Dalia's love put me back on top of the world|
Lock, Stock star Dexter Fletcher says love helped him put his reckless, drug- taking past behind him.
Seven years ago, Dexter Fletcher hit an all-time low. The former child star, whose wild lifestyle of drink, drugs and parties had left him bankrupt and with crushing debts, was reduced to living rough in his car. But he has turned his fortunes around, thanks to the love of a good woman.
As he recalls those dark days, and how meeting wife Dalia helped him get back to the top, it's hard to believe that this charming, boyishly handsome man ever got into such a mess in the first place.
"I was still living life as if I was 17 when I had the responsibilities of an adult," admits Dexter, 35, who is back in the BBC2 war drama Band Of Brothers. "I was living recklessly, drinking and taking drugs. I didn't pay my mortgage and bought more cars than I needed. All my money went on partying and cocaine.
"I lost everything as I turned 30. A huge tax and VAT bill caught up with me, and that was that. It was pretty dreadful. I was living in my car with no money and no friends. I could have gone back to my parents if I'd wanted to. It was a matter of pride, I suppose."
Dexter was declared bankrupt, with debts of £90,000. This crisis coincided with the end of his four-year romance with former Press Gang co-star Julia Sawalha. Lonely, disillusioned and depressed, help came from an unlikely source - Alan Rickman, with whom he'd once starred in a stage play.
"He could see I was in a bad way," recalls Dexter. "He suggested me for a small play in Islington. I'd lost all interest in acting and had ended up presenting bad children's TV shows just for money. But I got the part and it was my best acting experience in 20 years."
It was a turning point. Not only did he rediscover his passion for performing, but he fell in love with Dalia Ibelhauptaite, the show's beautiful Lithuanian director and now his wife of six years.
"She's the best influence on me," he says. "She's my hero and my best friend. She loves me and I really feel that. I remember lying in bed one night, alone after a bad day, and wanting very much to be with her. I realised I was happy when I was with her and in control. So I set about making her my wife."
He drove to Tuscany where she was staging a production of Don Giovanni, to tell her how he felt. But Dalia, 34, would only commit to Dexter if he gave up his wild lifestyle and got his act together.
"I was still all over the place," he admits. "I was going out with the lads, getting messed up and coming back late. There came a point when she said, `You can't sit on two chairs at one time - you're sitting somewhere in the middle and you have to make a decision'. It was a stark wake-up call. I suddenly woke up and realised how much of a disaster it all was. And what I had to lose was far more valuable than being high. Since then I've rebuilt my life and Dalia was very supportive."
He proposed in the back of a taxi and they married soon afterwards. The first ceremony was at Marylebone Register Office where Alan Rickman was best man. The second was in a cathedral in Lithuania.
Meanwhile, Dexter sold his house to clear some debts. He and Dalia now rent a flat in Notting Hill, West London.
"What I'd invested in the house went to pay off friends who'd lent me money," he says. "I couldn't pay the taxman, so I was declared bankrupt. But from rock bottom you can only go up. I've worked solidly for the last 18 months. The bankruptcy ended a year ago and I'm on an even keel. I've finally grown up... It just took a long time."
Dexter's career picked up after he played Soap the chef in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. A part in Mike Leigh's movie Topsy Turvy followed and he and Dalia moved to LA. Then he got a part in Band Of Brothers. It meant coming back to England, but he could not turn down such a plum role.
The US production, based on Stephen Ambrose's Second World War bestseller, is the true story of an American combat unit, Easy Company, which landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and captured Hitler's alpine stronghold in Berchtesgaden.
Filmed in Britain and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it co-stars Friends' David Schwimmer as a tough training officer.
Dexter, who plays American serviceman Sgt John Martin, was put through his paces at an army boot camp to prepare for the part. "I must be a masochist, but I loved it," he says with a chuckle. "Steven Spielberg came to visit us and when he saw what the guys were doing to us, he looked a bit anxious. We were all at boot camp for ten days."
He also got to meet the real John Martin, now 80 and a multi-millionaire construction boss in Arizona, at a screening of the series in Normandy this summer.
"It is a responsibility playing someone who fought in the war and saw his comrades die and did heroic stuff," says Dexter. "After the screening he said, 'You did real good'. That meant a lot to me. It was great to work with Spielberg and Hanks, but the real pay-off was seeing how much it all meant to John."
Now that things are looking up again, Dexter insists he won't be tempted into his old wild ways.
"I can afford the luxury of a glass of wine now and again, but I don't do anything else. I even gave up smoking. I gave it all up."
For the love of a good woman?
"Yep! It's the only stimulus I need."
Source: The Mirror
Date: 29th September 2001