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
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