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How troubled Paul Anderson was plucked from life of crime by film director who spotted him ticket touting and propelled him to hero status in cult football hit The Firm – as insiders warn fate of new Peaky Blinders film ‘rests on his recovery’


Paul Anderson is known around the world for his role as hellraiser Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders – a notorious gangster fighting his inner demons and an addiction to drugs.

But just like the much-loved character, the 46-year-old actor has battles in his own personal life to overcome after he was caught with crack cocaine and an array of other narcotics in a pub on Boxing Day.

Fans were left shocked after he was photographed shuffling out of his local bakery this week. Mr Anderson appeared gaunt and his face has become increasingly worn and creased over the past year. 

Real fears for his health has led to speculation that a much-anticipated return to playing Arthur Shelby could be under threat – just days after his co-star Cilian Murphy finally confirmed he would be willing to play Tommy Shelby in a Peaky Blinders movie.

‘If we want to watch 50-year-old Tommy Shelby, I will be there’, the Oppenheimer star told the BBC – but the big question now is will Arthur Shelby be with him?

Paul Anderson’s own rags to riches tale is so extraordinary it could be from the pages of a Hollywood script. South London-born Paul, who is nicknamed Boycie like the wheeler dealer friend of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, had been making ends meet on the very edge of the law when he got his break around 15 years ago.

After leaving school at 14 Paul wanted to be a lead singer in a band and made money working as a tout, which is illegal in the UK. But a chance meeting with a film director outside Stamford Bridge where he was selling tickets for Chelsea versus Barcelona led to a big part in cult movie The Firm after the director said he found his touting ‘exotic’ and loved his rasping accent.

Fame and fortune followed, including a decade on Peaky Blinders and parts in Hollywood blockbusters including The Revenant with Leodardo DiCaprio and his close friend Tom Hardy, he he calls his ‘brother’.

Paul lives in a £1.2million property in north London and is believed to be single. He has previously been linked to a jewellery designer Stephy Clark but their relationship status was never made public.

Peaky Blinders star Paul Anderson looked worlds away from TV character Arthur Shelby on day out in London on Wednesday a month after admitting to crack cocaine possession

A dressed-down Anderson attends a VIP film screening of The Gentleman in December 2019

Peaky Blinders star Paul Anderson looked worlds away from TV character Arthur Shelby. Fans have remarked how the 46-year-old has aged markedly in the last few years (right in 2019)

His breakthrough in acting came from his casting in football hooligan film The Firm, when a director found him touting tickets outrside Chelsea's football ground and changed his life

His breakthrough in acting came from his casting in football hooligan film The Firm, when a director found him touting tickets outrside Chelsea’s football ground and changed his life

Afterr going to drama school, he also won a small part in Doctor Who (pictured)

Afterr going to drama school, he also won a small part in Doctor Who (pictured)

Paul Anderson, who plays Arthur Shelby in the hit BBC drama, was with a friend and a baby on Boxing Day when police found the Class A drug and a pipe used for smoking it. Sources have said his involvement in a Peaky Blinders movie could be in doubt

Paul Anderson, who plays Arthur Shelby in the hit BBC drama, was with a friend and a baby on Boxing Day when police found the Class A drug and a pipe used for smoking it. Sources have said his involvement in a Peaky Blinders movie could be in doubt

Paui Anderson with actor and close friend Tom Hardy, who he starred with in The Revenant and Kray biopic Legend

Paui Anderson with actor and close friend Tom Hardy, who he starred with in The Revenant and Kray biopic Legend

But last month it emerged that Anderson was arrested after a drinker at his local in Hampstead told the pub’s manager he there was a smell of drug fumes coming from the disabled toilet after the actor walked out. 

Paul was carrying a crack pipe but denied he was using it.

He would play a pivotal role in any Peaky Blinders film but his drug conviction in January and allegations of bad behaviour on set could threaten his participation amid rumours filming could start as soon as the summer.

