James Norton reveals fascinating ways that he copes with type 1 diabetes on set

James Norton, who has type 1 diabetes, has said he has a “diehard determination” to not let his condition get in the way of his work as an actor.

Type 1 diabetes causes the level of glucose in your blood to become too high, something that occurs when your body is not producing enough insulin. Unlike type 2 diabetes, it is not linked with age or being overweight and usually begins in childhood.

Speaking to The Independent about the condition, Happy Valley star Norton explained how he will cope while performing in the forthcoming play A Little Life, which will run at three hours and 40 minutes.

“We do some ingenious stuff,” he said. “We’re already working out how to integrate moments into the play as I’ll be on stage for at least an hour at a time, maybe two. Luckily, there’s a full working kitchen on the stage so we’ll have sugar and Lucozade in one of the cupboards and I’ll have my insulin on a shelf.


“Part of the dance is choreographing moments I can touch base with that particular thing. I’ll have someone off stage who can tell me what my sugar levels are doing and I can attend to it, bring it down or bring it up.”

He added: “Once you’ve done a play a few times you get into the rhythm. For me personally, being diabetic, I’m choosing to live a very normal life and not let the diabetes control you and limit you.

“This play, A Little Life, will be a massive challenge irrespective of me being diabetic. The diabetes will add a small challenge but there’s a stubbornness in me like, ‘Yes! I’m going to prove to myself and all the other type 1 diabetics that you can do a three-hour play and it’s not going to hinder you.’ So there’s a diehard determination there.”

In period plays, Norton has had to stitch little pockets into his costumes for sugar tablets. When he’s making film or TV, it’s much easier to take a break and have a snack: “On film sets there are always opportunities to stop the camera and there are lots of people on the set who always aware and have sugar on them,” he said.

“I have to tell the director that if I start to eat a sandwich at an inopportune or stressful moment please forgive me, it’s not that I’m a glutton, although I am, but it’s because of my diabetes.”

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)

Norton continued: “Nowadays the tech is so advanced I can just look at my phone and it tells me what my sugar levels are via a censor that is stuck to me.

“If you don’t have a phone, you have to think of imaginative ways to mitigate against the possible risk of a hypoglycaemic moment, which in its worst form sends you into a confused fever-like state and if you don’t attend to it you can faint and really get quite ill quite quickly.”

Read the full interview with Norton, in which he also discusses his role in Happy Valley, here.