Don Warrington: Trailblazer says “We can call it getting older, or we can call it getting wiser.”

Pilates, a quest for knowledge and a brush with royalty have all helped Death in Paradise and Rising Damp legend Don Warrington to lead a vibrant later life.

Don Warrington Actor

Don Warrington Actor

Born in Trinidad, Don Warrington moved to England as a child and grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne. His first role was in Rising Damp in 1974 and since then he’s appeared in a host of iconic shows including Red Dwarf, Hamlet, Doctor Who, Waking the Dead and since 2011, Death in Paradise. He lives in London with his wife Mary Maddocks.

You’re an ambassador for Age UK. How has your attitude towards ageing changed as you’ve got older?

People have a strange attitude towards age. Age is just how you feel. We have things in our heads about what you should be doing at what stage in your life, but I don’t believe in any of that. We live in the moment.

Have you always felt like that?

Until very recently, I felt as though I was 22 or 23. My feelings hadn’t changed particularly. It’s only when I try to do something, I realise that I’m not 22, but until then, I think, ‘well, anything’s possible.’ It’s possible to do more things than we think. I know we change physically but a lot of it is in our heads.

How do you maintain such a healthy mindset?

I try to keep myself fit. I like to stretch. I like to be in my body. You have to use it, or it breaks down. If you use it, you get more out of it than if you don’t. I do Pilates which I like because I think it’s attuned to the body.

It teaches you to listen to it and to know what to do and what not to do. You have to learn about what is not good for you and something like Pilates teaches you that. It’s not manic. It’s about listening to your body, and we need to be attuned to how we are physically.

Don as Commissioner Selwyn Patterson.

Don as Commissioner Selwyn Patterson.

How important has your positive mindset been towards your career longevity?

I love working so there’s no reason to stop. It’s stimulating. It’s how you meet new people. It’s good to wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to work now.’

Are you as raring to go professionally as you’ve always been?

I don’t know if I would describe myself as raring to go, but I go. I go at my pace. I’m excited about what I’m doing. I’m excited about new projects and excited to be working with people who I haven’t worked with before. Going to work is a discovery. It’s still a learning process.

You starred in Rising Damp 50 years ago and you’re still going strong. What’s your secret?

I think luck plays a big part in all of this. And staying healthy. And to pay attention. That’s the secret really. Look at where you are. Look at what you’re being asked to do and try to do it to the best of your ability.

We don’t know what’s around the corner. Sometimes there’s something there for you and sometimes there isn’t so I think all one can be is prepared.

Don with the Death In Paradise Cast

Don with the Death In Paradise Cast

You’ve co-starred with some huge names over the decades. Who has been the most inspirational?

Leonard Rossiter, Frances de la Tour and Richard Beckinsale from Rising Damp as that was my first real job on television and they were such incredible people to go to work with. It was like going to school and they were my teachers.

You also received an MBA from Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 at Buckingham Palace. Did she share any words of wisdom on ageing gracefully?

What was fascinating was that when I met her there was somebody standing behind her leaning and whispering into her ear.

When she was talking to me, she had no idea who I was, but she knew that she had to perform this duty. And she did very charmingly, but it made me smile because inside I thought, ‘Ma’am, you didn’t know who I am. And you don’t know why you’re doing this.’

So, she didn’t say, ‘I thought you were fantastic in episode two, series three of Rising Damp?’

No, she did not. I got the award for my theatre work, but it was lovely to meet her, and she has a wonderful way of getting you. She shakes your hand, she gives it a little nudge, which says, ‘time to leave now.’

You’ve always had a wry sense of humour. How important is to maintain that as you get older?

I think one has to find the comic side of life. There’s so much going on in the world that’s unpleasant that if one can find humour wherever one can, that’s very good. I think it gives you a kind of balance in your step. A lot of life is funny.

What makes you laugh?

People particularly. People do extraordinary things. What I find amusing a lot of the time is what people take incredibly, seriously.

They tend to make me laugh, because there’s a kind of absurdity to it. You get through to more people if you lighten up a bit. If you find the charm in what’s going on, people tend to respond more favourably.

Don Warrington

Don on ageing well and getting wiser

Rather than losing skills ageing can be a golden period for gaining skills. Which skills have you gained with age?

I’ve learned to be braver. As a young person, there was a lot of fear in what I did and how I behaved. We can call it getting older, or we can call it getting wiser.

I’m less afraid, which is a good thing, because without fear comes freedom. I’m acquiring, like kind of freedom to do things that other people might see as risky, but I don’t particularly. Being braver means you’re not limiting yourself. You’re not allowing the age that you have become to dictate what you do. I want to be a very young old man.

Spending a sizeable chunk of each year in Guadeloupe filming Death in Paradise can’t be bad for your psyche either…

It does help. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful, beautiful island but it does get very, very hot and you’re exposed to nature in a way that you’re not getting. Nature is active. It’s there. It’s happening. And it’s fantastically noisy. It keeps your feet on the ground.

Another way you keep your feet on the ground is by playing the saxophone…

That’s right.

Can you do the sax solo from Careless Whisper or Baker Street?

I could if I wanted to. I tend to play a bit of jazz or a bit of blues.

Can we look forward to a saxophone scene in Catherine’s Bar in the next series of Death in Paradise?

No, no, no. Sometimes we have things that we enjoy doing privately. I gives me immense pleasure but I’m not sure it gives people listening much pleasure, but I don’t care.

  • The latest series of Death in Paradise is on iPlayer now.