Yet despite his frailty, there are signs that he hasn’t given up hope of reprising the role that made his name. This week Paul responded to support from his Instagram followers.

One commented on a post: ‘By order of The Peaky Blinders’, to which Anderson replied: ‘Forever’.

Paul’s big break came when he was on the wrong side of the law while touting tickets. 

He was approached by Chelsea fan and film director Nick Love who wanted a seat for the Champions League game in 2008.

After hearing his trademark gruff South London accent, Mr Love decided he was perfect for the part of football hooligan Bex in 2009 movie The Firm. 

Describing what happened, Paul said in 2017: ‘I happened to be outside and I was handling the odd ticket or two and sort of exchanging them for money. He was with a bunch of friends and I sold them ­tickets’.

Nick Love apparently found his touting ‘exotic’ and offered him a role in his upcoming film. The rest is history.

Paul said: ‘I earned a lot of money out of it [ticket touting] but that was all I got out of it’

He added ‘I always wanted to be a ­frontman in a band. Not a ­footballer. Not an actor. Certainly not a policeman or a fireman’.

But it was an actor he became, quickly turning into a cult hero, especially for his part as a Shelby brother for ten years when that break came in 2013.

Describing his move into acting he said: ‘I was inspired to attend drama school, so that’s what I’ve done. 

‘It was like going back to school for me. I left school very young; I left school when I was about 14, 15, so there was a large gap in my education. Going to drama school was like university that I never had’.

He says he understands why people ‘love’ his portrayal of Arthur Shelby, with some drawing comparisons between the two men.

He said: ‘Lots of people say, “We love Arthur,” and I don’t know why. I guess I do understand. The thing I love about him and why I like playing him is he’s not just this one-dimensional; he’s tough and he can be violent and brutal, but he’s not just that. He’s got this inner turmoil, this dichotomy: “I don’t want to do this but I’m doing it because it’s my life and it’s the way things are.. He’s not turning over a new leaf and being a god-fearing, pious, nice man; he’s still suffering’,

Paui was spotted at hon day out in London on Wednesday a month after admitting to crack cocaine possession

Paui was spotted at hon day out in London on Wednesday a month after admitting to crack cocaine possession 

It emerged in January that producers were investigating his conduct on set after a complaint from a colleague. It is not known what the complaint related to but sources close to Anderson denied any wrong doing and told The Sun he was confident an investigation would clear him

It emerged in January that producers were investigating his conduct on set after a complaint from a colleague. It is not known what the complaint related to but sources close to Anderson denied any wrong doing and told The Sun he was confident an investigation would clear him

Paul Anderson is much loved by fans who hope he makes a recovery

Paul Anderson is much loved by fans who hope he makes a recovery

Paul Anderson is much loved by fans who hope he makes a recovery

Paul with Tom Hardy, who he has described as being like a brother to him. They spent six months together filming The Revenant

Paul with Tom Hardy, who he has described as being like a brother to him. They spent six months together filming The Revenant 

Paul Anderson playing Arthur Shelby. Anderson, who recently starred in Netflix film Lift, was expected to play a pivotal role in the Peaky Blinders movie, with production due to begin this summer

Paul Anderson playing Arthur Shelby. Anderson, who recently starred in Netflix film Lift, was expected to play a pivotal role in the Peaky Blinders movie, with production due to begin this summer

Paul Anderson playing Arthur Shelby. Makers of the show, which co-stars Oscar-nominated Cillian Murphy as Anderson's onscreen brother Tommy, are developing a feature-length climax but the conviction could have a 'significant impact' on the film, a source said last month

Paul Anderson playing Arthur Shelby. Makers of the show, which co-stars Oscar-nominated Cillian Murphy as Anderson’s onscreen brother Tommy, are developing a feature-length climax but the conviction could have a ‘significant impact’ on the film, a source said last month

Nick Love enjoyed working with him so much he cast him in his film version of The Sweeney starring Ray Winstone. 

