EastEnders star Sid Owen on childhood blighted by family tragedy and poverty

AS EastEnders’ Ricky Butcher, Sid Owen found fame and fortune.

Yet the actor, 49, first had to face a childhood blighted by family tragedy and grinding poverty.

In The Sun’s first exclusive extract of his book From Rags To Ricky, he tells of his troubled upbringing.

THE plane looked massive as I walked across the Tarmac at Luton Airport, Mum holding my hand to make sure I didn’t dart off.

Dad and my brothers climbed easily up the clanging metal stairs while my little legs struggled to keep up. No way was I being left behind.

For the first time ever, we were all getting a proper family holiday abroad, in sunny Minorca.

We’d seen the posters on travel agents’ windows, all palm trees and beaches, but now we were actually going ourselves.

This was going to be sweet. Everyone was fit to bursting.

There we are, about to taxi down the runway and take off. Mum, Dad, brothers Mark, Darren, Scott and me.

The crew had just started shutting the doors and pulling the stairs away when police cars suddenly appeared outside the window, all flashing lights and sirens, getting closer and closer.

Next thing we knew, the cabin was full of the Old Bill.

They grabbed my dad, stuck him in handcuffs and dragged him out. We were screaming, terrified.


Then they marched Mum, my brothers and me off the plane and drove us away in the back of a van.

What happened next is a blank in my memory.

We must have been taken back to London.

I don’t know what Dad was arrested for — but they didn’t manage to nail him that time.

It would have been better for us all if they had.

I was called David after my dad, although everyone knew him as “Porky”.

They say I was a chubby little baby, so I became “Steak and Kidney Sidney”, which immediately got shortened to Sid, and that’s what I’ve been called ever since.

My mum Joan found out too late that my dad had two sides, and the bad side was evil — especially on the drink.

We’d hear him coming in from the pub and everything would feel ominous while we waited to see who he’d pick on. He used to beat Mum up — then he started on us.

I remember hiding, scared and worried for my mum.

She kept chucking him out because he was just too violent and no way was she going to let someone hurt her boys.

Robbing banks was one thing, but violence against kids was another.

He kept crawling back, promising never to do it again. She kept hoping that was true but it never was.

The neighbours knew my dad was beating up my mum, my brothers and basically anyone who got within his radius when he lost it.

We’d run away if we could but it was horrible knowing he’d be beating Mum up.

Sometimes, if we were all there, my brothers and me would try to protect her.

I was only tiny but as the others got bigger they could sometimes manage it.

He used to have a go at her when my older brothers were out, though, or when all of us were out.

We’d come home to find Mum all beaten up and crying. Things smashed up all over the shop.

My dad eventually got done for a heavy-duty robbery that was enough to put him away for a long stretch.

Everyone was glad to see the back of Porky.

By the time I came along as the baby brother, by the third dad, we were living at Mandeville Houses on Mantell Street, in Islington, North London.

Mandeville was known on the outside as being very rough.

It was a real old kind of tenement community where no one had a pot to p* in but everyone knew each other and your neighbours became your friends.

People would really help each other out and you could just go and ring your neighbour’s doorbell if you needed something.

Looking back, that was a bit of a lifesaver for my mum.

Mum had managed to get jobs in pubs and the bingo hall at Chapel Market.

She was great at both as she was the real life and soul of any room.

Always very pretty with a big personality.

It’s a tough gig being on your own with three young kids, though.

My brothers got me involved in burglaries when I was barely out of nappies.

I was four years old, I think, the very first time — maybe five.

I would climb up on roofs to get into shops through the skylights and then open the doors.

The skylights were so small that as Darren and then Scott grew bigger, I was the only one who could fit.

I wasn’t aware what I was doing. I was too young. I just thought it was fun.

They called me Spider-Man because I was so good at climbing walls.

Christmas time was pretty mental, looking back. We all basically went out on the rob for presents.

Christmas Day was spent comparing all the things we’d nicked for each other, sitting round the nicked Christmas tree, Mum popping in and out of the tiny kitchen, checking on the turkey she’d got from the market.

Which she also nicked.

But even with all the petty thieving, we were pretty skint most of the time.

Mum smoked very heavily, as many did back in the day, and then the drink got hold of her — a social release that was part of the culture, but for her it quietly became a secret addiction.

We only found out years later how much she was putting away.


She was always slim but at best she had a terrible diet, then she slowly began eating less and drinking more.

For all that my dad was a st and she was better off without him, being left alone with four hyperactive boys was tough and lonely for her.

Somehow, through all that chaos, me and my brothers were happy, loved and looked after.

I was seven years old when I first knew Mum was dying.

The adults had been trying to hide the truth from us for a while but I had that sick feeling that something was badly wrong.

One day I was messing around in our bedroom with my brothers when Pat, a very good friend of Mum’s, sat us down and just said: “Look, your Mum is very ill.”

Mum had cervical cancer. She was never one for going to the doctor.

I don’t know how long she had been poorly or whether anything could have been done if she had been diagnosed earlier, but I think by the time they found out she was in a bad state.

I vividly remember Mum in bed when we’d just been told that she was going to die and suddenly realising how ill she looked.

Before that moment, I’d always hoped she would get better.

I got very upset at first. They say I cried myself to sleep every night.

She was then taken to the hospital, St Barts down in Smithfield.

It wasn’t too long after that we visited her there for the last time, like a goodbye.

I’ll never forget seeing her in the hospital bed and looking basically yellow.

She’d had chemo and everything but it hadn’t worked. The room smelled awful. Like death.

We went downstairs and saw a fountain with money in it and we got in and started to take out all the coins.

I’d never seen money in a fountain before. We were nicking all the money when Pat came out and slapped us around the head and made us put it all back.

Mum died in November 1979, a couple of months before my eighth birthday.

She was only 35. I didn’t cry. I just felt numb and alone. It was just me and my brothers now.

No mum. No proper dad.

Only Mark was allowed to go to the funeral, as the extended family thought me, Darren and Scott were too young.

Instead we were sent to a relative’s place 20 miles away.

We should all have gone to the funeral. We should have been able to say a proper goodbye to Mummy.

On the day it took place, me, Scott and Darren decided to escape from the house.

They found us later but it was a weird feeling, knowing your own mum was being buried and just running and running through this strange landscape.

We had no idea where we were going. We were trying to run off the pain and confusion of it all.

Messed up, as any kids would be in that situation.

I was so numb that I thought I had come to terms with it.

It took me many years to discover that this was far from the case.

From Rags To Ricky, by Sid Owen, published by Macmillan on Thursday, priced £18.99.

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