Aneirin Hughes Alumni Interview

It’s getting towards that time of year again when we students start thinking about how fast the year has flown by, how close to graduation we are, and what we’re going to do with ourselves for the long summer ahead, not to mention thinking about real-world, post-graduation jobs! So I thought it was high time we embraced the scariness of impending real life, ‘sans Uni.’ and learned from those who have been there and conquered it. I asked award winning TV and film actor, and Aberystwyth alumnus, Aneirin Hughes, about his time at, and experiences since leaving, Aber. You might not recognise his name, but his face may be more familiar; Hughes has been appearing in our TV favourites since the early 1990s, with regular appearances on ‘Doctors’, ‘Judge John Deed’ and ‘Young Dracula’, although many of you may be more familiar with him from his repeat appearances as  Andy Jones in ‘Eastenders’. Here, Hughes shares with me some of his happy memories, wishes and regrets, along with a few words of wisdom for today’s undergrads:

So you were a local in Aberystwyth, did you always want to attend the (then) University College of Wales, Aberystwyth? Casting my mind back, I remember being in the car with my dad driving through Aber one day after school when I asked him, “What’s that building dad”? He explained it was built as a hotel but was now part of the University College of Wales here in Aberystwyth. To my shame I didn’t really know what a university was, even at fifteen!  I told him  “I’m going to go there and study”. The journey to Aber Uni was an arduous one. I didn’t realise what qualifications needed were or indeed how to get them. Fortunately my dreadful secondary modern became a comprehensive and things started to improve.

You studied music, was that something you’d always known you wanted to follow as a career? I seemed to be ok with music, largely because my parents had the forethought to give me piano lessons. I also sang and played in the town’s Silver Band. So music became the strongest contender as an academic subject.

What were your favourite aspects of being a student in Aber? Favourite aspects of being in Aber certainly included pubs; Y Cŵps being the main haunt – live jazz – it was great. I was out every night: G&S [Gilbert and Sullivan] Mondays & Thursdays,  Elizabethan Madrigal Singers on Tuesdays, UCW Orchestra Wed, mostly pub on Fri. and Choral Union on Sundays. I also played at a local chapel so I could use their piano in the vestry to practise on through the week. I was hauled over the coals by my Prof. and lecturers for doing too much extracurricular and not enough academic work.

Following graduation, how did you decide what to do next? Following graduation I spent a little time at the conservatoire at The Hague wanting to pursue my dream of conducting professionally. However the cost made it impossible and I returned home to play for summer season musicals and pantos. After a few years of that and doing some peripatetic brass teaching for the county I ended up at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow to do a post graduate opera course. Great place, great people.

When and how did you make the transition from music to acting? I then worked with various opera companies like Scottish Opera and Glyndebourne Opera where I met and worked with directors who also did theatre; so the transition happened. There was one crazy time when I was in ‘As You Like It’ at the Old Vic and ‘The Rakes Progress’ (the opera) at Glyndebourne at the same time!

You’ve appeared in quite a few of our TV fav’s; what for you has been the greatest achievement in your career? Probably getting a BAFTA for ‘Cameleon’, a Welsh language feature, that won many prizes at various festivals around the world.

What advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the acting world? DON’T!  Unless you can deal with insecurity and rejection. It’s a fickle old business. Or at least have something strong to fall back on. However if it’s your true passion, then there’s nothing to beat it.

Were there ever any points in your life where you wished you had taken a different path, maybe studied a different subject or studied somewhere else? Sometimes I think that now! I’ve always been into Astronomy since I was a kid and I’ve recently been doing some OU short science courses in Cosmology. They are mind-blowingly brilliant introductions.

How would you say your time in Aber shaped who you are today? I always recommend every youngster to go to University if you can. You will meet a cross section of people with different backgrounds and different thinking; that’s a good education in itself. Anything that challenges you is a good thing. So, being in Aber in my opinion was as good as being anywhere else. You’re bound to meet interesting people on the way.

You have children of your own now, what’s it like watching them becoming young adults and choosing their path in life? Like any parent you want your child to have every opportunity and the best education. It’s fantastic watching them grow and achieve. My boy’s at Oxford reading French and my daughter is gearing up well for her GCSE’s.

Graduation seems a scary gateway to the real world; do you have any tips or suggestions for a smooth transition? Enjoy it – it’s your prize for all the hard work and play!  Whatever you choose to do, do it with passion. It will reward you in the end. Good luck.