What are they really like?
We tell it straight!

(A transcript of the article by Jane Oddy -- a [1.5 Mb] jpg of which may be gotten here)

This must be every woman's biggest fantasy: I'm in a taxi, on my way to spend an hour with the McGann brothers. Not one, not two, not even three...but all four McGanns -- Joe, Paul, Mark and Stephen.

I'm pretty excited myself, but also slightly scared. What if they're rude and unhelpful -- or worse, hung over! After all, it is Sunday morning.

When I arrive at Kettner's restaurant in London's Soho, I get my first shock. There are only three McGanns, all larking about in the champagne bar like schoolboys.

Their publicist introduces me and they greet me with huge grins and vigorous handshakes and suddenly I'm the focus of these warm, very good-looking men. It's going to be my lucky day after all.

"Joe's on his way," says Mark. He leans forward to see if my tape recorder is working and, fixing me with his inky blue eyes, asks: "Are you switched on then, Jane?"

The McGanns are very sure of their sex appeal and also fond of each other, squeezing each other's arms and wrestling around on the sofa as if they were still 14 or 15.

"We grew up in a three-up three-down," says Paul. "We were and are ordinary and we just got on with it."

Their mum Claire is a remarkable woman. She studied for her qualifications to be a teacher by correspondence course. When the boys were teenagers, she and their dad divorced, then got back together again. The one time the three brothers look serious is when they say their only regret is that their father didn't live to see their success.

At this point, Joe arrives, looking thinner and taller than on screen. He has driven down from Liverpool.

"Are you all right, kidder?" asks Mark with concern as Joe flops wearily on to the sofa and lights up the first of several cigarettes. For a while he doesn't contribute much to the conversation. At first I find his presence intimidating, but the others carry on yabbering.

Mark, 33, and Stephen, 32, are less famous than Joe, 36, and Paul, 35, who are household names -- Joe through the sitcom The Upper Hand and Paul from movie and TV work like Withnail and I and The Monocled Mutineer. [this article came out before Paul became the eighth Doctor Who -- S.]

Mark is happily involved with French actress Agnès Soral and spends "80 per cent" of his time in Paris, while Stephen is "blissfully in love" with his wife of five years, scriptwriter Heidi Thomas. "She's the youngest ever playwright at the Royal Shakespeare Company," he tells me proudly.

Paul's love life has been more turbulent and he's reluctant to answer questions. He married his girlfriend Annie Milner two years ago and they live in Bristol with their children Joe, six, and Jake, four. Last year he had a much-publicised fling with Catherine Zeta Jones on the set of the mini series Catherine The Great. [NB: Paul has refuted this last item many times. -- S.]

Cagey and self-contained, he gazes into the middle distance when talking. It's maddeningly attractive...he's definitely the sexiest of the four.

To start with, I can't understand all the fuss about Joe. He's the one my friends most envied me meeting. One of them wanted me to ask him out for her -- which I do.

Joe, twice married, suddenly seems angry. "I'm never getting married again. What's the point?" he explodes.

"But she's gorgeous," I say.

"I don't care," he snaps back. "She'll bring a lot of her problems to bed...and then there'll be all that stuff about me not giving her enough attention. Forget it! Just forget it!" Uh-oh...

But Joe just smiles sheepishly as the others rib him: "He liked marriage. He had to do it twice!"

I get ready to duck as I ask him about his six-year-old daughter Lottie, but I needn't have worried. He immediately gets out a pack of photos of Lottie to show me and I see a more vulnerable side of him.

"She's terribly well. Fab. She's been staying with me during half-term," he says proudly.

Another subject I thought might be tricky is Joe's drinking problem, which he only admitted this year. But the brothers are open about it.

"It has been a pressure on him," says Mark. "But it's not always clear who's the oldest and strongest. There have been times when Joe has really needed us."

The brothers have just been reunited for a forth-coming four-part BBC costume drama, The Hanging Gale, based on research that Joe and Stephen did on their Irish ancestors. What was it like to be thrown together for three months' filming?

"On the whole we got on very well," says Stephen.

Mark interrupts: "They had this idea that all of us should share a house. We all said: 'God, no!'"

"Before this programme happened we didn't see each other much," says Paul. "Now we're determined to have more family get-togethers."

Suddenly, my hour is up. As I pack away my tape recorder, the interview seems to be carrying on without me. The McGanns are still revving on all cylinders, noisy and full of laughter, and I catch a glimpse of what is must have been like in that Liverpool three-up, three-down all those years ago.

Now I can imagine what it might feel like to be their sister. But, sorry -- I didn't actually fancy any of them!


copyright Jane Oddy (?) Reprinted sans permission for the edification and delight of McGann fans