Authors: Louise Ford
all, brooding and devilishly handsome with a mop of red-brown hair, Christian Grey – slowly, methodically – raps his fingers on the table. The pretty brunette sitting by his side moves uncomfortably in her seat, biting her lip seductively before flashing him the sweetest of smiles. Smoothing down his tailored designer suit, the man who has become the object of women’s fantasies the whole world over glances nervously around the room.
Suddenly the room breaks into rapturous applause.
‘The Actor of the Year award goes to Jamie Dornan,’ a loud voice booms over a microphone.
With the broadest of grins, the smouldering actor plants an impassioned kiss on his wife Amelia’s lips before jumping onto a platform to receive his golden statue.
At just thirty-one, the age when boys become men, Jamie had
achieved the unthinkable: he was a bona fide actor at last and this, his first award, was proof that the gruelling years of blood, sweat and tears had been well worth it. Undeniably, Jamie Dornan – the man now recognised as the kinky billionaire in the hotly anticipated
Fifty Shades of Grey
movie – had dreamt of this moment countless times before.
It had all started twenty years previously, in a school hall back home in Belfast, where a small, chronically shy schoolboy had climbed on stage to receive his first drama prize. He had pulled off a hilarious performance as Widow Twanky in the Christmas pantomime and, with the applause of parents, teacher and classmates ringing in his ears, little Jamie Dornan knew a Hollywood career was for him. However, what the young lad from Northern Ireland didn’t know was that his path to fame and fortune would be far from easy.
To anybody in the outside world, his CV as an adult star was impressive. Dubbed ‘The Golden Torso’, Jamie was a hugely successful male model in his twenties, who became famous for dating actress Keira Knightley and commanding £10,000 a day as he posed for some of the world’s top designers.
A music career followed but acting seemed to be his forte and he soon landed a string of high profile roles including a serial killer in the BBC series
, an outlaw in the US historical drama
and the formidable Christian Grey in the
Fifty Shades of Grey
trilogy, which would seal his place in Hollywood.
However, looks can be deceiving and behind the scenes his personal life would have as many twists and turns, exhilarating
highs and devastating lows, as the shows that would make him famous.
The son of a doctor, Jamie and his two sisters had what would be considered a charmed childhood, growing up in a sprawling family home in an affluent area of Belfast, attending a top school and dreaming of treading the boards like his legendary great-aunt, Hollywood actress Greer Garson. But behind the sports trophies and amateur acting triumphs, a series of personal tragedies in his teenage years threatened to throw him off course. When his mother died from cancer and four friends were killed in a road crash a year later, Jamie was forced to seek help. Then years later, and just as the ex-model was making serious strides towards Hollywood, he suffered another blow when his devoted father was diagnosed with life-threatening leukaemia.
Jamie was very aware that life was precious and, following his dad’s lead, the star was determined to make the most of everything he had. Indeed, just a year after his thirtieth birthday, there was much to celebrate: not only had he been fortunate enough to land a lead role in the film adaptation of E. L. James’s top-selling book, Jamie had also become a father.
His two greatest life ambitions had happened within weeks of each other; as his wife prepared to give birth, the actor had been gearing up to start filming on the
While he would need some serious courage and drive to pull off both roles with aplomb, the tough times had taught Jamie that with the love and support of his devoted family he could achieve anything he wanted. And as the handsome actor stood in front of a star-studded audience at the 2014 Irish Film and
Television Awards, golden statue in hand, he had everything to thank them for, saying: ‘I want to thank my beautiful family for being really beautiful. I want to thank my wife Millie for being the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to thank my baby who is four months old and she’s sleeping right now upstairs, she’s beautiful too. And I want to thank everyone who’s ever met me and who’s been nice to me I guess. Thank you all.’
As he addressed the crowd, Jamie looked every inch the beautiful Christian Grey to the legions of fans watching this special moment in his life. His lifestyle, though, couldn’t be more different from that of the fictional character he plays: no swanky helicopter was waiting to whisk him away from the ceremony and no champagne on ice or team of blonde assistants was on hand to tend to his every whim. Modest to a fault, Jamie is a kind, thoughtful family man with a penchant for drinking Guinness.
