Over the decades, Patrick Stewart has raptured audiences worldwide with tantalizing roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the X-Men movie series. Indeed, he is better known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and as superhuman mutant Professor X, alongside a plethora of dramatic voice performances and stage appearances.
Remind yourself of his beloved character's gravitas-filled voice in the trailer for the latest installment of X-Men: Days of Future Past, out on Blu-Ray last year:
Alongside these iconic roles, Stewart received acclaim for other projects such as Charles Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol, as well as his deep devotion to theatre. In particular, his commitment to Shakespearean theatre is striking, earning him rave reviews for projects such as Macbeth and Hamlet. So much so, that his contribution to acting has been so phenomenal that in 2009, England's Queen Elizabeth II even granted him a knighthood.
However, life was not always so easy for Stewart and many are unaware of his unhappy start to life. A tale of a troubled childhood, domestic violence and personal demons, it is testament to his human nature and determination that he was able to rise like a phoenix out of his less-than-easy beginnings and to publicly about it.
The terror and misery of troubled life at home
Stewart grew up in modest household in Mirfield, England, in a house with one room downstairs and another upstairs. Despite recalling having to share a double bed with his brother in his parents' bedroom, it wasn't the cramped conditions that complicated the young boy's life.
In fact, it was the domestic violence he witnessed on the regular that permeated his childhood experience.
His father, a formal sergeant major in the British Army, was prone to horrifically violent rages against his mother. The experience was so traumatizing, that Steward chose to bravely speak out again the incidents many decades later in a recent newspaper article and about his involvement with Refuge, an organization for the protection of those suffering from domestic abuse. He wrote:
"I wrote the article for my mother, who has been dead for decades [...] There are women just like my mother who can now take an initiative to protect themselves or to remove themselves from these situations, which my mother couldn't. And that makes it worthwhile."
Speaking about the horror of seeing his father hit his mother, he put his feelings beautifully into words, summarizing the experiences of millions worldwide who have to go through similar trauma on a daily-basis:
"He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him."
"An environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation"
The irony for Stewart was that during the day, Monday to Friday, his father was diligent and sober, working as a semi-skilled laborer and often recalling thrilling stories of warfare and adventure. When night fell, the atmosphere became sinister and fearful as the young family would await his return to the home after an evening drinking. Stewart recalls:
"I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. [...] But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert."
Once the violence began, accompanied by fearful shouts from his mother, as a young boy, he learnt quickly how to react:
"I knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn [...] I felt responsible."
The most shocking part however, is that there was nowhere to go for help:
"I heard police or ambulance men, standing in our house, say, "She must have provoked him," [...] They had no idea."
Nobody stepped in and took charge and just when Stewart needed another adult to take control, everyone refused. Due to this and to this day, the actor carries a heavy burden and a horrifying sense of shame over what happened. He says:
"The sense of guilt and loneliness provoked by domestic violence is tainting – and lasting. No one came, but everyone knew."
"My father never struck me"
However, Stewart has always remarked at the sense of irony in that his father never struck him. Something in his flawed moral make-up assumed that hitting a child was very wrong, whilst his wife was another matter.
Despite being unable to forgive his father from the travesties he imposed on his family, Stewart has sinc attempted to understand why it was happening in the first place. He thinks that in being so respected and feared in the army, upon his return having to work a semi-skilled laborer, he came a "weekend alcoholic."
It was "the combination of alcohol and his profound frustration as a man" that led him to violence towards Stewart's mother.
Here he is talking in depth about his personal experiences of domestic violence at an Amnesty International UK conference:
Stewart's work with Refuge
In 2007, the actor became a patron for the domestic violence charity.
Every day the organisation supports more than 1,000 women and children through its national network of refuges and services.
Speaking of the charity's tireless efforts, he says:
"I cannot express how sad – and angry – it makes me to think that we still cannot ensure the safety of women and children in their own homes. [...] Thanks to Refuge's tireless campaigning, attitudes have changed."
Indeed, revisiting Stewart's story is heart-breaking but his determination to speak out and spread the message about domestic abuse rife in our societies reflects his incredible bravery. For someone who has experiences such personal trauma, it must be difficult to talk so publicly about such painful memories.
Captain Picard, we salute you for being so courageous! Perhaps your attitude will allow others to confront similar issues, spread the word or simply work more actively together to put a stop to domestic suffering altogether.