How I keep up a con­fi­dent Front de­spite my anx­i­ety

AS HER NEW BOOK IS PUB­LISHED, THE AC­TRESS TALKS TO HAN­NAH STEPHEN­SON ABOUT MAN­AG­ING ANX­I­ETY AND THE IM­POR­TANCE OF LAUGH­TER IN BOTH HER LIFE AND WORK

Uxbridge Gazette - - Book Shelf -

RE­BECCA Front, best known for play­ing MP Nicola Mur­ray in hit po­lit­i­cal satire The Thick Of It and Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent In­no­cent in ITV’s Lewis, is a great ob­server of the odd­i­ties of ev­ery­day life.

It’s a skill that’s given her a bank of ma­te­rial for her lat­est col­lec­tion of sto­ries, en­ti­tled Im­pos­si­ble Things Be­fore Break­fast, chart­ing as­pects of her life, from be­ing Jewish, to din­ner par­ties, sit­ting watch­ing the stars with her son, and vis­it­ing the den­tist who had ‘the chair­side man­ner of a tor­turer’.

Yet be­hind the hu­mour, anx­i­ety has fea­tured heav­ily in the world of the Bafta-win­ning ac­tress and com­edy writer, whose cred­its in­clude Nighty Night and Know­ing Me, Know­ing You With Alan Par­tridge.

Lon­don-born Re­becca, 54, is a self-con­fessed hypochon­driac. Vis­its to med­i­cal ex­perts for a va­ri­ety of treat­ments in­clud­ing a colonoscopy, and a trou­ble­some an­kle, cou­pled with her ob­ses­sion with self­di­ag­nos­ing on the in­ter­net, make for highly amus­ing read­ing.

The very real an­guish of her wit­ness­ing, aged 11, the near drown­ing of her fa­ther in a lake on a hol­i­day in York­shire left her trau­ma­tised. It was a close call, and the shock led to Re­becca stay­ing off school for a while to look af­ter her mother. She re­calls the story in her pre­vi­ous book, Cu­ri­ous: True Sto­ries And Loose Con­nec­tions.

She is now an am­bas­sador for Anx­i­ety UK, al­though she doesn’t know where her anx­i­ety came from.

“I think anx­i­ety is a learned be­hav­iour. My mum is very anx­ious and I sort of ref­er­ence that in the book. My grand­mother, her mum, was very anx­ious, and prob­a­bly my other grand­mother was, with hind­sight.”

She’s been claus­tro­pho­bic since child­hood and has oc­ca­sional panic at­tacks, doesn’t travel on the Tube and tries to avoid long-haul flights.

“I am very for­tu­nate that I don’t get random panic at­tacks, which a lot of peo­ple do,” Re­becca ex­plains. “Thank God I kind of know when one is com­ing, be­cause it’s al­ways trig­gered. For ex­am­ple, if I’ve got to go on a long-haul flight and I haven’t done one for a long time, it will just make me anx­ious the night be­fore. Then I do it and I’m fine.”

She says she can hide her symp­toms from most peo­ple. “I usu­ally get very hot, ei­ther I hy­per­ven­ti­late or I am just hold­ing my breath. I get quite shaky, I just look scared.”

She man­ages it through deep breath­ing and cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy.

“I’ve had a lot of cog­ni­tive ther­apy, so I’ve got a lot of strate­gies for deal­ing with it. I do lots of breath­ing ex­er­cises. I also do yoga. I can con­trol it and I know what trig­gers it.

“Health anx­i­ety doesn’t re­ally im­pact on my ca­reer in any way, and again, it’s some­thing that prob­a­bly grow­ing up, the kids were not re­ally aware of, but it just means there’s a low back­ground rum­ble all the time.”

Her hus­band, pro­ducer Phil Cly­mer, whom she met at the BBC, tries to stop her from self-di­ag­nos­ing, she says. They’ve been to­gether 30 years, mar­ried for 20, and have two chil­dren: Oliver, 19, and Tilly, 17.

For much of her life, hu­mour has been the great re­liever of all stress.

Born in Stoke New­ing­ton, North Lon­don, to Sheila and Charles – her mother wrote chil­dren’s books and her fa­ther il­lus­trated them – both par­ents, who are still alive, are very funny, she says with a smile.

She went to Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity, be­com­ing the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the Ox­ford Re­vue. While she says sex­ism must have ex­isted in that gen­er­a­tion, she didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence it per­son­ally, al­though she re­calls one episode in her ca­reer af­ter Ox­ford which made her un­com­fort­able.

“I re­mem­ber the first pho­to­shoot I ever did and the pho­tog­ra­pher had me perched on a lit­tle stool. I was do­ing funny faces, it was a com­edy thing. Then he said, ‘Can you lift your skirt slightly higher above the knee?’ I was very young, only about 23, and was about to do it, when I asked, ‘Sorry, why?’ He said, ‘Just for a bet­ter shot, to draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion’. I didn’t do it.”

She’s cur­rently play­ing the “for­mi­da­ble mother” of lech­er­ous cleric Os­borne Whitworth, in the new se­ries of Poldark.

“I am drawn to strong fe­male roles in the sense that they are of­ten more in­ter­est­ing, but ac­tu­ally I quite like play­ing vul­ner­a­ble women as well, or strong women who are also vul­ner­a­ble,” Re­becca says.

She has an un­usual the­ory as to why she gets these roles.

“I have quite a strong, an­gry rest­ing face. Nat­u­rally, I am in fact smi­ley, a bit too woolly if any­thing, but some­times my face in re­pose makes me look like I’m quite tough.

For all her anx­i­eties, one place she feels at home is in front of the cam­era. “I am more re­laxed when I’ve got the cam­era point­ing at me and we are record­ing,” says Re­becca. “The thing most peo­ple would find ter­ri­fy­ing, I love.”

I think anx­i­ety is learned be­hav­iour. My mum is very anx­ious... My grand­mother, her mum, was very anx­ious, and prob­a­bly my other grand­mother was, with hind­sight...

Ac­tress and au­thor Re­becca Front has de­vel­oped cop­ing strate­gies to deal with her anx­i­ety

Re­becca’s new book

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