He is so down to earth that he likes to tidy up before his cleaner comes round and keeps stamps in his wallet because he likes good old-fashioned letter-writing, especially to his dad.
A devoted father himself, he would rather spend the night rocking his daughter to sleep in his arms than party until dawn with the rich and famous. And not only that, he even described champagne as ‘poo-flavoured sand’.
However, while Jamie Dornan’s life seems as far from Christian Grey’s as it can possibly get, it is certainly not black-and-white either. In fact, not only have there been many shades to Jamie’s past, it has been very colourful indeed.
t first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that James – ‘Jamie’ – Dornan, born in Belfast on 1 May 1982, had something of an idyllic childhood. He did grow up in Holywood after all, even if this was a rather genteel suburb in County Down, Northern Ireland, and not the more well-known Hollywood in California.
He enjoyed a privileged upbringing and although Northern Ireland was at the centre of the IRA terrorist campaign that rampaged throughout the 1980s, Jamie knew little of it.
Growing up in a sprawling family home in the well-to-do suburbs, Jamie was the youngest of three in a well-respected family. His father Jim Dornan – a doctor and world-famous obstetrician – and mother Lorna, a ‘beautiful and very glamorous’ nurse, had created a picture-perfect and comfortable home for their children Liesa, Jessica and Jamie, set amongst stunning
gardens and protected by impressive gates. The family were also blessed with good friends and an enviable social life, and the children benefitted from outstanding schooling.
Jamie’s parents were proud of their offspring, particularly since five years of infertility at the start of their marriage meant that the pair had spent half a decade worrying about whether they might never be able to create a family of their own. During the years of failed attempts to conceive their first baby, Jim’s job of delivering babies on a near daily basis felt even more poignant.
The situation reached the stage where Lorna became increasingly concerned that it would never happen and so they sought medical advice. ‘I can remember being investigated which was pretty basic all those years ago but I remember hoping that it would be my problem because I could cope with it, I could get my head around it,’ Jamie’s father said of their years of trying, but failing, to start a family.
Luckily, just as the pair were undergoing tests to determine any underlying complications, Lorna unexpectedly fell pregnant with Jamie’s oldest sister Liesa. It was a life-changing moment for both of them – even for Jim, whose professional expertise was in all things relating to babies and new mothers. ‘I felt physically nauseated witnessing the pain of labour suffered by my wife Lorna,’ he said, adding that his helplessness was not eased at being ‘put out of the room’ as per the conventional wisdom of the time. ‘Even though I was an obstetrician I was told to leave the delivery room for my first child; in those days we didn’t have epidurals so it was assisted delivery and sometimes the man wasn’t allowed,’ Jim explained.
A second daughter, Jessica, followed two years later and, four years after that, they welcomed a son into the world, who was named James following a three-generation tradition. It was love at first sight for all involved and Jamie, as he was known, was quite clearly the apple of his father’s eye. ‘Jamie’s one of the nicest people I know […] he is essentially a very good and grounded man. He’s got a great sense of humour too and is sensitive in nature. We are all immensely proud of him,’ Jim once said of his famous son.
Together, they were a secure and powerful unit, since family was everything to both Jim and Lorna, despite their very different upbringings. ‘Every child is a product of their parents,’ Jamie’s father once noted in an interview about his incredible medical career, which spanned over forty years. ‘So we are coloured a lot by what happens in our youth.’
For Jamie, this couldn’t have been a more accurate reflection of who he was; as the schoolboy emerged as a true all-rounder, it was obvious his family had an astonishing influence in shaping every part of his being. He was not only a keen sportsman but also a talented musician and promising actor; additionally, Jamie was kind, considerate and empathic: if someone was upset and having a hard time, the youngster would instantly show kindness. This should come as no surprise as, with so many of his immediate relatives involved in the caring professions, a compassionate nature was instilled in him very early on.
