photos up there that day as it was completely deserted except for the crew. Michael’s hat and glove were borrowed from the costume department, and I was in my regular holiday attire.

At this point, about 10 months later, my parents were still struggling with the idea that I would date a divorced man who was 21 years older than me. Still, I thought, ‘I’m going on holiday with him.’ We had a fantastic time: alongside Nigel, there was Julian Fellowes and a young Hugh Grant. I was all atwitter!

It was boiling hot, but Julian insisted on wearing long sleeves and pants every day and eating only Greek salad. We still have a joke when we see him. “Would you like a Greek salad just for old times sake?” I had a nice camera with me as I used to take photos and the director asked if I could take some stills. So I ended up at work, which was very exciting. I thought, “Well, Michael, if that’s your vacation measure, then it’s going to be a wild ride.” Unfortunately, that was the highlight. After Athens we got pretty stuffy and bored.

Still, it was the holiday that prompted Michael to take charge of his life and ask my father for my hand. Jack was born shortly after and Molly came soon after, which wasn’t quite what I intended, but I was having trouble getting Jack and I thought we’d better get on with it because it was going to take forever. In the end, it was only a 15-month age difference.

Michael and I first met at a party. It didn’t go very well: he was wearing a white suit and I questioned his sexuality. By now he thought I was married because five minutes ago I’d met this American man who had asked me all the usual questions—my name, age, what job—and then decided to follow me to Michael’s . Michael asked my name and the American said, “This is Hilary.” Michael asked, “How old are you, Hilary?” And the American said, “Hilary is 24.” Although it wasn’t a good start, I realized that he was very funny and charming and we traded numbers. I was looking for an agent, he was looking for a wife. And luckily he got what he wanted.

We’ve been married for 36 years now and I think we’ve learned everything we need to learn from each other; Working in such a small space has hardly changed in recent years. We have a similar outlook on life and a similar upbringing. People think we’re very classy, ​​but we’re both lower-middle class: actually humble.

A sense of humor is and always has been crucial for both of us. We’ve both previously had fairly challenging relationships with no hilarity and we were desperate for a lightness of touch that we found in each other. There are a few episodes of our podcast where I completely lose my composure because I laugh so much, to the point of hysteria.

It’s like we’re two halves. It’s a bit cliche to say, but we really are soul mates.

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