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Keeley Hawes on Ashes to Ashes, co-stars and stardom

PUBLISHED: 10:04 22 October 2010 | UPDATED: 11:46 03 May 2018

With CHASE celebrity support manager Nicky Rennie (left) and CHASE PR and marketing manager Juliette Gillard at Christopher’s in Guildford

With CHASE celebrity support manager Nicky Rennie (left) and CHASE PR and marketing manager Juliette Gillard at Christopher’s in Guildford

Actress Keeley Hawes set pulses racing after her first appearance in Ashes to Ashes in suspenders and a micro-mini. But in real life she’s a devoted wife to actor Matthew Macfadyen, and a mother of three. That’s why the Guildford-based CHASE children’s hospice, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, is so important to her. Here, she talks to Angela Wintle

It seems that life couldn’t really get much better for Keeley Hawes. She has been an established actress for donkey’s years, but thanks to the success of Tipping the Velvet, Spooks and Ashes to Ashes, she’s also a much-loved household name. Then there’s her husband, Pride and Prejudice star Matthew Macfadyen, who has set many female hearts aflutter. And let’s not overlook her lucrative modelling contract as the face of Boots No 7.

Now, she’s about to return to her roots to star in a lavish BBC period drama – a revival of that old favourite, Upstairs Downstairs. Keeley will play the lady of the house, Lady Agnes Holland, who returns to 165 Eaton Place, Belgravia, after several years abroad.

The BBC is pulling out all the stops, with a script by Heidi Thomas (Cranford) and an all-star cast that includes Ed Stoppard (who plays her husband), Anne Reid, Claire Foy, Adrian Scarborough and Art Malik. Even Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, who devised the original series, will make a welcome return.

Keeley, 34, began filming in August and the three-part series is expected to be shown over Christmas. “We’re right next to the Doctor Who set in Cardiff and they’ve recreated the whole house, though this series will feature a very different cast of characters,” she says. “At the start, you think you know precisely who they are, but by the end of the second episode everything is turned on its head.”


Visits to Guildford

Today, Keeley and I are chatting at Christopher’s, the CHASE children’s hospice in Guildford, where she is a regular visitor. The centre provides specialist nursing, and practical and emotional support, at no cost to the families, but has to find a whopping £4m each year to ensure its vital work continues.

Last month, the charity launched its tenth anniversary celebrations and one of its major fundraising events will be a 4k and 10k cross-country run in November in the beautiful grounds of Loseley Park in Guildford. In 2009, more than a thousand people took part and raised £60,000. This year, CHASE is hoping for its best run ever.

Keeley first heard about the charity in 2005 when she attended a Bafta screening of the ITV adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, in which she starred. “At the end, the charity showed a documentary highlighting its invaluable work, and as a mother myself it really touched a chord,” she says.

Since then, her and Matthew have supported many events at Christopher’s. Keeley even ‘fixed it’ for a team of Boots No 7 stylists to professionally make up the teenage girls there. “You can’t help but get involved and I’ve grown very close to some of the children,” she says. “What I particularly like about the charity is that it’s quite intimate and you really feel you can make a difference.”

Keeley, who once lived in Esher and is now based on the border of Surrey not far from her parents in Twickenham, says she has always loved this area. “It feels very countrified, even though you can be at Waterloo Station in half an hour. It’s lovely leaving work and city life behind, and I adore shopping in Richmond and Kingston.”


Route into acting

It’s been quite a journey for the daughter of a London cabbie, who grew up in Marylebone. The youngest of four children, she picked up her cut-glass accent at the Sylvia Young Stage School where she had elocution lessons. She stayed for ten years and schoolmates included former Spice Girl Emma Bunton and Denise van Outen.

When she was 17, she left home to work in a casino. Then she was spotted by a modelling scout in Oxford Street and signed up by Select. But this was during the Kate Moss grunge period and Keeley admits she couldn’t stay skinny enough. So instead she worked as a fashion assistant at various magazines with the vague intention of applying to RADA. She can remember the exact moment her life changed.

“I was sitting in the fashion cupboard at Cosmo, sorting Jimmy Choo shoes, when the phone rang. It was the agent I’d had as a child. She said that the casting director Mary Selway had seen a photograph of me in an old Spotlight magazine and wondered if I was still acting. I met her and she put me forward for a role in Dennis Potter’s TV play, Karaoke. To my amazement I got it. Mary said, ‘Now you really must get an agent, darling, and stop messing around’.”


