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WHEN his Secret Diary was turned from a book into a television series, Adrian Mole became the most famous schoolboy since Billy Bunter.

But Adrian has come a long way since then - and so has the actor who played him.

In Sue Townsend's new book, The Cappuccino Years, the grown-up Adrian has been transformed from a spotty, sex-obsessed teenager into a celebrity chef and New Labour sceptic who harbours dreams of becoming a famous writer.

In real life, the ambitious young actor who played the pubescent schoolboy in ITV's late-80s drama has given up his TV career to become a geriatric nurse in his home town of Northampton.

The Secret Life of Giancarlo Sammarco, now aged 293 4, is as fascinating as that of his alter-ego. Both have young sons, from failed relationships, and both are living lives that, as teenagers, they could never have predicted.

But that is where the similarity ends.

In the new book, we find that Mole, now aged 301 4, was dumped by Pandora Braithwaite, the object of his adolescent affections, and sought comfort for a while in the curvy charms of Sharon Bott (42-30-38).

He then went on to have a son, William, by his Nigerian wife Jo Jo, who returned to her homeland after they separated.

Although he has taken a vow of celibacy, he still yearns for his old flame Pandora, who is now a married New Labour MP.

In comparison, the grown-up Giancarlo, lives in relative obscurity, having turned his back on acting to work in a geriatric hospital.

He married former fan Stephanie Bates when he was 20 and she was 19 and gave up the limelight shortly after the birth of their son Jonathan, now seven.

However, the relationship was not to last and, after the couple divorced, he married his second wife, Joanna Young, and moved to a house only half a mile away from his first marital home.

Yesterday Giancarlo seemed adamant he would never be seeking a return to the limelight.

He said: "I'm sure the new book is very interesting, but my role as Adrian was a very long time ago and I'm not interested in acting any more. I'm just trying to get on with my work as a nurse."

Giancarlo grew up in a large family in a semi-detached house in a suburb of Northampton. Schoolfriends remember him as a reserved boy.

One said: "He was a lot like the Adrian Mole character. What you saw on television was pretty much what you got in real life."

The director of the Theatre Royal in Northampton, Michael Napier Brown, had plucked Giancarlo from 200 young hopefuls to star in his first theatre production, The Innocents.

He said: "He had an extraordinary quality about him as a child. He was able to inhabit another personality - a great gift - because of his imagination. He had a kind of quirky personality, with this wonderful ability to make pithy comments. It was like an old person inhabiting a young person's body. Gian was 12 going on 36."

So when Thames Television rang to ask the director if he knew of anyone suitable for the Mole series, Napier Brown immediately thought of Giancarlo.

Lindsey Staggs, who played Pandora, was also one of Napier Brown's discoveries.

Although both young actors' faces became well-known in households across Britain as the series pulled in large audiences, author Sue Townsend was never happy with the programmes.

She said: "The way Mole appeared was not what I wanted. Television made my characters cardboard cut-outs, not the subtle observations I had wanted. So when Thames asked me to do another series, I just said: 'No'."

Even though he was 15, almost two years older than the character of Adrian, Giancarlo admitted at the time they were similar to each other.

He said: "Adrian Mole and I have two things in common - spots and an obsession with sex."

And that interest in the opposite sex has been carried through into his adult life.

Fame, however, brought its own difficulties. Overwhelmed by the glaring spotlight of fame, Giancarlo found solace in the arms of a young fan who wrote him letters after she saw the Adrian Mole series.

At a register office in Northampton in August 1989, that fan - Stephanie - became his first wife.

Napier Brown added: "It's quite a heady thing, for a young actor to be thrust into the spotlight so young. He would have been flattered by all the attention. No doubt that is why he married so young."

After the couple wed, they moved into a small terraced property, less than a mile from the family home in Kingsthorpe.

They had been married for 18 months when Stephanie, then 21, gave birth to their son, who was born a week early at Northampton General Hospital.

Giancarlo's mother said at the time: "The whole family is delighted. There were no problems at the birth."

Back then, he was still acting and playing to packed audiences in Kilburn, London, in Once A Catholic.

But at 21, just after he became a father, Giancarlo was still landing roles as teenagers. It seemed the public's image of him as a spotty adolescent was hard to shake off.

He became a familiar face on TV ads and, for a while, worked as a children's TV presenter.

His family obviously hoped he could continue to do what he loved well into adulthood. At the time, his mother Jacqueline said: "Adrian Mole is the series that brought him the fame, but that is a long time ago now.

"He is 22, but still cast in the roles of 16 and 17 year olds because he is quite young looking. But he loves acting and is very good at it."

There was no doubting Giancarlo's dedication to acting in the early years.

Soon after landing the part of Mole, he said: "I love the sense of power when you walk on stage and really have to grapple with the audience for those first few seconds."

But parts began to dry up as he started to look more man than boy after the Mole series, in which he starred with Julie Walters.

Napier Brown says it just became too hard for Giancarlo to continue in the acting profession. He said: "A lot of child stars have a brilliant quality but become quite ordinary by the time they grow up.

"I think perhaps Gian didn't have a strong enough burning desire to pursue it when jobs became harder to get. He just lost his enthusiasm."

Problems began to creep up on the actor's personal life, too. Stephanie finally filed for divorce, which came to fruition in 1998.

Neighbours recalled hearing rows through the paper-thin walls as the marriage broke up after a few years.

One said: "They kept themselves pretty much to themselves. She was chattier than he was. We knew about his acting past, but he never spoke about it.

"When they split up, she came over and confided in us. She said he had had an affair with another woman."

Val Dewhurst, who lived next door, said: "I could tell you an awful lot about them, but I'm not sure he would like it printed. Put it this way, there were a lot of rows."

Stephanie also remarried, and is now called McCahill. She lives in a modern estate in a quiet suburb, half a mile away from her ex-husband's three-storey Victorian townhouse on a main road.

Giancarlo has long since left the glamorous world of acting and has devoted himself to caring for the elderly at the Princess Marina Hospital, Northampton. He lives happily with Joanne, a nursing colleague.

Those who know him well are hardly surprised at his choice, since his sense of social responsibility was always as strong as his acting talent.

Napier Brown said: "I think it says quite a lot about him that he decided to care for geriatrics. In an odd sort of way, it adds up.

"He had a very strong sense of morality and social responsibility."

The attitude of Giancarlo's father Pietro perhaps best sums up how his son has settled into a life of normality.

He said: "He gave up acting because he had just had enough. He is a grown man now. He makes his own decisions. What he does is up to him. He earns his keep."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McVEIGH, KAREN; White, Donna
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 19, 1999
Previous Article:Schoolgirl forced home by racist taunts.

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