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tragic loss Jimmy Nesbitt says the pandemic meant he spent 'magical' time with his dad before his death

“I was lucky, we had the beach to walk on and I had the time to strengthen my friendship with dad," the actor said.

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Jimmy Nesbitt Snr and his son Jimmy Nesbitt jnr

Jimmy Nesbitt Snr and his son Jimmy Nesbitt jnr

Jimmy Nesbitt Snr and his son Jimmy Nesbitt jnr

Jimmy Nesbitt has revealed the pandemic gave him the chance to spend time with his dad in the last few months of his life.

The actor, who makes a welcome and overdue return to our screens next week as veteran detective Tom Brannick in brand new drama Bloodlands, found himself facing lockdown with his father in Portrush.

It was an unexpected bonus and a silver lining as the country headed into an uncertain few months.

“We had just finished Bloodlands which was a hard and sometimes brutal shoot,” he said.

“I represented my father at a family funeral as he wasn’t able to go and then I found myself facing lockdown in Portrush.

“It’s hard to take in how the world has changed in the space of a year, but at that time I had no option.

"I know people have suffered but you have to draw the positives from every experience, and it was spending time with my dad.”

Bloodlands, which was filmed in Belfast and on Strangford Lough, had wrapped literally days before lockdown.

“We were lucky, I think we were the last production still in operation in the UK at the time, the last to shut down.”

The 55-year-old star of Cold Feet, Bloody Sunday, The Secret and Lucky Man said he would cherish those final months with his father.

“I was lucky, we had the beach to walk on and I had the time to strengthen my friendship with dad – not that it needed it, we have always been close.

“He was my teacher in life, he walked me to school, he took me and my mates to football matches and we just spent those months reliving those years, it was magical and I feel blessed to have had that time.”

It was made even more precious as Jim Nesbitt passed away in August.

“Of course all the time we spent together I never thought I was going to lose him any time soon.”

Separated by the pandemic from his two daughters in London, he said young people had suffered the most during the global health crisis.

One of his girls had been due to spend a year in Honduras teaching English only for Covid to ground her.

“Think of all the things we did when we were 18, at that age it should be about life’s experiences, boyfriends, girlfriends, having fun, setting out on life’s journey.

“I just hope people are able to come out of this with confidence to socialise, meet other people, because without it Belfast won’t be able to continue its fantastic journey of rejuvenation.”

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Jimmy Nesbitt and his father

Jimmy Nesbitt and his father

Jimmy Nesbitt and his father

A champion of his homeland, he said taking on the role of Brannick was partly influenced by the chance to show the place off.

“It was fantastic to be able to be involved in a high-end production at home, while there is a darkish influence to it you’ll see a vibrant Belfast, a Belfast that has emerged to become one of the great cities.

“Belfast is an exciting, wonderful place, it’s really cosmopolitan, but it also bears the scars of a place that has come through the Troubles. Bloodlands is not a Troubles drama, but you can’t ignore it, our past is always there.

“That’s why it is so important that when we come out of this we stabilise the economy and continue that journey.”

He admits he won’t miss the bitter cold of shooting on a wild and wintry Strangford Lough and the snow-swept slopes of the Mournes last winter.

“The weather was a real challenge.”

Bloodlands is the story of a Brannick, a cop who joined the RUC and then served in the PSNI as the country transitioned to peace via the Good Friday Agreement. The name ‘Goliath’ crops up, a killer who may be in the police, and who is believed to have murdered Tom’s wife Emma.

“I can equate to Tom, he’s a decent man, he’s devoted to his daughter, he’s well known in the community, he plays rugby – all familiar territory for me.

“He’s coming to the end of his career and the idea of this cold case rearing its head again is terrifying to him and everyone in the force.”

It’s written by Co Down man Chris Brandon and produced by Jed Mercurio, the man behind the hugely successful Line of Duty.

“When Jed was doing Line of Duty I said to him ‘why am I not in that’ and he’d say ‘we’ll find something’ and he did!”

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Actor Jimmy Nesbitt

Actor Jimmy Nesbitt

Actor Jimmy Nesbitt

Next up for Jimmy is Netflix original series Stay Close and he’s hopeful he’ll return as Tom Brannick.

“I hope so, because that will mean it has done well.”

And that was it, interview over as Jimmy announced he was late for a sea swim in the stormy Atlantic even though it’s minus-three outside.

“Must be mad,” he said as he got his gear out of the car, “the swimming’s okay, just hope the ticker holds out.”

n Bloodlands starts next Sunday at 9pm on BBC1.

richard.sullivan@sundayworld.com

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