His mother Lorna, in particular, helped to pass on to her young children those very important values, even though her own childhood had been less than idyllic. Like so many
women in the 1940s and 1950s who had fallen pregnant when unmarried, Lorna’s biological mother had been forced to give her daughter up for adoption. Fortunately for Lorna, though, unlike thousands of children of her generation, the woman who took her on was a devoted and adoring mother who raised the young girl as her own. ‘In the sixties and in my teens I went out with six different adopted girls, not that I was a philanderer, it was just very common, there were a lot of people out there who were adopted in your class at school,’ Jamie’s father once described. ‘We all know the reason behind it, because a child born out of wedlock was seen as a terrible thing and society did put a lot of pressure on these girls to adopt. One of my sisters was adopted and yes my wife was adopted too,’ he said.
Although Lorna spent much of her life not knowing who her real mother was, she eventually managed to track her down, only to discover that she had a sister, too – and in turn an aunt for Jamie. ‘Lorna was incredibly close to her mother, the woman who reared her. It’s not always a good idea to go and find your real mother, but in Lorna’s case it worked well,’ Jim added.
Professor Dornan, on the other hand, was the middle one of three children, sandwiched between two sisters. He grew up in the confines of ‘the rather non-PC named’ Cripples Institute in Bangor, where his accountant father was manager. Although his parents doted on their children, his upbringing was strict and religious, ‘although non-sectarian I’m proud to say,’ as Jim later recalled.
At school, the future doctor wasn’t a high flyer but ‘kept going’ with his education while being something of a live wire outside
the classroom. ‘I did talk an awful lot and I think I have and did have Attention Deficit Disorder because I was always charging about doing one thing or another,’ he recalled.
As many of his best friends lived inside the institution, a job within the caring profession seemed likely from quite early on. ‘I spent my time playing with children with spina bifida or other conditions and later, as a doctor, I found it fascinating to put a diagnosis on all the different kids I had known.
‘The Institute was an amazing place. It wasn’t that the children’s families had rejected them but rather it was felt their needs were best served in an institutionalised framework. I can only remember one child who was not happy, who said he would rather not have been born.’
Jim’s parents were adamant he would make a fantastic doctor but the teenager had other ideas: he wanted to be an actor. His burning ambition to tread the boards was no doubt partly due to having a world-famous Hollywood actress in the family – and not a distant relative either. Oscar-winning beauty Greer Garson was his mother’s cousin, a remarkable woman who, when Jamie’s acting career took flight in the late 1990s, was referred to incorrectly in the press as his ‘famous great-aunt’.
Greer was an impressive addition to the Dornan family. The strikingly beautiful red-haired star was one of the most popular Hollywood actresses of the World War II era, starring in a string of famous movies including
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
(1939), the original
Pride and Prejudice
(1948). Five-times Oscar nominated, the screen star won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1943 for
and a Golden Globe in
1961 for her role as Eleanor Roosevelt in
Sunrise at Campobello.
Born in Essex, Greer – like Jamie many years later – initially didn’t intend to be an actor but chose to go to university at King’s College in London to study French and eighteenth-century literature. Although she had intended to become a teacher, she began working in an advertising agency and appeared in local theatrical productions. By chance she was then spotted by American film producer Louis B. Mayer and signed to the famous MGM studios in 1937, which led to an incredible forty-year career and a new and glamorous life in the States.
She was undeniably a source of fascination to Jim and his longing to follow in her footsteps saw him apply to the top London drama school, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Even though, to his immense delight, he won a much sought after place at the famous institution, Jim’s parents point-blank refused to let him pursue his Hollywood dream. ‘My father thought it would be good to have a son that did medicine. Not for a social thing but for him success in life was education,’ he said. ‘Doctors were respected people and would never be out of a job. He was a socialist and it wouldn’t have been down to climbing the social ladder.’
Jim understood the decision but the lost opportunity stayed with him for many years and perhaps rubbed off a little on his son. Indeed, it was undeniable that when, some forty years later, just as Jim was retiring from the NHS, Jamie finally achieved the dream of making it as an actor, the doctor was more than proud watching from the sidelines. Jamie, who was aware of what had happened, commented, ‘His parents were very strict
and said, “No, you’re going to medical school.” He’s sort of living vicariously through me now. He’s a great doctor but he would have been a fine actor.’
Jim’s life took a different turn and he went to Queens University in Belfast to study medicine, where he found his calling in obstetrics, the field which specialises in pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-partum care of mothers and their babies.
