Rupert Hill - former Corrie actor on his new venture at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 October 2017
He’s an actor and a pub owner so who better to take over the restaurant at the Royal Exchange Theatre? Rupert Hill is more than ready for the challenge, as Janet Reeder discovers
Who better than an actor to transform a theatre restaurant, and not any old thesp but one who has a track record of producing award winning bars in the city?
Take a bow Rupert Hill. The one time Corrie heartthrob has raised the curtain on his recent production The Rivals, a bar and venue at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
It’s a long-overdue make-over that aims to transform the vast space at one of the city’s most iconic theatres into something a little bit special and Rupert is having to pinch himself after he and business partner Goska Langrish were handed the opportunity by the Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcome.
‘A 15 year tenancy had come to an end and they knew they wanted something different,’ says the 39-year-old whose portfolio includes the Castle Hotel and Gullivers in the Northern Quarter, the Eagle in Salford and Bakers Vaults Stockport, all run as limited companies with different partners.
‘It had been run by an external company but they wanted more of an internal partnership and because I own a few different pubs and am also an actor, Sarah suggested me.’
‘Exciting’ is a word Rupert uses a lot in relation to the venture, not least because it presents an opportunity to create a culturally significant venue as well as one devoted to good food, good drinks and good times.
‘We are going to be doing so many events and artistic endeavours. That’s part of the appeal for us,’ says Rupert.
‘The space is enormous and there’ll certainly be some live music. I have already secured some really special events which I can’t talk about as they haven’t been finalised. That side of it appeals to me. I very much want this to be a partnership, even to the point that if the theatre isn’t being used we may be able to take it over for en event.’
Originally from Southampton, Rupert lived in London for 10 years but reveals he had something of an epiphany after coming up to Manchester for his Coronation Street role as Jamie Baldwin.
‘I immediately felt like this was home. As soon as I got here it was very, very profound,’ he admits. ‘I do love London as well but when I got here I opened a pub with a mate of mine and then we were in a band together, then we could open another pub and win the best roast dinner in the Observer Food Monthly Awards and it felt just like a city where things could happen. Whereas London felt like a series of doors closing in your face - in Manchester it always feels like someone is opening another one for you.
‘I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would be running the restaurants and bars at the Royal Exchange Theatre and they came to me. It just blows my mind.’
Of course he still gets recognised as a former Coronation Street star in spite of having had numerous acting roles and forming his own production company.
‘It’s about eight years since I did Coronation street but people still recognise me,’ he laughs.
‘It’s really strange. I am always shocked about that.
‘I’m very grateful though. I’ve got to say I’ve had a lot of work off the back of it. It’s just that you can’t fathom the impact it makes on people. Sometimes people come up to you who are quite young recognise me and I’m like “Eight years ago you must have been a child”.
‘I feel a bit bad because when I first left I almost came across like I didn’t like being there but I did. It was just that I’d spent my entire 20s working in two different soap operas, Family Affairs for Channel Five and then Coronation Street, so I think I went a bit stir crazy and so when I left I think it may have come across that I was being ungrateful and aloof about the whole thing and I really wasn’t I just needed to re calibrate myself.’
He has another thing to thank soap stardom for and that was meeting his wife, actor 38-year-old Jenny Platt who played barmaid Violet Wilson in Coronation Street. Following their marriage at the Parlour in Didsbury, which Rupert helped to launch, the pair now live in Chorlton and have two daughters Matilda aged seven and two-year-old Eliza.
He also has his own production company, making his own films and as well as a couple of shorts made an entire feature film on a budget of just £1,000.
‘It was shot over 10 days and is called Leather Bird. I had a great cast of actors. I had Philip McGinley who is in Game of Thrones, Matt Steer who was in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, my wife Jennifer Platt who’s currently in Versailles and Graham Hawley, who has just done Peaky Blinders and is actually performing in Our Town (the Royal Exchange’s current production). Everyone worked for free. It was a real labour of love for everybody and turned out really, really well.’
For now, his acting career has been put on hold while he gets The Rivals in shape for its new future.
The look is lots of reclaimed wood, walls adorned with theatrical posters and pictures, they’ve created a cellar for proper beer and have installed a proper PA system. There’s even an indoor ‘beer garden’ in the space outside the restaurant.
‘It would be really nice that, after the shows it could become a late night drinking den where audiences and actors are mingling with each other and the music is turned up a bit and the lights are turned down a bit,’ he says.
‘We intend to be open all the time whether there’s a play on our not. That’s the plan. This period now in August is called the dark period and we want this to be the last dark period there ever is here.’