John Simm's life from growing up in Lancashire to stardom with roles in Life on Mars, Doctor Who & Grace

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
It’s star of stage and screen John Simm’s birthday today and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the Lancashire actor’s life so far...

Early life

John Simm was born on July 10 1970 in Leeds, the eldest of three children . His father, Ronald, was a musician, originally from Crumpsall in Manchester.

The actor then grew up in various places across Lancashire and the North West, including Blackpool, Burnley, Colne, Manchester, and Nelson.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

John attended Edge End High School in Nelson and later the Blackpool and The Fylde College, where he graduated from a three-year performing arts course in 1989.

During his time at college, he starred in Guys and Dolls and West Side Story at Blackpool's Grand Theatre.

Throughout his teens, John sang and played guitar with his father on stage in working men's clubs and when he was 24, he and childhood friend Dean Taylor founded the band ‘Magic Alex’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The band became regulars on the circuit and played sold out shows across London and beyond, but John later had to leave the band when his acting career took off.

Getty Images for Walt Disney Stu

Career beginnings

John had his first professional acting role aged 22, when he starred in an episode of the TV series Rumpole of the Bailey.

He had small parts in a variety of TV shows - including Cracker with the late Robbie Coltrane- before his first film debut in 1995 which was the British drama film ‘Boston Kickout’: John played the lead alongside Andrew Lincoln and Marc Warren.

His first significant part was in the Jimmy McGovern TV drama The Lakes between 1997-1999 and straight after that John had his biggest break so far in film, starring in the cult classic Human Traffic (1999) alongside now well known British stars Danny Dyer, Lorraine Pilkington, Shaun Parkes and Nicola Reynolds.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Over the next five or so years, John then starred in a multitude of TV shows and films, the most high profile of which include the comedy film Miranda starring Christina Ricci and the BBC show State of Play with David Morrissey.

Getty Images

Making it big

John’s biggest break into the industry came in 2006 when he landed the lead role of Sam Tyler in the critically acclaimed BBC series Life on Mars for which he received three award nominations, including a BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

In 2007, Life of Mars ended and John starred in the BBC’s iconic show Doctor Who for the first time as The Master - he goes on to star in the show again between 2009–2010 and 2017.

In 2011, John was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor and a Royal Television Society Award for Best Male Actor for his role as Tom Ronstadt in the BBC psychological thriller series Exile.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That same year he landed the lead role of Lloyd Baxter in another BBC psychological thriller, Mad Dogs which went on to have four series, ending in 2013.

Also starring Marc Warren, Max Beesley and Philip Glenister, Mad Dogs was nominated for the British Academy Television Award for Best Serial Drama in 2011 and 2012.

In 2012, John starred in the unique drama film Everyday which was filmed in real-time over five years and also starred Shirley Henderson.

Other notable TV shows include the BBC period drama The Village between 2013-2014 and the American comedy drama The Catch between 2016-2017.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

John has also starred in nine stage plays between 1996 and 2019, receiving a Best Actor Laurence Olivier Awards nomination for his part in Elling at Trafalgar Theatre in 2007.


Latest projects

John currently stars in two series that both started in 2021, the most well known probably being the ITV crime drama Grace in which he plays the lead DSU Roy Grace and this will be going into its fifth series next year.

The second show is Irvin Welsh’s Crime, another ITV crime drama, in which John plays Gareth Horsborough, also known as Mr Confectioner, the main antagonist in both series so far.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Personal life

John married actress Kate Magowan in 2004 having previously starred in four films together: 24 Hour Party People, Is Harry On The Boat?, Tuesday and the award-winning short film Devilwood.

The couple have two children - Ryan, now 22, and Molly, 16 - and they moved from London to Brighton during the Covid lockdown.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.