Byline: CLAIRE DONNELLY

AS WARRIOR Boromir in The Fellowship Of The Ring, Sean Bean has taken another step toward Hollywood stardom and a personal fortune.

But it comes at a price, because it takes the 42-year-old heart-throb still further away from the working-class lifestyle he craves.

"He might be a big star but at heart he's still a Sheffield lad who would just love to come home to his children at the end of a day's work," says family friend Maureen Oakes.

"He's from a caring, stable family... and he'd love that for himself. But sadly, despite his success, he can't seem to have the one thing he wants most."

Maureen, 64, from Sheffield, has known Sean since he was a toddler. He and her sons would play football in the streets of the council estate in the tough Handsworth area.

Back then he was still Shaun Bean - only changing the spelling when he was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His parents, Rita and Brian, worked in the steel industry and Sean was expected to do the same.

Maureen has seen Sean's rise through theatre, TV roles in Sharpe, and in film as 006 in Goldeneye. But she has also seen the three broken marriages his restless spirit has left in its wake.

An old school pal believes that his friend has become caught between two worlds. "Part of him is still the lad who likes beer and football and the other part is the movie star.

"He says he is still the same old Sean but he can't be when he's earning millions, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and living in a huge house.

"Sean is trapped and he can't settle down to one life or the other. He's searching for the thing that's going to make him happy but he can't find it."

Lasting happiness in his personal life has certainly eluded him. His most recent marriage, to Sharpe co-star Abigail Cruttenden, 32, lasted just two years. When they split their daughter Evie, now three, was 20 months old.

Before Abigail he was with Playing The Field actress Melanie Hill for 15 years and they were married for six. Sean's first marriage, to Debra James, was over virtually before it began.

Even as a child, Sean felt he was different. While other kids smile sweetly in their primary school photos, Sean is surly and disinterested.

At senior school, "Beany" became even more wayward. His only interests were drawing and boxing and he hung around with a gang of hard lads called The Union.

FORMER teachers at Brook Comprehensive feared for his future. "He was a bit of a thug," recalls his form teacher Ian Footitt.

"He was one of the gang leaders and they and another outfit were forever scrapping - there were often lumps of wood involved.

"In the end I think drama saved Sean from a life of who knows what."

Sean himself remembers his temper getting him into trouble. There were regular fights and once he smashed his leg through a window in fury.

His rebellious image combined with good looks and Brook's first Ziggy Stardust hairstyle made Sean a hit with the girls.

Rarely seen out of his Crombie and bovver boots, Sean worked hard at maintaining his hard image.

"He had a girlfriend and we used to joke she was a gangster's moll," says Mr Footitt. "We used to laugh in the staff room about how all the good looking girls ran after him."

Sean, who keeps in touch with many school pals, left with two O-levels in Art and English and a growing sense of restlessness.

For the next three years he stumbled through a series of jobs. He toiled at Marks & Spencer, was a council snow-clearer - he lasted one day - and was a welder at his Dad's firm. But most of his time was spent day-dreaming of another life. Increasingly, he wanted to do something "more creative". Then while studying welding and art at Rotherham College of Art and Technology, Sean walked into a drama class by mistake.

After early doubts, he was hooked. "People talk about him as this very down-to-earth person but that's not how we remember him on the course," says Caroline Maher, 41, an actress who now lives in Cyprus.

"He was incredibly cultured. He loved theatre and played Chopin on the piano. He was a great painter, too.

"But acting was his life. We went to London for auditions once and, after a few drinks in Covent Garden, Sean spotted a stage in the pub. He jumped up in front of everybody, started reciting something and got a standing ovation."

College tutor, Paul Daniels, 51, was overwhelmed by his talent. "He was so quiet in class I didn't notice him at first. It was only when he got a script in his hand that he came alive. He blew everyone else away because he had this incredible magnetism on stage."

Sean was beginning to live his complicated double life. Just hours after musing over Chekhov with other young thespians, he was back sinking pints with his mates at the local working man's club. During this time he was fined pounds 50 for hitting someone who tried to stop him gatecrashing a party. He has also admitted head-butting a reveller in a Sheffield nightclub.

When not drinking or watching football he spent his time with hairdresser girlfriend, Debra. Then in April 1981, at the age of 21, Sean and Debra married.

But within months he had moved to London to take up a place at Rada. They visited each other at weekends but the marriage soon fizzled out.

Nevertheless, Debra remains loyal to Sean and all she will say about him is: "I'm very happy for him now. I'm delighted he found something that he really wanted to do and has made a real success of it. We were just two young kids who fell in love. But it never worked out."

In London, Sean met second wife Melanie. The pair were an item for 15 years, marrying in 1990, and went on to have two daughters, Lorna, 14, and Molly, 10.

While they were together, Sean's career began to take off. He won acclaim playing Romeo at Stratford-upon-Avon, with the Royal Shakespeare Company but, despite the highbrow roles, off-stage he remained the same old Sean.

He almost missed one performance after nipping home for a Sheffield United match and he was banned from the Dirty Duck pub for tearing a decorative ale holder off a wall and trying to drink from it. A role in Lady Chatterley's Lover and his first on-screen nude scene followed in 1993 but it was as rugged soldier Sharpe, in the drama of the same name, that he became known. As Sean's reputation grew as an actor, so did his struggle to be true to his roots.

Shortly after he married Melanie he had "100 per cent Blade" tattooed on his arm in honour of his team.

HE REFUSED to let his accent be softened by London living and in interviews talked mostly about football and "home".

But, ultimately, playing two roles at once proved too difficult. His wife was an accomplished actress but by 1996 they had split with her complaining she felt a "doormat" to old-fashioned, soccer-mad Sean. He wanted Melanie to stay at home with the children as his mother had done, while he travelled the world filming increasingly high-profile roles, including Bond hit Goldeneye.

By this time, Sean had long left the world where Mum had tea on the table when Dad came home from work. Sadly, he found it hard to accept.

After their initially bitter split, Melanie said: "I feel our life together is a sham. I feel just like a housemaid."

In August 1997 the pair were divorced and, three months later, Sean was looking for lasting love with bride No.3 - public school educated classical actress Abigail Cruttenden.

They came from very different backgrounds and their life together, in a large house in a leafy area of North London, was in stark contrast to the council semi on a main road where he had grown up.

Perhaps the difference eventually proved too much. For despite mixing in high society, Sean still preferred to drive around town in a pounds 100 wreck bought from a mate.

Although the couple split hastily, shortly after the birth of daughter Edie in November 1998, they are now on good terms - although Abigail is reluctant to speak about her ex-husband.

"Talking publicly about Sean isn't something I would ever want to do at all," she says. Meanwhile, Sean is prepared to admit to his mistakes.

"Sometimes I've been a bit of a twat," he says. "I've always gone along in life the way I want to and that has caused problems."

But it seems most of his mistakes have been in trying to reconcile the gritty past with the glittering present.

And with his latest role in Lord of the Rings - a critical and commercial success - that apparent conflict will not become any easier.

He may say: "I'm still Shaun that me mates went to school with, not Sean the film star. And that's the way I prefer to be."

But with every blockbuster he signs on for he appears to have less choice in the matter.

CAPTION(S):

ACCLAIM: His latest role, as Boromir; SO YOUNG: Sean wed Debra in '81; SHAM? In 1991 he is with Melanie; ALL OVER: Abigail marriage in '97
Source of this article : The Free Library