Costume drama

Many costume dramas followed, including The Moonstone, Our Mutual Friend and Wives and Daughters, though those lesbian love scenes in Tipping the Velvet are the ones people remember best. She even did a memorable turn as the curvaceous young Diana Dors in The Blonde Bombshell.

But then along came the defining role of her career thus far – DI Alex “Bollyknickers” Drake in Ashes to Ashes, the sparring partner to DCI Gene Hunt, alias Surrey resident Philip Glenister who lives near Richmond Park. Their on/off flirtation kept viewers hooked for three series, though she found it daunting joining an established format because the expectation was so high.

“I was basically brought in to replace John Simm’s character in Life on Mars, and many viewers couldn’t accept it at first, so I took a lot of flak. Thankfully, by series three, there was a phenomenal turnaround.”

Apparently, she and Glenister had great fun on set. “I think Gene Hunt was quite an unlikely sex object,” says Keeley, “but many women were surprised to discover just how much they fancied him.” And was there any real chemistry during the filming? “Yes, I would hope so,” she says coyly. “We certainly get along. Philip is very funny and charming, and we’re great mates. He’s a brilliant actor.”

Riding high on her success, Keeley subsequently plunged headfirst into Identity, a six-part ITV drama shown this summer in which she headed up a unit formed to combat identity theft. Some actresses might have baulked at playing another copper, but she was just thrilled to be working, she says. Don’t be deceived – she’s in big demand and poised to make her West End debut, though she won’t go into details until she has signed on the dotted line.

Yet in spite of all her success, it’s her relationship with Matthew Macfadyen, who was a special guest at last year’s Surrey Life CHASE Carol Concert, that has often sparked the headlines. They met on the set of Spooks in 2002 and were married at Richmond Register Office two years later. She has three children – Myles, ten, from her previous marriage to cartoonist Spencer McCallum, and Maggie, five, and Ralph, three, with Matthew.


A happy marriage

“I love being married to Matthew. And I know Matthew loves being married, too,” she recently told an interviewer. “Marriage and motherhood are absolutely crucial to my happiness.”

But how does she cope with her hubbie’s devoted female following? When he starred in Pride and Prejudice, London was plastered with adverts saying, “Take Darcy home tonight!” And then there are those tribute sites on YouTube, picturing him in various modes of undress. Doesn’t she find it faintly unsettling?

“No. How flattered could you be?” she laughs. “Those websites must take a lot of time. And hopefully, there’s something for everyone in our family,” she adds, hinting at her own considerable following.

The couple live in a large Victorian house, which they’re currently renovating, and spend much of their free time hunched over The World of Interiors.

“Something strange happens when you hit your 30s,” she grins. “Suddenly, you look past the women’s glossies to all those lovely interiors magazines. It’s house porn. We love a good paint chart.”

She paints an idyllic domestic scene. Chickens have the run of their spacious garden and Keeley’s raised vegetable beds have produced a profusion of cucumbers, tomatoes and cheering sweet peas for the kitchen table. “Matthew is the cook. He grew up in Indonesia, so he’s very good at rustling up a yellow curry.”


Busy family life

They try to alternate filming commitments, so that one of them is at home with the children. Back-up comes in the shape of their nanny, Adam. “We call him our manny,” she laughs. “I interviewed lots of nice ladies for the job, but Adam was The One. We all love him.”

Her children are unaware that Mummy and Daddy are famous. “If I was the presenter of CBeebies, it would be different. And actually, I did present the CBeebies bedtime hour and was more recognised for that in the playground than anything I’ve ever done.”

Keeley, of course, is being unduly modest, and you sense she may be on the brink of even greater stardom. You heard it here first.


My Favourite Surrey...

Restaurant: A Cena, a fantastic Italian in Richmond. Their fabulous deli, A Cena on the Hill, also sells mouth-watering pasta, olives, cheese and artisan breads baked on the premises.

Places to shop: Matches in Richmond. I’m a big fan. Too big a fan! Their buyers bring everything together in one shop that you’d normally spend the whole day scouring the West End for. And they’ve got a fabulous coffee machine, too!

View: The view from the top of Richmond Hill. You can see right over London.

Places to chill: The spa at Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, which was recently voted England’s leading spa resort. It’s ideal when you want to de-stress.

Place to visit: Claremont Landscape Garden in Esher. This beautiful 18th century garden, now managed by the National Trust, surrounds a small lake and features an unusual grass amphitheatre. It’s a great place to take the family and there’s a lovely tea room.

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