Thursday, 7 October 2010

'We're just like Gavin and Stacey': Actress Joanna Page on her long-distance marriage

By Jane Gordon

Bubbly blonde actress Joanna Page talks (and talks and talks) to Jane Gordon about being mistaken for her Gavin & Stacey alter-ego, falling for her heart-throb husband, and a teasing new TV ad

It’s difficult to work out who came first – the actress Joanna Page or the character Stacey Shipman (née West) that she played so successfully through three series of Gavin & Stacey. Listening to Joanna talking at breakneck speed in her lilting Swansea brogue – about everything from her dog Daisy’s indigestion to her childhood love of boiled egg and soldiers – is rather like tuning in to a lost episode of the series that turned her from a serious actress (she has worked with the RSC and the National Theatre) into a comedy star and a Welsh national treasure.

‘I never thought the time would come when it would be cool to be Welsh. When I was at Rada I learned to do Irish, Scottish and English accents, but nobody ever wanted to hear Welsh and I am so proud to be in the show that made it happen. I love it, I love my accent and I love being part of the new Welsh mafia. There’s Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon, Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins and Matthew Rhys who was at Rada with me and is now a huge star in the States. Oh my God, it’s amazing!’ she says.

Joanna punctuates almost everything she says with ‘Oh my God!’ Or ‘It’s amazing’ (and sometimes both) in a way that should be irritating but somehow isn’t. The 32-year-old actress is so enthusiastic that she can even inject sparkle into childhood recollections of visits to the Swansea branch of Superdrug (we meet to talk about her new role as the ‘face’ of the high-street retailer in a major advertising campaign). Much more intelligent than Stacey, she was urged by her Mumbles comprehensive to apply for Oxbridge but was determined to go to drama school. If she does resent the fact that she has become synonymous in the public consciousness with her TV character (who also said ‘Oh my God’ and ‘It’s amazing’ a lot), she’s not saying. Instead she emphasises the positive effect it has had on her life.

‘People really do think I am Stacey. Someone said to me the other day that they were watching Love Actually on TV and they hadn’t realised “Stacey” was in it. I said, “No, Stacey isn’t in it, I am in it.” But I don’t mind because people loved the show,’ she says with a good-natured grin.

It isn’t the first time that Joanna’s real personality has been confused with that of a role she played on TV. Her husband, the actor James Thornton (heart-throb farmer John Barton in Emmerdale), 34, fell in love with her at a screening of the 1999 TV dramatisation of David Copperfield, in which they both appeared but never actually worked together. ‘He fell in love with my character Dora, and he thought that I would be this very posh person with a very, very English accent who would think that he was a bit of rough,’ she says, laughing at the idea.

For her part, it was watching him – as Ham Peggotty – pull the young David Copperfield (played by a ten-year-old Daniel Radcliffe) on to his shoulders that prompted her to say to her mum, ‘I want that man to be the father of my children.’ But the couple didn’t actually meet until Joanna’s actress friend Maxine Peake called her to say that she was working at the National Theatre with someone who said he was in love with her.

‘By that time I had also seen James in Playing the Field, in which he was this moody, arrogant football coach who rode a motorbike and wore leathers and I thought, “Oh my God, he is so sexy.” When we met I was terrified that he wouldn’t like the real me because I wasn’t Dora. The first thing he said to me was, “You look different.” He told me later he honestly thought I was going to be in a pink ballgown. But once we got over that we just didn’t stop talking.’

Joanna talks so fluently and so fast (she says it’s to cover up for her shyness) that it is difficult to imagine how James (whom she describes as ‘Northern and brooding and very much like Heathcliff’) ever manages to get a word in edgeways. ‘When we are out I talk and talk and talk, and people always think that he is very quiet, but when we go home and I can relax I don’t need to talk and he starts up. Do you know what we argue about? The fact that he interrupts me, talks over me and doesn’t let me get a word in edgeways in the house,’ she says.

An only child, Joanna was encouraged to act at the age of seven by her parents (her father is a mechanic and her mother works in financial services) to overcome her shyness, and she believes that the success of her relationship with James – they married in December 2003 – is down to the fact that they come from close ‘ordinary’ families (his in Yorkshire, hers in Swansea) and share the same work ethic, values and opinions. Ambitious and careful with money, the couple have built up an impressive property portfolio of buy-to-let flats in Wales, Yorkshire, Bulgaria and even Brazil, to give them financial security against any downturn in their careers. Their main base is a house in East Dulwich, South London, which they share with her ‘surrogate baby’, Daisy the jack russell. And their latest purchase is a small flat in Leeds that will be a home from home for James when he is filming Emmerdale.

