‘I hate myself right now’: How Happy Valley’s James Norton is channelling childhood trauma

His character may be behind bars, but James Norton is still the most chilling thing about Happy Valley.

BBC One’s hit crime drama returned on New Year’s Day for its third series, with new episodes airing every Sunday.

Norton reprises the role he is best known for: the villainous sex offender and killer Tommy Lee Royce.

In the first few episodes, Royce has remained in prison following the events of series two. However, as Annabel Nugent speculated in her episode three recap, there are maybe signs that a prison break could be on the cards.

Speaking to The Independent recently, Norton opened up about the trauma he experienced as a child, and how he had drawn on that trauma as an actor.

Growing up, Norton attended the North Yorkshire Catholic boarding school Ampleforth College. The school, sometimes referred to as the “Catholic Eton”, was banned from taking on new pupils between November 2020 and April 2021 after a damning independent report found evidence that “appalling sexual abuse [had been] inflicted over decades on children as young as seven”.

Norton made clear that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse while attending the school, and had in fact received “an enormous amount of support and solace from a couple of the monks”, he had been badly bullied during his time there.

As well as Royce, Norton has played a number of dark, psychologically complicated characters, including Jude, the lead of a new West End adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara’s traumatic 2015 bestseller, A Little Life.

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in ‘Happy Valley' (BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire)
James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in ‘Happy Valley' (BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire)

“What I do share [with Jude], which I think is my way in, and I think this is why the book is so loved and cherished, is that everyone knows what it is to feel trauma,” Norton said.

“When you experience things like bullying or abuse as a child, without the apparatus and maturity to contend with that and understand it, you internalise it and make yourself at fault,” he continued. “And so there’s a lot of forgiveness that happened as an adult. That happened to me.

“I spent a long time hating the child that was bullied because I thought I’d brought the bullying onto myself. And that is a very small – and I’m not in any way comparing my experience to Jude’s, because it is a tiny sliver of what Jude experiences – but it is a way in for me. “

Norton went on to describe the character as an example of someone “full of goodness and warmth” but also “full of self-loathing because of the way he is treated”.

“Everyone can identify with that,” he added. “Everyone knows what it’s like to look inside and go, ‘Oh God, I just f***ing hate myself right now.’”

Read The Independent’s full interview with Norton here.

Happy Valley continues on BBC One next Sunday at 9pm.