He was an all-action Sherlock Holmes for TV and now he’s conquering Hollywood in Star Trek. Caitlin Moran joins the actor at his parents’ home for Sunday lunch
I don’t know if you remember, but some time last summer – between the end of the Olympics and the return of The X Factor – it briefly became the thing to have a go at Benedict Cumberbatch for being “a posho”.
However many times Cumberbatch tried to explain that he was “just middle class, really”, a sum kept being done, over and over: “Harrow education” + “called ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ ” = “A man who wipes his bum on castles”. There was a series of catty columns about it, with headlines like “Posh off to America” and “Poor posh boy”.
The underlying presumption seemed to be that Cumberbatch was some dilettante princeling – stealing roles such as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, and the painfully repressed landowner Christopher Tietjens in Tom Stoppard’s Parade’s End, that would otherwise have gone to working-class actors such as Danny Dyer, or Shane Richie from EastEnders, and that this was all a great pity.
Of course, as with all these things, it blew over quite quickly – not least because it was superseded by the news that Cumberbatch had been cast in the new Star Trek movie, and was, therefore, about to become one of the most successful British actors of the past ten years. But I am reminded of it all today, in the back of a cab, leafing through a pile of cuttings on Cumberbatch.
“What a load of balls that was,” I muse. “The whole posh thing. What a load of old balls. What a funny old world.”
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I have been invited to lunch with Cumberbatch at his parents’ house in Gloucestershire. Star Trek Into Darkness is now about to open and this is the only day he has free to talk. I have made the great sacrifice and taken a train to Swindon.
The cab driver drops me outside the house.
“Here you go,” he says.
I climb out of the car, and stare at a gigantic, honey-coloured mansion, with immaculately tended lawns. Parked in the driveway are a black London taxi and a vintage silver Rolls-Royce.
Last night, Benedict had offered to pick me up from the station, saying he has a “loooooooooovely car”.
“Yes – you have, haven’t you, Benedict?” I think to myself, staring. “You’ve got a lovely pair.”
I crunch up the drive, carrying a massive bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, and shout through the letter box.
“Hello! I’m from London! I’ve come on holiday, to the countryside, by accident!”
Silence. I circle the house. The place is so big, I can’t work out where the front door is.
I decide to go to ask a neighbour for advice on how to penetrate the Cumberbatch estate.
I head towards a nearby crofter’s cottage.
Benedict Cumberbatch is standing in the doorway of the tiny cottage, in a pair of knackered navy corduroy slippers, watching my progress across the lawn – lavishly strewn with hyacinths – with some curiosity.
“What were you doing at Kate Moss’s house?” he asks, mildly.
Ah. Kate Moss. The working-class girl from Croydon made good. That mansion is her house.
The “posh” Cumberbatches, by way of contrast, live next door: three small rooms downstairs, three small rooms upstairs. Every available surface is covered in books, family photographs or owls.