Made in Maidstone
“Fame. I want to live forever. I want to learn how to fly.” Lofty aims, especially the
second one. But Maidstone, a beautiful but humble town, has produced more than
its fair share of stars, spanning a wide range of genres. Putting aside renowned 19th
century critic and essayist William Hazlitt, and with a fervent resolution to exclude
“Barry from Eastenders”, we have decided to focus on more contemporary celebrities.
So be proud Maidstone, of these high achievers, though perhaps of some more than
1. Tony Hart
For my generation – I’m 32 – Tony Hart and his essential art show Hartbeat are as
synonymous with childhood as Transformers and the Super Nintendo. The former
Army officer studied at the Maidstone College of Art (now the Maidstone campus of
the University for the Creative Arts) and broke into television in the 1950s. Finding
his niche in children’s programming, Hart’s ‘partnership’ with animated plasticine
character, Morph, is the stuff of TV legend. Hartbeat, one of several shows Tony
fronted, was broadcast for nine years and its presenter won two Baftas. Hart passed
away, aged 83, in 2009.
2. Mackenzie Crook
Okay so this… let’s go with unique-looking actor is never going to win any beaty
pageants (if indeed male versions exist) but he is a gifted and charismatic performer
who has translated his undeniable talent into major success. Paul (his real given
name), was born in Maidstone and raised in Dartford, though we won’t hold that
against him. After starting off as a sketch writer and comedian, Crook has since
appeared in, among many other projects, two Pirates of the Caribbean movies,
Finding Neverland and several episodes of acclaimed TV epic, Game of Thrones. He
is, of course, most famous for his role as anal geek Gareth Keenan in The Office, the
part which accelerated his rise to the big time.
3. Andy Townsend
Currently hamming it up as a Mockney TV soccer pundit, Townsend was quite
the footballer in his day. Despite earning 70 caps for the Republic of Ireland –
including two World Cup appearances, thanks to his industry, eye for goal and an
Irish grandmother – midfielder Townsend was born in this lovely town and grew up
in Bexley. His first club was actually Welling United and Andy went on to star for
Weymouth, Southampton, Norwich – where he was shortlisted for the PFA Players’
Player of the Year award – Chelsea, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and West Brom.
4. Robert Fisk
In our reality TV-obsessed times, few may immediately identify Fisk as the
Independent Newspaper’s fearless and highly talented Middle East correspondent,
but this intrepid, experienced journalist deserves the utmost respect and recognition.
The seven-time International journalist of the year has been in his post for over two
decades and speaks Arabic, a handy skill for someone who interviewed Osama Bin
Laden on three occasions (there is unlikely to be a fourth!). His father was a Borough
Treasurer for Maidstone Council and Fisk, a pacifist, has lived in Beirut since 1976. A
seasoned war reporter, Fisk is also an accomplished author.
5. Carol McGiffin
This former Loose Women presenter is possibly a touch fortunate to be in such
exalted company but at least her inclusion allays any charges of sexism. A longtime
radio presenter, McGiffin began as co-host to Chris Evans – who she later married
then divorced – on GLR and has worked for a variety of other stations, including
LBC. Carol apparently appeared in 1172 episodes of Loose Woman from 2003 until
last year and came fourth in Celebrity Big Brother in August. After quitting the
popular daytime show last year, McGiffin plans to move to Asia with her fiancée.