Ben Miller says taking risks can be liberating

The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Ben Miller says taking risks can be liberating

  • Ben Miller, who lives in Gloucestershire, stared in The Armstrong & Miller Show
  • The 55-year-old recounts not going ahead with his PhD to become an actor
  • Says you need to take risks to give yourself the chance to learn and develop  

Ben Miller, 55, was Alexander Armstrong’s comedy partner in The Armstrong & Miller Show. He also appeared as DI Richard Poole in BBC’s Death In Paradise. Ben lives in Gloucestershire with his wife, producer Jessica Parker. He has three children aged 15, nine and six.

In my new show, Professor T, my character has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental health condition where you have recurring thoughts and repetitive behaviours you can’t control. In my 20s I had OCD, and eventually got over it with the help of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The difficult thing wasn’t the CBT; it was admitting I had OCD, because I’d been protecting myself from looking at a part of me that wasn’t functioning well. Yet I couldn’t have my current degree of freedom without taking the risk of admitting what OCD was doing to me.

Ben Miller, 55, (pictured) who lives in Gloucestershire, says you need to take risks to give yourself a chance to learn and develop

I think this applies across the board. You can’t be free in a relationship until you’re prepared to risk being yourself and tell that person who you are. I’m not saying I manage this all the time; my life is a struggle to try to take the risks necessary for me to have more freedom.

For example, at [Cambridge] university I studied natural sciences, which I thought of as the safe option. There was high unemployment and everyone was encouraged to do science because there would be more job opportunities.

But then I started doing my PhD in physics and the longer I carried on, the more I realised I wanted to be an actor and write my own comedy. It was a decision that made no sense whatsoever, but I chucked in my PhD.

I was lucky I met Alexander Armstrong (through a friend) and the two of us wrote together. There were years we were skint — we call them ‘The Potato Years’ — when we were banking material.

We were taking a risk: I turned down a well-paid commercial as I wanted to be in my own stuff and I convinced Xander to turn down a role at The National Theatre. Eventually, we were commissioned to do our sketch show in 1997.

Another example is when I left Death In Paradise in 2013. I felt I had done what I wanted to with the character and needed to move on. People were angry, saying: ‘You’re insane’. And it was insane in a way, but I’m playing a longer game.

I want to give myself the chance to learn and develop. And to do that, you need to push yourself and take risks.

Professor T is on ITV, Sundays at 9pm. 

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