‘I hate the word bloody bromance,’ says Nick Frost. ‘And Simon hates it, too. It’s like someone had to come up with a quirky name that was slightly less threatening to heterosexual men.
‘I think there are lots of very close male friends out there who cuddle and kiss and tell each other they love each other,’ he continues. ‘It was there before me and Simon. Ours is just slightly more in the public eye.’
Simon, of course, is Simon Pegg – Frost’s best friend, regular creative collaborator and, let’s get this out of the way early, erstwhile sleeping partner. (It was a strictly platonic relationship – two men snuggling together for warmth and the occasional shared picture book – but has been endlessly remarked upon, usually with reference to those other comedy bedfellows, Morecambe and Wise.)
The story of how the pair met can’t help but recall a certain Human League song: Frost was working as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant, Pegg was the up-and-coming comedian boyfriend of one of his colleagues, and they bonded over a Star Wars robot (okay, that bit’s not in the Human League song).
Pegg was so convinced of his new friend’s natural comedy talent, he wrote him a part in his soon-to-be hit Channel 4 sitcom, Spaced. It was a huge gamble – as Frost admits in his vivid, hugely entertaining new autobiography, Truths, Half Truths and Little White Lies, ‘I wasn’t an actor – I was a lucky waiter’. But it paid off: Frost was terrific as Mike, the mustachioed, weapons-obsessed weekend warrior with a soft centre, and when Pegg and the show’s director, Edgar Wright, moved on to the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, Frost unexpectedly found himself a movie star, too.
In the book, Frost says that, without Pegg’s faith in him, his life would almost certainly have taken a very different path – possibly as high as area manager for that restaurant chain. ‘That meeting with Simon, and our subsequent 21 years, it’s a foundation of who I am now,’ he tells Weekend.
Despite the career leg-up, there’s no sense of Frost being the junior partner. ‘We’ve done a lot for each other,’ he says. ‘It really has been an equal partnership in terms of emotion and struggle and highs. It hasn’t just been him bailing me out. I’ve never really felt indebted, as such.’
Pegg doesn’t enter Frost’s memoirs until page 179. And if the consequences of that meeting were extraordinary, life beforehand was, in its own way, just as remarkable, albeit for very different reasons. Born in Dagenham in 1972, Frost enjoyed a modest but comfortable existence with his father, a furniture designer, and his Welsh mother. The latter, a ‘small yet fearsome’ force of nature, makes a spectacular early impression on readers, slugging it out with on the lawn with the mother of a pair of bullies who have been terrorising her son, after which she graciously takes her vanquished opponent’s shredded coat and offers to repair it.
Frost’s riotous, raw recollections of his formative years are the real highlight of Truths... At times, it reads like an English Trainspotting, especially when adolescence hits and Frost is transformed into an ‘Essex druggy tearaway’. But it is also a life dogged by tragedy, his sister’s death from an asthma attack when Frost was just 10 being the first of several painful losses. Five years later, his parents’ business failed and the family left their pleasant, double-fronted suburban home for a tiny flat on a grim council estate populated by ‘hard kids with dead, hard eyes’ and littered with ‘smashed-up washing machines and fridges, needles and burnt-out cars’. His father was reduced to scavenging for golf balls on the local range, while Frost himself sank into a cycle of despair, drug abuse and, on one occasion, attempted suicide.
The real tragedy, though, was being forced to watch his mother slowly drink herself to death. ‘Alcoholism,’ he writes, ‘seemed to tear and ravage my family like a coyote with a hen carcass’.
In 2007, Frost’s old and new lives collided to disorientating effect when, a couple of hours after being taken by Quentin Tarantino to a scuzzy Hollywood strip club-cum-Mexican gang hang-out (he and Pegg held hands for comfort), Frost received a call from his dad to say his mum had died. When he’d spoken to her the previous day, her last, confused words to him had been ‘It’s snowing in the kitchen’. He lost his dad – ‘my beautiful, soft, fragile, hero of a father’ – four years later.
Looking back on those early years, does Frost feel a sense of regret – anger, even?
‘I can’t change it,’ he says, matter-of-factly. ‘It was what it was and it wasn’t all bad. I think if you were to change any of those things, it would change who you are. And it was loving,’ he insists. ‘I wasn’t abused or beaten, it was just a kind of slow drip. Like being waterboarded with Special Brew.’
How would he describe his own relationship with alcohol?
‘I love a beer, yeah,’ he says. ‘But I’ve thought a lot about it, and I just don’t think I have the same feeling towards alcohol as Mum had. And as soon as my little boy [Mac, 4, his son with his Swedish wife Christina, who he is in the process of divorcing] came along, all bets were off.’
Having starred in all three of Pegg and Wright’s blockbusting ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ of buddy movies – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End – co-written the sci-fi comedy Paul, taken top billing in his own films (Cuban Fury) and TV series (Money, Mr Sloane) and even lived up to his name by playing Santa in the Doctor Who Christmas special, these days, Frost has the world at his feet. He’s stopped worrying about being rumbled as a ‘fake’ – the waiter who got lucky – but says he never takes his good fortune for granted.
It’s a measure of his confidence that he now feels ready to lay his life story – wartiest of warts and all – out on the line for everyone to see. ‘I thought, if I’m going to have the chance to write an autobiography, then it should be about everything,’ he says. ‘I wanted to be honest. And I have been. But I’d like to think I’ve balanced it with a great deal of the love that my parents showed me, even through the worst times.
‘Also,’ he adds, perhaps only half-jokingly, ‘there’s no-one left who can tell me off’.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 15, 2015
(c) Waitrose Weekend