The young medic was fascinated and overwhelmed by the miracle of birth and even four decades later, after delivering some 6,000 babies, the feeling of wonderment never wore off. It was clearly the right decision for Jamie’s father after all. ‘I failed a few exams, passed a few exams – but once I found obstetrics I knew I had found something that I could really relate to, I never looked back,’ Jim said.
By the time Jamie was born, his beloved father was a professor with decades of experience under his belt and affectionately known as Northern Ireland’s ‘baby doctor’. His career as one of the world’s leading obstetricians and gynaecologists was in full swing and Jim’s impressive medical reputation meant future high-ranking posts within the NHS, including Director of Fetal Medicine at the Belfast Royal Maternity Hospital and Senior Vice-President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London.
The demands of a round-the-clock career, coupled with the responsibility of raising a young family, meant that Jim had to do some serious juggling. Keen to spend as much time with his children as possible, the devoted father would often take them on his hospital rounds on Saturday mornings. Kind and mild-mannered,
Jamie was fascinated when observing his world-famous dad, whose zest for saving lives had made him well-known on the hospital circuit, as he cradled the tiny newborns who were usually a matter of a few days – if not just hours – old.
Maternity wards were certainly an unusual place for a young boy to spend his free time but Jamie adored his father, and family was everything to the Dornans. The bond between father and son was particularly strong and in later years Jamie was in awe of the doctor’s ability to hold down an all-consuming and demanding job while remaining an ever-devoted parent. ‘He’s an astonishing man. I find him hugely impressive in pretty much every facet of his being,’ Jamie admitted.
The hospital rounds benefitted Jim in that he was able to spend time with his children and also allowed Jamie to witness the miracle of life from a very tender age, meaning that the actor’s caring and paternal side was shaped from boyhood. Such profound experience sparked a lifelong desire within Jim’s only son to have children of his own. While many men would be shy to admit it, Jamie knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a father and felt an inner confidence that it would be a positive experience. ‘I get broody even when I see strangers’ babies,’ he confessed as a young man in his twenties. ‘I’ve wanted to be a father for many, many years.’
Of course, he had much to draw on his own idyllic upbringing to use as a template for his own family one day. Little Jamie, being the much-loved youngest child of the Dornan brood, was immediately taken under everyone’s wing. His mother taught him to read, so he became an avid bookworm, his two older
sisters had a little brother to preen, protect and look after, while his father taught him all that he knew.
As a schoolboy, Jamie enjoyed all the usual pursuits of fishing, riding bikes and building camps, and his love for animals meant that his dream job at primary school was to be a ranger, which over the years grew more eccentric in design. ‘I saw an episode of Lassie where there was a park ranger who drove a golf buggy. I thought it was the coolest thing. A ranger who played golf – that became the dream,’ he told the
Mail on Sunday.
Often found with his nose in a book, the youngest Dornan read as many classic childhood novels as he could get his hands on, which he later admitted was hugely influential on his path to adulthood. ‘I recently reread all the classics from my youth,
Swallows and Amazons
, because they must have shaped me in an important way, but I wasn’t sure how,’ he commented years later.
It is true that scenes from his early childhood wouldn’t have been out of place in a Hollywood movie, with long summers spent languishing in the back garden enjoying barbeques and games on the lawn, while cold Irish winters saw the family gather for sumptuous and much-loved roast dinners every Sunday afternoon.
When Jamie started school, he immediately showed an aptitude for all disciplines. His family’s past – whether he knew it or not – and their rich and varied skills and natural strengths seemed to manifest themselves in the young schoolboy.
Sport was his life and he was a die-hard Manchester United fan who loved playing football. It also quickly became obvious
that he was a dab hand at rugby; thanks to his speed and slight size, Jamie was ideal for a position on the wing.
He also became renowned for his regular trips to fast-food giant McDonald’s to get fuelled up before matches by scoffing burgers. ‘I’ve played on the wing since I was about eight. I’ve always needed to bulk up so until the modelling took off I was ramming Big Macs down my throat,’ he said. ‘I remember Jamie’s Big Mac obsession,’ a former classmate remembered. ‘He was a fantastic sportsman and was the envy of a lot of his peers.’