'I was so angry': Dancing on Ice's Darren Harriott after early trauma of his dad's death in prison
The childhood trauma changed the Dancing On Ice star's life forever
He is a fast-rising star of British comedy and a contestant on the new series of ITV’s Dancing On Ice. Yet to achieve success, Darren Harriott had to overcome childhood trauma.
By the age of 11, the comedian revealed to Kate Thornton on podcast White Wine Question Time, his father Patrick had disappeared from his life.
It was only by chance that the young boy discovered why.
“The house phone rang at my nan's house [and] I answered,” Harriott, now 34, told Thornton.
“It's my dad – out of everybody in the entire world, who I wanted to speak to, it's my dad! Oh hello!”
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The call came “around Christmas time”.
“So obviously, [I’m] even more excited… I just remember being over the moon to hear from him.” During the call, he recalled his father telling him to “look after your mum and make sure you work hard” before promising to come to see him play football.
The call then ended abruptly. Curious, Harriott dialled 1471 and heard the recorded message. “Unable to trace.”
“And I remember going downstairs and asking my Nan… what does it mean?” he said. “[She said], ‘Maybe someone's calling from, I don't know, like a prison or somewhere?’”
Harriott kept this discovery about his father to himself.
Yet there was more difficult news to come.
“Three months later, we found out, you know, he had killed himself.”
Patrick, a convicted drug dealer, had taken his own life in prison.
Watch: Darren Harriot opens up to Kate Thornton about his father
The experience, Harriott revealed, triggered a series of bad decisions in his childhood.
“I was so angry.”
As a teenager, he joined a gang at his school in the West Midlands.
“I used to carry a knife, I used to want to be a grime MC,” he said. “I was literally what somebody would call, like, a wannabe gangster on the street.”
The turning point came on New Year’s Eve 2004, when Harriott woke up in hospital, badly beaten. He’d been attacked by a fellow gang member.
A move to a new college offered a fresh start – but also new challenges.
“I wasn't busy anymore – my mind was sort of empty,” Harriott said. The space filled with thoughts about the death of his father Patrick, who Harriott described as a “very proud Rastafarian” who had been suffering mental health issues.
“I was really depressed.”
Then came a life-changing moment.
“I saw a flyer for a variety night,” he told Thornton, which made Harriott decide to “have a go at comedy”.
Before the gig, Harriot said he found himself sitting on a wall “looking at a picture of my dad… I’m pretty sure there was a tear in my eye.”
His debut gig was a success. Still a teenager, Harriott hit the UK comedy circuit. “I found this thing [that] keeps me busy.”
It also proved to be an education.
“I'm a 19-year-old kid, and I'm in car shares [to gigs] with comedians who are in their mid-40s, who are at the same level as me, but they've got mortgages, they've got wives, they've got full-time jobs,” Harriott recalled. He described the “generosity” and “kindness” of his older colleagues, who included him in conversations on issues on subjects including equality issues. “It really opened me up to being very open-minded.”
Further progress came when, aged 23, the young comedian spotted the main gang member who’d attacked him.
“I saw him walking with this little girl – he was holding her hand,” he told Thornton. “I went, ‘Oh, he’s a dad? That’s his daughter. Good for him.’” His anger towards his attacker, he said, “just vanished”. “Just seeing him as a man, I guess, grown up, being a parent.”
Aged 26, Harriott moved to London and worked as a bouncer to support his comedy career. In 2017, he won Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Best Show Award in 2019. He would go on to appear in numerous TV shows, and host Black Label on Radio Four, a series of programmes about his life and comedy.
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Harriott was frank about the part his father has played in all of this. “I don’t think I'd be doing comedy if my dad was still alive.”
Talking about Patrick’s death early on in his comedy routine, he said, helped him “deal with it.”
“[Afterwards audience members] would talk to me about their dad's death, and we would just have this moment – having a really deep, nice conversation about our dads.”
Now he's enjoying a completely different scene, entertaining viewers as a contestant on ITV's Dancing on Ice, which he's been "training hard" for with "stretches every morning" and "workouts at the gym", resulting in him shedding 23 pounds since he started preparing for the show last summer.
He's a little wary of some of the outlandish costumes that might be expected of him though.
"I don't mind all the tight-fitting stuff and see-through [costumes]... I'm completely ok with that" but the possible Disney themes are making him a little nervous.
For instance, if it's a case of, "'Oh do you mind being a donkey from Shrek?' Yes I do, actually! I don't want to be the donkey from Shrek, guys."
His size 14 feet also posed a slight problem for the costume department. "They had to custom-make my figure skates and it took six weeks." He jokes that they are "Shrek-sized", adding the skating manufacturers told him they were the "biggest skates they'd ever made."
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