‘It’s a long-distance relationship now – a bit like Gavin & Stacey when they first met. James is up there all week, then he will come home on Friday and go back on Sunday. But we are both busy and it works because it’s always fresh. I am always excited when he comes home.’

She laughs when I suggest that they could become a power couple – a British Brangelina perhaps – insisting that their lives are so ‘cosy’ and dull that the only shots the paparazzi would get of them would be, ‘Oh my God! Us sitting on the sofa eating a takeaway and watching a DVD.’

They are clearly supportive of each other’s careers. Since James joined Emmerdale he’s acquired a growing female fanbase (she says as many people now stop him for pictures and autographs as stop her), but despite spending so much time apart they have complete trust in one another.

Earlier this year James was knocked down in an accident near their home, which left him with a broken leg and a head injury. ‘He crossed the road – it was night time – and a car came from nowhere and he went right over the bonnet, breaking his leg and smashing his head. He was still conscious and the first thing he did was call me on his mobile and I rushed down – there was blood everywhere but I was surprisingly very calm. I went with him in the back of the ambulance and it was all rather surreal – he wanted me to take pictures. They were sewing him up – as an actor he was worried that scarring might affect his work – and I was filming him on my phone. It was like an episode of Casualty,’ she says.

Tiny – she is just 5ft 1in – and impossibly pretty, with perfect skin and naturally blonde hair, Joanna looks closer to 22 than 32 (she says that a taxi driver who picked her up from home the other day asked if James was her dad). Dressed today in a Whistles frock (since she turned 30, Whistles and Reiss have taken over from Topshop as her favourites), she admits a particular weakness for handbags. ‘I don’t smoke, I only ever have the odd glass of wine, I don’t go clubbing. The only vice I have is shopping. I bought this Marc Jacobs – a real splurge – a couple of days ago,’ she says, lovingly showing off her new purchase.

She counts the entire cast of Gavin & Stacey as friends and is particularly close to Ruth Jones (who texts her during the interview) and Alison Steadman. (She is fond of ‘the boys’, James Corden and Mathew Horne, but rarely sees them.) There will, she thinks, be the occasional Gavin & Stacey special but no fourth series.

‘A job like that comes once in a lifetime – brilliant scripts and brilliant people to work with. When they said “That’s a wrap” on the last show
I went back to my hotel and sobbed for two hours,’ she says wistfully. ‘Later I saw Ruth and both our faces were swollen from crying so much. Oh my God! We looked like frogs.’

Joanna’s role in the new Superdrug advertising campaign, promoting the company’s beauty and grooming products, has the potential to be as popular and long-running as Gavin & Stacey. Joanna and Ben Heathcote play a couple newly in love, in an on-screen relationship that is planned to develop in rather the way of Jane and Adam in the BT ads or the 80s Gold Blend campaign. There are other roles too – presenting Sky’s My Pet Shame, a stint in panto in Milton Keynes this Christmas (Dick Whittington, with Luke Perry as King Rat) and a part in a forthcoming episode of ITV’s Marple called The Blue Geranium.

‘Oh my God! I am obsessed by Agatha Christie – my favourite film as a child was Death on the Nile. Being Welsh and growing up in a working-class household, it looked so English with all the costumes, it was so foreign to me: that was my idea of acting when I was growing up. When they said, “Will you be in the Miss Marple story?”, I said, “Oh my God! Of course!” I even had to find a body – although I was so overexcited when it came to the scene that instead of screaming I couldn’t stop laughing,’ she says.

There is, she insists, no particular dream role, but she can do a convincing American accent and is as open to film parts as she is to challenges in the theatre and – perhaps – more TV presenting and voiceover work. A couple of years ago Rob Brydon – devoted father of four and a stalwart member of the Welsh mafia – told her to get on and have a baby, but there are no immediate plans for a family.

‘Eventually I would like to have babies. There is no perfect time and I don’t like planning anything – whatever happens, happens. I have been very lucky in my career and I am sure I could fit a family round my work. James and I have this idea that in a couple of years we will sell all our properties and buy a big house in the country and then have loads of animals – dogs, sheep, pigs. And – oh my God! – maybe a baby.’

See the full article at the Daily Mail


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. hello, just to let you know that it was Robert Erdmann that shot these for Superdrug :)

    Biddy @ LGA (Robert's London agency)