Actress reminisces about speedboat ride with Bear Grylls, jungle tunes and ‘Downton Abbey’ moments while filming Call the Midwife
I’m not ready to take a long haul flight with a baby
Iit is literally the stuff of nightmares; I don’t know if I can still do it. Since the birth of my daughter two years ago, my husband and I have taken many holidays in Crete and Cornwall. Right now, a good nursery trumps choosing a hotel.
My advice for new parents? Put all the toys in a travel cot and fold it right into your suitcase. I’m pretty proud of that one – it saved us a lot of money in excess baggage fees.
Scotland was tough
I was on the Isle of Harris filming the Christmas special Call The Midwife. We were up at 4am to film in the snow because we wanted the white carpeted landscape to be the focus of the Christmas episode. It was long hours and it rained a lot, but I stayed in the most amazing castle. We had many moments at Downton Abbey where we all sat around a big, big table and ate four-course dinners while sharing ghost stories.
Going on safari can be an amazing bonding experience
I went on safari with the Call the Midwife crew while filming in South Africa. It really brought us closer. Kruger National Park had the most beautiful golden sunsets, but we were intrigued by the history of South Africa. We stayed in an amazing hotel and filmed in the townships when we were there so we got to see both sides.
Being in Bath at Christmas is heavenly
It was a big draw when I was offered the role in My Cousin Rachel, an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, which will be performed at the Bath Theater Royal.
Over the summer I went to Fowey, where Daphne lived for a while, to really get attached to the play and get a feel for the Cornish way of life. It has spectacular coastlines, charming architecture and incredible history. I’ll have a month off at Christmas, but I guess I’ll be ready for the comforts of home after spending a few months away.
Watching my mom hula dance was fun
A few years ago my sister got married in the jungles of Borneo. It was so different from any wedding I had attended before. The groom paraded through the village on a wooden rowboat held aloft, while the bride strode through the village with all her maidens behind her, hula dancing. It was an amazing thing to see for my middle class family.
In Borneo, they sacrifice chickens at their weddings
My brother-in-law’s family had been fattening pigs for the party for months. After the meal, each of the 300 guests was invited to “take a walk” in the middle of this huge village hut. When it was finally my family’s turn, my mother pushed me into the middle of the circle. Not knowing what to do with myself, I sang “O mio babbino caro” by Puccini. The other guests didn’t know what was going on. It didn’t go well…
Miranda Hart and I surfed the waves in LA
We were in LA for a series of Call the Midwife press events and had dinner with Bear Grylls. Then he offered to take us for a ride on his racing speedboat. It was like a Ferrari on the waves. We were away for a few hours. By the time we got back to port, Miranda and I were ready for a strong gin and tonic or two.
I went to Salem for Halloween a few years ago
Our historical texts make the witch trials sound very English, but Salem certainly felt American. It’s a beautiful city, but the local entrepreneurs have taken over the history in a pretty trashy and inauthentic way – it’s a real shame.
Usually I’m very frivolous with money
But when I go on vacation, I suddenly become very suspicious of how I spend my money. I don’t want to go shopping abroad, I want to sunbathe, eat good meals and experience the culture. That said, I like to rummage around in vintage shops – the ones in New York are the best in my experience – and I’ve found plenty of cheap treasures at Parisian flea markets. I also started collecting keepsakes in my daughter’s name. But that has to stop, because my cupboards are quickly filling up with tiny figurines of flamenco dancers.
For all its dirt and grime, I miss London when I’m away
It’s not a clean city. It shows its flaws and its beauty in equal measure, but that’s why I love it. As a mum my favorite place for a drink is at home on the sofa, but I like HIX Soho and The French House, and The Pineapple pub in North London is also wonderful. It’s a real pub, not a chain pub.
Call the Midwife fans sometimes show up when I’m drinking. It’s always a pleasant experience, but a little shocking when you’ve had a few too many drinks.
Interview conducted by Susan Gray
Helen George stayed at Fowey Hall, part of Luxury Family Hotels.