James Nesbitt has said receiving an OBE will “give credence” to the cause of those left searching for loved ones following the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Missing star was awarded the honour in the New Year’s list for services to Northern Ireland and to acting, after years of work helping families affected by the conflict.
Originally from Coleraine, Nesbitt is a patron of Wave Trauma Centre, which supports people bereaved, injured or traumatised during the years of violence.
The 50-year-old also appeared in several films about the unrest, including Bloody Sunday and Five Minutes of Heaven.
He told the Press Association: “I’ve been very blessed with my work and very blessed to come from Northern Ireland, and for those two things to be on the citation was really rather gratifying.
“To be associated with the Wave Trauma success story – a success story tarnished by the loss and the years of not having the remains – it really means an awful lot to me.”
After 30 years of violence, many were left searching for the resting places of friends and relatives who disappeared.
“They’re the people who have gone through the pain, the real hard work, the searching,” Nesbitt added.
“This gives credence to their cause, a cause which they have been fighting now for so long, to try and find the remains of loved ones so they can have some kind of closure.”
He added that appearing in films about Northern Ireland and the bloodiest chapter in its history came with a weight of responsibility.
“You cannot help the feeling the responsibility is a wee bit heavier,” he said.
“It’s where I come from and it’s affected so many lives and that has been a great privilege. That is what you go into the job for – the opportunity to exercise your craft, but also say something about where you come from, to maybe have an impact.”
He will next be seen playing killer dentist Colin Howell in three-part ITV drama The Secret, based on the true crime book by the Press Association’s former Ireland editor, Deric Henderson.
He said: “It’s an extraordinary story. If you invented it and took it to various commissioners in television drama, they would have found a lot of holes in it – they would’ve said ‘no-one would believe that’.”
He will also be hosting Fifa’s Ballon d’Or ceremony on January 11, when the world’s best footballer is crowned.
The long-time Manchester United fan, who has also helped support his local team, Coleraine, when they faced financial difficulties, said he hoped the occasion would remind fans about the “purity of the game” in the wake of Fifa’s scandals.
He said: “I’m a football fan and I think what it should be, during difficult times for that organisation, is a reminder of the purity of football – why grown-up men get paid an awful lot of money to play football and why they still play with the same passion they played with when they were boys kicking it around in a park.
“Whatever has happened inside football, I’m still a football fan. My three big loves outside of my family are Northern Ireland, Manchester United and Coleraine, and I still follow them with the same passion as when I was a child.”
Asked whether his support for United would have him rooting for Cristiano Ronaldo for the award, he joked that he hoped to persuade him to rejoin the club, which is under pressure due to some poor recent results.
“I’m taking a shirt with Ronaldo’s name and number on it, and hopefully he’ll put it on and get on the plane back with me.”
Next year will also mark the return of TV hit Cold Feet after 12 years, with Nesbitt reprising his role as Adam.
He said: “It’s quite daunting. There is a bit of you which thinks ‘will this be OK?’, because it will be compared to something that happened before, but, you know, why not?
“I read the first couple of scripts and it was fun to see those characters again, how much they have changed.
“I mean, Adam still seems to be a bit of an idiot, so I’m going to have to try and cast my eyes back to the days of eejitry, shall we say.”