Junior Simpson, now 60, starred alongside Keira Knightley in the iconic Christmas movie two decades ago, but he didn't land the job in the usual way most actors do.
Junior, originally a stand-up comedian, made a joke about the lack of diversity in Richard Curtis’s film Notting Hill, and that quip led him to appear in Curtis’s next smash hit movie, Love Actually.
He featured in the wedding scene when Juliet (Keira Knightley's character) and Peter (played Chiwetel Ejiofor) got married, and he's still making money from his brief appearance, 20 years on.
Not only did he feature in it, but it gave him bonus points with his now wife Emma, 55, a singer who’s so obsessed with Christmas that her nickname is Auntie Claus.
She starts watching a festive film every day from 25th November, though ironically it was only when she met Junior that she watched Love Actually.
Explaining how he got his role, Junior says: “I was performing in a benefit gig at Brixton Academy and made a joke about there being no black people in Notting Hill.
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“Richard Curtis heard about it and contacted me to ask me to be in his next film and I accepted.
“While Richard Curtis has said he regrets the lack of diversity in Love Actually, I think the film is great.
“It resonates with a lot of people around the world, who adore it and the way it’s told.
“It’s a reflection of the climate at the time and I don’t feel the need to do a head count of black, gay or transgender people in it.”
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Junior remembers his involvement in the movie with huge fondness.
He says, “I went for a read through at Richard Curtis’s office and was surrounded by all the stars.
“Bill Nighy was incredible, every time he opened his mouth he was hilarious.
“By coincidence Emma had her own encounter with Bill – she was out Christmas shopping one year and she bumped into Bill at Selfridges and then again at Fortnum and Mason – she always jokes that if it had been a film they’d have ended up married.
“Everyone else was lovely too, I had a long chat with Emma Thompson, and spoke to Hugh Grant and Andrew Lincoln.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it, then walked away after my day filming thinking ‘that was nice’ and got on with my day job of being a stand-up comedian.
“I had no idea it would turn out to be such a massive hit. I love the fact I still get recognised now – people often come up and ask for selfies.
"Even to this day I still get royalties – I have no idea how much at this point but not millions!"
Junior and Emma’s own love story would be worthy of a film.
They first met in 2017 and had a fling that fizzled out. But then they matched on a dating app in 2020 during the pandemic.
As most of their courtship took place during lockdown while Junior was living in Birmingham and Emma in London, they only met up a couple of times, but they spoke for hours on the phone and declared their love for each other on Christmas day 2020.
Junior says, “I fell in love and then she saved my life.
“I’d been talking to her in January and said I felt ill but would call back later or the next day. When I didn’t after three days she panicked – she knew I wouldn’t have ghosted her.
“She drove to my flat and found me lying on the floor, barely breathing. I had covid and had gone into a diabetic coma and was hours from death.
“I was on a ventilator for a month. Emma moved to be with me in Birmingham and I proposed in August, when I was again in hospital after having a minor stroke.
“It was a very tough time, but I’d go through it all again twice if it meant I still ended up with Emma.”
The couple got married in May 2022 and now live together in Streatham, south London,
fortunately Junior is fully recovered and back on the comedy circuit regularly performing at pubs and clubs across London.
Come January Junior will start writing new material for a show.
He started as a comedian after the tragic loss of his eldest brother, Calvin, who was killed in a road accident in 1990 aged just 31.
“He was my hero,” remembers Junior.
“The person I looked up to, my north star. He was a wonderful actor and encouraged me to take up comedy as I was constantly cracking jokes around the house.
“But I felt that one performer in the family was enough. When he died, doing what he’d wanted for me was my way of celebrating and remembering him.
“I was 27 at the time and working in a dress hire shop.
“I was lucky to meet the late comedian Felix Dexter, who was in the Fast Show and The Real
McCoy early on and he mentored me at the beginning.
“I love being a comedian – it continually evolves, depending on what’s going on in the world.
“Laughter is a great release from pressure and creating that in a room full of strangers who all connect over the same thing is an amazing feeling.”
When he’s not performing, Junior likes hanging out with Emma at home.
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He says, “We make each other laugh, not in a constantly telling jokes way, we just find each other very funny.
“But that’s love for you…actually.”
You can find out more about Junior’s upcoming shows on his Facebook Page.
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