Crime + Investigation star Will Mellor is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most familiar faces, with an eclectic career that’s taken him from children’s telly to the Strictly dance floor. Cops Gone Bad, his latest Crime + Investigation show, exposes seven murderers, fraudsters, swindlers, sexual predators and drug dealers within the police force. It starts at 9pm on Monday, 26th February, so here’s everything you need to know about the multi-faceted Mr Mellor.
The up-and-coming star
Will Mellor knew he wanted a life in showbiz right from the start. As he once said in an interview, ‘I was very extroverted as a kid. I joined an acting agency when I was 11 as I wanted to be a performer but wasn’t sure whether it was acting, singing or dancing that I wanted to do.’
The lad from Bredbury, Greater Manchester was barely into his teens when he landed a role in Children’s Ward, which – as any child of the 90s will know – was essentially Casualty for kids. The series was a springboard for quite a few up-and-coming stars, including Stephen Graham, Tina O’Brien, Maxine Peake and Danny Dyer, not to mention the fact that the show’s producer was none other than future Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies.
Will featured as a young patient in five episodes of Children’s Ward and followed that up with appearances in TV adverts and even a short stint on the soap Brookside. However, as is so often the case with young actors, he had to make ends meet by doing odd jobs in between roles. Having left school at 16, he kept his sights set on acting while doing everything from working on a building site to dancing in a shop window for £6 an hour.
Will’s belief in himself paid off in 1995 when he landed one of the lead roles in a new series called Hollyoaks. The Chester-set soap was a major event for Channel 4, not only for being the brainchild of Phil Redmond (the TV trailblazer who’d previously come up with the iconic shows Grange Hill and Brookside), but also for being the first homegrown soap to be aimed at a young adult audience – Britain’s answer to the likes of Neighbours and Beverly Hills, 90210.
As original cast member Nick Pickard later recalled, ‘Everyone wanted to be in it when it was announced. People knew Phil Redmond from the success of Brookside and I remember the train carriages being full of hopefuls on the way to the casting in Liverpool.’
Although Will had appeared in Brookside, that didn’t mean he got to skip straight to a plum role on Phil Redmond’s new show. In fact, he had to go through no fewer than four auditions and needed to hold his breath when it came down to him and another actor. After finally being told he’d got the part of Jambo Bolton, he went back to his family home in Stockport to tell them the great news – only to find they’d all gone out.
‘There was no one around to celebrate with,’ Will later said in a newspaper interview. ‘So I got a few cans and went for a quiet bit of night fishing. Yeah, fishing. I’m quite sad really!’
Will loved playing Jambo because of their inherent similarities. He described his on-screen alter-ego as a more ‘magnified’ and ‘outrageous’ version of himself. Jambo certainly went down well with audiences, becoming one of the most popular characters on the long-running soap (and earning a ranking on What’s On TV’s ‘Top 100 Soap Hunks of All Time’, no less).
Two major milestones
Hollyoaks may have been a hit which brought him national fame, but Will’s desire to explore new roles led him to leave the soap in 1998. He had a brief foray as a pop star with the release of a few songs, including a cover version of Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’, which reached number five in the singles chart. Then, he jumped back into acting with a double-whammy of major roles in 2001.
This was the year which saw the former Children’s Ward star return to the medical setting by playing A&E receptionist Jack Vincent in Casualty, and also lean into comedy acting as football-mad mechanic Gaz Wilkinson in zeitgeist-grabbing sitcom, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
Casualty proved to be a particularly satisfying gig. Jack Vincent’s trials and tribulations – which included battling cancer and dealing with the brutal stabbing of his girlfriend – allowed Will to show off his dramatic acting skills and prove he was far more than ‘just the jack-the-lad character’. Indeed, filming the stabbing episode was such an immersive and emotionally exhausting experience that he literally wept after the scenes were over.
Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps was a far lighter affair, being an uproarious sitcom about a bunch of 20-somethings in Runcorn, and a perfect distillation of noughties banter-based comedy. That said, Gaz Wilkinson turned out to be Will’s second-most iconic role after Jambo Bolton, with Will showcasing both his comedic and dramatic talents with some of the more emotional storylines – including Gaz being left disabled after a car crash.
