Great reads

Award-win­ning ac­tress Re­becca Front talks about fac­ing her pho­bias head on, how lucky she feels to be a work­ing ac­tress and her hi­lar­i­ous new book. By Han­nah Stephen­son

Friday - - Contents -

Ac­tress Re­becca Front on her mem­oir

Cu­ri­ous True Sto­ries And Loose Con­nec­tions.

You won’t gen­er­ally find Bri­tish ac­tress Re­becca Front in a lift, on a train, in a win­dow­less room, base­ment or tun­nel. For years she has suf­fered from claus­tro­pho­bia, which could have been pretty cat­a­strophic for her ca­reer and blighted her life in gen­eral, had she not sought ther­apy.

The Bafta-win­ning ac­tress, best known for her roles in pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries such as MP Ni­cola Mur­ray in

The Thick Of It and as De­tec­tive Chief Su­per­in­ten­dant Jean In­no­cent in Lewis, has tried hyp­nother­apy (un­suc­cess­fully) but now has cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy (CBT), which she says helps her through dif­fi­cult mo­ments in closed, nar­row spa­ces.

“When I’m in a lift it’s com­pletely ter­ri­fy­ing, but ir­ra­tionally so,” she ex­plains. “I’m shak­ing from head to toe wait­ing for it to ar­rive, stand­ing with other people queu­ing to get in the lift and think­ing, ‘You have no idea how ter­ri­fied I am’. Ev­ery­body else is just think­ing of what they’re go­ing to do when they get to what­ever floor they’re go­ing to. All I’m think­ing is, ‘I hope I get out of this alive, I hope I don’t have a heart at­tack’. I haven’t used the Tube in Lon­don for over 20 years. I can’t ever en­vis­age get­ting on it.”

Sev­eral trau­matic events when she was 11 – a fam­ily pic­nic dur­ing which her non-swim­mer fa­ther nearly drowned in a river, fol­lowed by the sud­den death of her grand­fa­ther from a heart at­tack two days later – made

‘By and large I don’t let claus­tro­pho­bia im­pact on my life. So I don’t let it af­fect my work hugely’

her ter­ri­fied of let­ting her par­ents out of her sight for fear of an­other neardeath en­counter.

“It was what now would be re­ferred to as post-trau­matic stress. I did gen­uinely think that if I didn’t keep a close eye on mum, then she was go­ing to be next. I like to think that nowa­days, there might be a bit more guid­ance for kids and a bit more psy­cho­log­i­cal help, but at the time, no one un­der­stood that sort of stuff.”

She was sent to an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist and was home-schooled for a short time be­fore chang­ing schools, where her mother, a teacher and chil­dren’s writer, man­aged to se­cure a job. The thought that her mother was in the same build­ing went some way to quell her anx­i­eties and the young Front soon set­tled in.

Her var­i­ous pho­bias are high­lighted in her book, Cu­ri­ous: True Sto­ries And Loose Con­nec­tions, among a collection of ran­dom, amus­ing au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal anec­dotes and yarns, giv­ing her thoughts on ev­ery­day things from learn­ing to swim and deal­ing with un­wanted vis­i­tors, to the pros and cons of fame and her take on cos­metic surgery.

“The claus­tro­pho­bia has al­ways been there, so in that sense it’s made a

sig­nif­i­cant im­pact but, by and large, I don’t let it im­pact on my life most of the time. So I don’t let it af­fect my work hugely.

“I re­mem­ber do­ing a TV se­ries years ago, set in a magic theatre, and the pro­ducer asked if I would be sawn in half, which – of course – in­volves get­ting in a box. I said, ‘There’s no way in a mil­lion years you’re go­ing to get me into that tiny box!’

“But gen­er­ally, I’m prob­a­bly at my most re­laxed when I’m work­ing. I love act­ing and be­ing on set and I’m very chilled about all that.”

When she first met her hus­band, TV pro­ducer-turned-writer Phil Cly­mer, a keen trav­eller, she re­alised her fear of fly­ing was go­ing to be a prob­lem.

