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Sir Patrick Stewart: “There is no shame in buying beautiful...
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Sir Patrick Stewart: “There is no shame in buying beautiful things”

Friday, 25 October 2019
By Frank Rousseau
Frank Rousseau

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7 min read

He is an actor of immense talent, with more than five decades of stage and screen appearances. Fortunately for us, at the age of 79, Sir Patrick Stewart, alias Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men, has no plans to take his final bow.

We now know Sir Patrick is reprising his role in the saga that made the actor a household name: that of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek. And when he talks about watches, resistance is futile!

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? And which power would you definitely not want?

That’s an easy one. I wouldn’t want to be able to read people’s minds, like Professor X who I played in the X-Men saga. I’m not interested in knowing what people think. If I did have to choose a superpower, it would be teleportation, beaming myself from place to place, like in Star Trek. I hate spending my life in planes. If only there were such a thing as a watch with a built-in transporter…

sir Patrick Stewart
sir Patrick Stewart
What if someone gave you a watch that enabled you to travel through time. Would you go back to the past or forward to the future?

As a Shakespearian actor, I’ve always been fascinated by how the Bard’s plays were originally performed. A front-row seat at the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe would be perfect. I doubt I would have enjoyed life in the Elizabethan era, but I would love to see actors of that period at work.

Today you're wearing a magnificent Paul Smith suit and a watch by IWC Schaffhausen. How would you describe the contents of your wardrobe?

Definitely nothing like it was before my wife took over [laughs]! I still remember the day she made me put sixteen suits in a bin bag and take them to the Salvation Army. Of course she was absolutely right. All of this stems from a poverty mentality which took years to shake off. I grew up in a terribly poor family. New clothes were something we simply couldn’t afford, and so in my mind it was unthinkable not to wear a shirt or a jacket or a pair of trousers until they were threadbare. Then I was fortunate enough to meet a stylist in New York. He and my wife worked together to transform my wardrobe. And watches? Well, for a very long time I felt guilty about buying beautiful, luxurious timepieces. I didn’t want people to say, “Oh look, another actor showing off.” That’s how it was until the day I understood there was no shame in buying beautiful things that bring pleasure. It took me a while to accept I had the right to certain satisfactions, particularly after so many years of hard work. Watches have a lot to do with that!

She took me to a Beverly Hills jeweller's and I picked out a Rolex. It cost me every penny of my savings.
Sir Patrick Stewart

Because a watch is more than just an object that gives the time. Behind every watch there is an idea, a design, a concept, an innovation, and the watchmaker’s desire to create something that is greater than anything that has ever existed before.

Do you still have the costume you wore as Jean-Luc Picard?

Absolutely, in fact there’s a funny story about that. I was a guest on Conan O’Brien’s show and he asked if I’d kept my Star Trek costume, which I hadn’t. At the end of filming, I had asked if I could keep it. I even offered to buy it or to have an identical one made but Paramount refused, saying it should go on display in a museum. A year later I went back on Conan’s show and he said he had something for me. He’d actually called Paramount on my behalf and convinced them to part with the costume, which he gave me. It’s now hanging in my wardrobe and that’s where it will stay.

sir Patrick Stewart
sir Patrick Stewart
You're a British citizen. Do you remember the first time you came to live in the US?

I first came to Los Angeles in 1968 for a production with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Ahmanson Theatre. I fell in love with Southern California, Los Angeles, the Ahmanson and Tommy’s hamburgers [laughs]. I appreciated how kind people were and how easy it was to get around town. Of course, this was back in 1968. It turned into quite a long love affair as I stayed in LA for the next seventeen years, then went back to England. When I finally decided to move to Hollywood, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger then Karl Malden at a gala evening. The first advice I was ever given was from Eva. She told me, “In Hollywood, people judge you by your appearance. Take that watch you’re wearing. It looks cheap. You need to buy a much showier one so that when you go to a producer’s office they’ll think, ‘Wow, this kid must be good if he’s earning enough to buy that watch!'” She then took me to a Beverly Hills jeweller and I picked out a Rolex. It cost me every penny of my savings. I was eating spaghetti and boiled potatoes for months after that! [laughs].

The watch industry never ceases to amaze me.
Sir Patrick Stewart
What is it about watches that fascinates you today?

Miniaturisation, and how sophisticated they have become. The watch industry never ceases to amaze me. We’re constantly being told there is nothing left to invent in watchmaking, yet patents are being filed every day. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a very poor family. We didn’t have a gramophone. If we wanted to listen to the radio, we had to plug it into a battery. Not a modern lithium battery. A car battery! Now you have watches that store songs, data, photos… They really are computers for the wrist.

Of the many thousands of people you've met, who wore the most unusual watch?

The singer, Sting. This was in 1989. I was in Mexico City at the Churubusco studios. We were filming David Lynch’s wonderful movie, Dune. I remember one day there was a real buzz on the set. I asked a colleague what was going on and he replied, “You haven’t heard? Sting’s joining the cast.” Well I’d never heard of Sting. I just thought it was rather a peculiar name. Later, the two of us were hanging out on the set and I asked him, “So you’re a musician. What instrument do you play?” and he replied, “Bass.” Then I asked who did he play with, and he answered The Police. Well I thought he meant a police band! That shows the extent of my musical knowledge. Anyway, I remember he wore a watch with a liquid crystal display. It was actually quite ordinary, not in the least pretentious. Like the man himself.

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