Spreading his wings
Although Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps is synonymous with the early-to-mid 2000s in many people’s minds, the show actually ran all the way to 2011. While Will was a cast member throughout the entire run, he managed to fit in plenty of other roles during this fruitful era.
These included playing a copper in a spin-off from The Bill called Murder Investigation Team, and starring alongside the likes of David Thewlis, Timothy Spall and Matt Smith in the Jimmy McGovern drama The Street. He popped up in EastEnders for a few episodes, playing a salesman who turned out to be a right wrong ‘un. He even appeared on the fantasy series Merlin as a villainous knight with the misleadingly heroic name, Valiant.
Then came the 2010s and a wealth of diverse roles for Will. There was the sitcom In With the Flynns, which was a British adaptation of a US comedy called Grounded for Life and starred Will as a doting husband and father in Manchester. At around the same time, he also starred in another sitcom, White Van Man, as a chap taking over his dad’s handyman business.
After this run of comedy, Will was given another opportunity to show how serious and intense he can be with the arrival of Broadchurch – the crime drama which proved that Brits could do a slow-burning, multi-layered whodunit in the style of Nordic Noir shows like The Killing.
Will played a telephone engineer and self-proclaimed psychic who was both a help and a hindrance to David Tennant’s detective, in a show that rapidly became a cultural phenomenon. A few years later, Will appeared in another much-loved series, the cosy crime drama Death in Paradise.
Yet another iconic series was in the offing for Will soon after that, when he joined the acclaimed cop drama Line of Duty for its third season. Will showed the tough and gritty side of his personality as firearms officer Rod Kennedy, whose killing became one of the mysteries of the run.
The 2020s have so far proven to be an exciting era for Will, with the actor becoming involved with two shows that are more than simply famous: they’re national institutions. One is Coronation Street, with Will first striding onto the cobbles as drug lord Harvey Gaskell in 2021.
For Will, joining Corrie was a personally joyous moment. Speaking at the time he was cast, he said, ‘When I first started acting 32 years ago, it was my mum’s dream for me to be in Corrie so I’m happy to finally be able to make it come true. It’s a Manchester institution and as a Manchester actor this is definitely a box ticked.’ He also relished the fact that Harvey is ‘the first out-and-out baddie I’ve ever played’ – a dastardly role he could really sink his teeth into.
Then, in 2022, Will ticked another gigantic box when he was picked to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. Partnering with Nancy Xu, Will demonstrated nimble footwork and wowed the judges week after week.
He brought emotion as well as technical ability, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he performed a waltz to the classic Commodores track ‘Three Times a Lady’, in tribute to his late father. Tears were again shed when Will was knocked out of the competition in the semi-final – a stellar achievement which highlighted just how versatile a star Will is.
Will on Crime + Investigation
Speaking of versatility, Will has also demonstrated his documentary-hosting skills right here on Crime + Investigation. In 2023, he presented Cops Who Kill, a hard-hitting examination of police officers in Britain and beyond who have committed terrible crimes and betrayed every principle they swore to uphold.
The series sees Will joined by experts including former murder detectives and psychologists, who probe a plethora of cases. Perhaps the most infamous of them all is the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens – a savage crime which led to a national outcry about both women’s safety and misogyny within the police.
For Will, one of the satisfying things about appearing in the series was getting ‘the chance to ask questions and be honest about what I felt walking in the footsteps of people that sadly lost their lives… I wanted to know about everything, and I wanted to ask questions. The reactions were genuine. Some of these cases still stay with me.’
Will returns to Crime + Investigation in February 2024 with Cops Gone Bad. The series will cover seven new cases, exposing murderers, fraudsters, swindlers, sexual predators and drug dealers within the police force. Will returns with his team of experts: retired Detective Chief Inspector Howard Groves and forensic psychologist Serena Simmons. Also joining them is former Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Hill, who has been investigating serious crime for over 30 years. The new series launches with the deplorable story of David Carrick, the serial rapist who used his position of authority at the Met Police to commit unthinkable acts.