“Fly­ing stayed ev­ery bit as hard for me for the first 10 years or so of our re­la­tion­ship, but the point is, I did it. So in that sense, it was a tri­umph.”

When their chil­dren, Oliver and Tilly, came along, her fears eased even more. “We flew long-haul to New York and Los Angeles, and be­cause I was adamant that they shouldn’t see my anx­i­ety, I smiled and watched films and read sto­ries to them as if I was a nor­mal, re­laxed trav­eller, rather than

‘Hu­mour was al­ways part of grow­ing up. It was a valu­able cur­rency in our house­hold to be funny’

some­one who’d spent the night be­fore pray­ing for fog to ground all flights so that we could just stay home.”

To­day, Front, 50, is known largely for her com­edy, hav­ing be­ing a guest on panel shows in­clud­ing Have I Got News

For You? And BBC Ra­dio 4’s The News Quiz, where her nat­u­ral hu­mour shines. She also ap­peared on Know­ing Me, Know­ing You With Alan Par­tridge.

“Hu­mour was a big part of grow­ing up,” she re­flects. “It was a valu­able cur­rency in our house­hold to be funny. We were al­ways try­ing to make each other laugh. My dad’s a very funny man when he gets go­ing. I re­mem­ber clearly, from a young age, think­ing, ‘I want to be able to do that, to be in a room full of people and just have them laugh­ing their heads off’, be­cause he does it ef­fort­lessly.”

Brought up in a mid­dle-class house­hold in Es­sex, Front’s mother Sheila was a teacher who wrote chil­dren’s books while her fa­ther Charles, an artist, il­lus­trated them.

She stud­ied English at Ox­ford Univer­sity and was the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the Ox­ford Re­vue, a com­edy so­ci­ety, which gave Front her first taste of her fu­ture ca­reer.

Her brother, Jeremy Front, is also a writer. She’s never been pi­geon­holed or typecast in a role, for which she is thank­ful. “I’ve al­ways thought of my­self just as an ac­tor, whether it’s straight or funny. I’ve never thought of my­self as a com­edy ac­tor.”

As for fame, she tries not to think about it. “I never use the ‘F-word’, be­cause I don’t think I am [fa­mous]. I am aware that there are cer­tain sit­u­a­tions where people recog­nise me and cer­tain sit­u­a­tions where people don’t recog­nise me, so I can go through 70 per cent of my life with­out any­body giv­ing me a sec­ond glance. For the other 30 per cent, people turn around and stare at me. It’s an odd mix­ture.

“It’s best if you don’t think about it too much, be­cause you can start to screw yourself up, wor­ry­ing about if you are as fa­mous as you were be­fore.”

In ev­ery­day life, she and her hus­band of­ten work in the same room in their house in Lon­don. “It’s a hive of in­dus­try. Very of­ten we sit in our liv­ing room op­po­site each other with our lap­tops, chat­ting away. I’d love to tell you that he’s a dis­trac­tion, but we’ve been to­gether a long time. I run things past him. He’s very hon­est so it’s re­ally valu­able. He’s very tol­er­ant.”

She’s cur­rently film­ing a new se­ries of Lewis along­side Kevin Whately, and will be ap­pear­ing in the sec­ond se­ries of

Up The Women, a suf­fragette sit­com, and in a new se­ries of a sketch show.

Her ca­reer goes from strength to strength but she’s quick to play it down.

“When you’re an ac­tor, you are al­ways as­sum­ing that ev­ery job is go­ing to be your last, so it never feels like my ca­reer has gone from strength to strength,” says Front. “It feels like, ‘I’ve just fin­ished that job so I’ll prob­a­bly never work again!’

“I’m only too de­lighted if I can keep earn­ing a liv­ing and do what I love do­ing.”

Front loves play­ing DCS Jean In­no­cent on Lewis op­po­site Kevin Whately

The ac­tress gets to show her funny side in suf­fragette com­edy, Up The­Women

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