A Hollywood career beckoned, including appearances in a Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr and Hostiles with Christian Bale.

He also developed a strong bond with British megastar Tom Hardy, calling him his ‘brother’ after appearing with him in Legend and again in The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mr Hardy.

Just yesterday he posted a picture of him and Hardy together on set as pictures of him looking frail in London emerged.

He wrote: ‘My ears are burning @tomhardy’ – but his friend did not respond publicly.

Under the picture one fan wrote: ‘Take care of yourself – you have a lot of fans who care!’. Another said: ‘You’re so admired and loved by a crazy amount of people…. But right now, keep your circle small, focus on you, and please get well’.     

His frail appearance came weeks after Paul pleaded guilty to crack cocaine and amphetamines possession after spending the day at the pub on Boxing Day in London

The TV star was with a friend and a baby when police found the Class A drug and a pipe used for smoking it.

Paul admitted possessing it, as well as class B amphetamines and two class C prescription substances, when he appeared in court in January.

Moira MacFarlane, defending, said when Peaky Blinders fans recognised Anderson he could not resist slipping into the role of pugilistic hellraiser Arthur, who is frequently seen taking drugs on the show.

‘You will recognise the defendant from a very intense part that he has played in a recent television programme,’ Ms MacFarlane told magistrates.

‘He is often recognised and does his best to please fans of the show by slipping into character. He was recognised that Boxing Day and tried to play up for these people. And because of the lifestyle he leads people often give him inducements.’

Ms MacFarlane insisted Anderson, who was fined a total of £1,345, had not been smoking crack cocaine, but conceded: ‘He has found himself in an unfortunate position and should have had the strength to say no.’

His breakthrough in acting came from his casting in The Firm

His breakthrough in acting came from his casting in The Firm

Peaky Blinders characters Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), John Shelby (Joe Cole), Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) - he admits to understanding why people love his character

Peaky Blinders characters Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), John Shelby (Joe Cole), Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) – he admits to understanding why people love his character

Paul Anderson barbecuing in the garden of his London home

Paul Anderson barbecuing in the garden of his London home

It emerged in January that producers were investigating his conduct on set after a complaint from a colleague. 

It is not known what the complaint related to but sources close to Anderson denied any wrong doing and told The Sun he was confident an investigation would clear him.

Anderson, who recently starred in Netflix film Lift, was expected to play a pivotal role in the Peaky Blinders movie, with production due to begin this summer. 

The drama set in Birmingham between the two world wars follows the rise of the criminal Shelby family.

Makers of the show, which co-stars Oscar-nominated Cillian Murphy as Anderson’s onscreen brother Tommy, are developing a feature-length climax but the conviction could have a ‘significant impact’ on the film, a source said last month.

‘[Screenwriter] Steven Knight is still writing the script,’ the source said. ‘But this conviction will create huge problems as it will be so hard to have a Peaky Blinders film without such a pivotal character, while it will be tough having him reprise the role as if nothing has happened’.

‘The third option would be to cancel the entire thing. I think it is most likely to go ahead and only Steven knows which characters will feature.’

Anderson was caught after a drinker at his local in Hampstead, north-west London, told the pub’s manager he smelled crack cocaine fumes coming from the disabled toilet after the actor walked out.

The manager at the pub called the police, who found ‘intoxicated’ Anderson nearby with a young man and a 17-month-old baby, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court heard. 

He was taken to a police station where officers found the crack cocaine, a wrap of brown powder found to be amphetamines plus diazepam and pregabalin, said prosecutor Kevin Kendridge.

Anderson, who also appeared alongside Tom Hardy in the 2015 Kray brothers biopic Legend, answered ‘no comment’ to all questions during his interview but later tested positive for opiates and cocaine – not crack cocaine – the court heard.

Anderson spoke only to enter the guilty pleas and confirm his identity and address at a £1.2million mews property in north-west London.



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