Twenty years ago this summer, I had just finished college and was working in a bookshop when I had the opportunity to go to an open call audition for the BBC soap EastEnders which was looking for Irish characters for its new storyline. I went purely with the intention of experiencing what a professional audition was like. I wanted to be an actor but my plan was to work in the bookshop over the summer, save some money and then move to Galway in the autumn to try and get involved with the theatre scene down there.
But I got the part. Julia Crampsie, the casting agent at the BBC, called me at home and asked me was I sitting down. She then informed me that I they had decided to cast me as Mary Flaherty and that I would be given a six month contract with an option to extend to a year.
And so in August 2007, I moved to London and started working on the lot at Borehamwood in Herfordshire. Despite some truly mortifying scenes filmed in Ireland which resulted in the Irish embassy in London calling the BBC to ask for an apology (stereotype is not the word!), my introduction to prime time television and life as an actor was relatively smooth. I was given sage advice by the then executive producer, Jane Harris, to decide early on what kind of career I wanted, that of a working actor who did her work and went home to learn her lines or of a celebrity, opening supermarkets and doing the red carpet thing. I knew what I wanted. I kept my head down, enjoyed my work and steered clear of lucrative offers to cut red ribbons.
But unresolved grief from a series of losses in the years previously, acute homesickness and sheer bewilderment at daily being accosted in the street with ‘OI! MARY!’ took its toll on my mental health. In spite of my extreme good fortune, my amazing big break and the money that came with it, I found myself badly depressed. The wonderful Carolyn Weinstein, the company manager, got me an appointment with a doctor who had a confidentiality agreement with the BBC and I was offered medication without much preamble. I had no clue how it might affect my work so I declined, deciding instead to try counselling. And so for six months, I sat for 50 minutes every week with a woman who I thought didn’t much like me let alone care about my mental state and I delved into my psyche and talked my way back to health again.
Good friends, a very lovely and caring English boyfriend and his phenomenal mother, both of whom I am forever indebted to, and a church community at Holy Trinity Brompton helped as well. But it was my old friend the Rev. Steve Stockman, who knew me from when I was a teenager, and the Greenbelt festival that probably saved my life.
Stocki’s understanding of grace, of The Great Big Wonderful WOW, which is how he referred to God and the festival’s intersection of faith, art and justice gave me a glimpse of the tribe I felt at home with; edgy, creative, expansive, wild, liberating, inclusive, grace-full, the Kingdom of God in all it’s beauty and freedom.
Twenty years on, a husband and three children added to the mix, and I’m leaving home again. I’ve come full circle. Twenty years of trying to fit into a mould that I was never made for, of insisting that I knew the best future for myself, and squishing my Wild Self into a corner hoping she doesn’t do anything too mortifying took its toll. It has been a rollercoaster year and six months ago I was back in a pretty dark place, but I can honestly say, the future looks bright and I am full of hope.
A couple of months ago, our landlords informed us that they needed their house back and while, at another time this might have thrown us into a state of panic, it in fact turned out to be the push we needed to take action. We are buying our first home, something I never imagined I’d need or want but I’m so excited about. We can’t afford to buy where we are currently, so the move does involve taking ourselves away from our friends, family, schools, church community. We are leaving home. But this time, I feel ready.
I’m the person I wish I could have been 20 years ago; surrendered, joyful, at peace, not needing anyone’s approval or permission to be who I truly am. I am aware of the love and friendship I have around me, the prayerful light workers who care for me both near and far. I’m embracing motherhood with new passion, after 10 years in the grip of fear that I was not enough. I’m relinquishing what I think my life as an artist should look like, and enjoying the freedom of knowing that I’m not locked in to just one form or expression. I’m discovering that there is a whole other way of being human that is beautiful and life giving and that organised religion has often missed it, obscured it, ignored it and down right oppressed it. It feels good to leave that behind and follow Christ into the wilderness for a bit.
I set up this site as a place to host my podcasts, conversations with women who make, and I’ve struggled recently with how there’s been not much encouragement or inspiration here to share with you. The podcasts will resume once we’re moved and settled but certainly for the next couple of months, I’ll need to focus on my family. That said, I keep discovering wonderful women makers and I’ve lists of names I want to contact and interview. I want to bellow their greatness and give them a platform to strut their stuff.
With that in mind, I’m resolving to introduce you to makers I’m discovering on a regular basis over the summer. It might be weekly, or fortnightly depending on my workload at home, but the idea is that I at least share the love and keep this site viable. I may not know these makers personally, I may not have all the accurate information but I’ll pass on what I do know and what I like about their work.
I’m intermittent on Facebook but I’m really enjoying Instagram and you can follow me there and keep up to date with my new adventures.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep strutting and bellowing!