Paul Clayton: It never does you any harm to say hello

Paul Clayton chats with Finborough Theatre's Neil McPherson at The Stage Awards
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You might find it hard to believe when confronted by my aristocratic profile and noble bearing, but I was brought up in a small shop in the Soviet Socialist republic of South Yorkshire. Yes, reader, I’m afraid my roots are in trade.

Domestic life was confined to the room behind the store. I would spend days hearing my mother greet each customer with a cheerful “Hello”, but on their departure, she would return to the back room and announce: “She so gets up my nose.” When I asked why she was so pleasant to them, her answer was simple: “A nice hello and a smile never does you any harm.”

Alongside my acting work, I work in the corporate market. One of the seminars I run is on networking. With a generation of account managers, account executives and junior associates brought up on email, the art of small talk and social conversation is something many of them need to learn. It is well proven that the best way to begin any effective social encounter is with a simple honest smile and a hello. Wait until the other person responds. A good conversation needs both transmitter and receiver to be working, so check they are with you before carrying on. After that, it can all be plain sailing.

Having been christened with a name that doesn’t naturally lend itself to a diminutive, I’m also less in favour of the word “Hi”. Particularly when it begins emails asking for work. It suggests a familiarity the writer doesn’t have.

Having said this, I admit that at any party or social gathering, I’m the one to be found talking mainly to people I already know. Launching myself into a room full of somewhat familiar faces, as at The Stage Awards recently, is not something I relish. How lucky I was that many people were quite fearless about coming up and saying: “Hello.” It made me feel good – even better when they told me who they were.

I find the unexpected greeting from the anonymous watcher in the supermarket a little less frightening: “Hello. You’re on the telly, aren’t you?” Remembering my mother’s wisdom, I return the smile and say: “Hello. Yes I am.” Then, in case the conversation moves into a more tender area such as “Just how did you manage to be so bad in Hollyoaks?”, I thank them and move swiftly to the ready-meal aisle.

Just as my mother greeted her customers with a cheery hello all those years ago, so should we. Acting should be seen by our customers, our viewers. Acting for ourselves is like sex for one. It may bring temporary pleasure, but misses the real purpose.

So give a big hello to one and all. As is so often the case, Mother knows best.