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Alan Titchmarsh on The Queen’s Garden



Airing on ITV for two episodes on 25 December and 28 December The Queens Garden sees Alan Titchmarsh spend a year in the Buckingham Palace Garden, here he talks about what it was like gaining such a level access to the Royal garden and how involved the Queen is in the running of it.

How did it feel to be given such unprecedented access to the garden by Buckingham Palace to make this series?
“It was great! To really look at it in depth, find out what was in there and realise the scale and scope of it was tremendous.”

Was there anything about the garden that was not what you expected? What do you think will surprise viewers most?
“What surprised me was the amount of natural history within there. There are 200 odd different species of wild flowers. And there are mammals, birds and insects. It’s incredibly rich. They’re very conscious of being kind to wildlife in all its forms. Any logs and any branches, which fall, are cut into logs and stacked so they can be taken over by insects and fungi. It’s very much done with natural history in mind. I didn’t realise just how rich it was in terms of wildlife, in central London.”

Having spent 12 months visiting the garden and seeing it through all the seasons, what were your favourite moments?
“Well I’m a great fan of spring, so to watch the garden come to life was wonderful. I was there every month, so I watched the whole year unfold. To watch the daffodils and the snowdrops coming up in spring was special. And the lawn was full of fritillaries. They’re little snake’s head flowers which pop up. It’s like being in a country meadow right in the middle of London. So Spring in the garden was particularly special for me.”

The wildlife in the garden features heavily in the programme. Do you think the wildlife and animals the garden attracts is as important to the Queen as her green space and beautiful plants?
“Oh yes. She she is very much at the helm of how her garden is run. And the wildlife is very important to her. She’s got other estates where she is similarly involved, such as Balmoral. And there is this overwhelming desire to be accommodating to all forms of life.“

In the programme we see experts working out where the bees like to source their nectar, a bird survey, the night time observation of the pipistrelle bats and tracking of the tawny owl. Were you surprised at the amount of wildlife the garden attracts and how much scientific monitoring is taking place?
“I was surprised. And for scientists it’s a unique environment in terms of size and scale. Although the parks in London are quite large, this one is much less visited and therefore undisturbed. And that means you get a much truer indication of the kind of creatures who should be there and who are there.”

You have spent your life in gardens all over Britain but how did it feel to spend time in a garden with such historical significance, where every other tree seems to have been planted by a past Queen or King?
“It’s very special. The history of the Royal family is our history and that is what’s so interesting about it. It maps the lives of our parents, grandparents and great- grandparents, as well as mapping those of sovereigns because they were the sovereigns who ruled over our ancestors. It’s a common history and a shared history.

“There are two enormous plane trees there, planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Another tree planted by King George VI and two oak trees planted by Princess Anne and Prince Charles.

“It was also lovely to discover the little sandpit where the young royals used to play. It very much brought it to life.”

What is the favourite thing you learned about the gardens during your year exploring them?
“Looking at the mulberries was very special. I discovered that King James introduced them and there are now 35 different mulberries there. And his experiment came good in the end because although he introduced them to try and produce silk, which didn’t work, the mulberries which are there now are thriving.

“And I really enjoyed helping with the Christmas flower arrangement in the Queen’s fireplace, in the white drawing room. That was very special.

“It was just a treat to go to places where most people don’t get to go.”

You were able to taste some of the produce from the garden such as the bees honey, the mulberry crumble, honey ice cream and the whiskey discovered in the lake. What was your favourite?
“Oh the mulberry crumble was something else. It was absolutely divine.”

Would you like to work at the Buckingham Palace Garden? And is there anything about it you would change if you were in charge?
“Oh I wouldn’t dream of suggesting anything! I’m a very happy visitor and happy gardening on a slightly smaller scale. It’s a very big project and it’s a relatively small team so they work wonders.”

In the programme you tell us that the gardens are 39 acres and that in the wildest places around the lake, you feel as if you are deep in the country. Were you surprised at the scale of the garden, given its position in the centre of London?
“Definitely. I think most of us are familiar with that grand sweep of lawn behind the palace, on which the garden parties are held. But I frequently lost my bearings in the woodland. It should be very easy and you wouldn’t imagine it’s that extensive but it’s very easy to lose your way and lose your sense of direction. However, that’s one of the great pleasures of it. There are places where, apart from the gentle hum of traffic, you could be in the country.”

Given the scale of it were you impressed by skill of the team of gardeners and the challenges they face?
“It’s not overstaffed and they work incredibly hard. They’re very skilled and they know what they’re doing. And from their point of view, the big thing they’re working towards all year are the garden parties in June. That’s when their work is really on show to a huge number of people. They are quite meticulous in what they do and have very high standards.

“Most of the borders are perennial so they come up every year but it takes an awful lot of cultivating, staking and looking after. Their work for the garden parties is on- going all through the year. At this time of year they’ll be cutting down and getting rid of any perennials which have faded. But there are also a lot they’ll leave for wildlife. They’re very wildlife conscious. It’s not a case of, ‘We’ll start preparing for the party a month before.’ The whole year is geared towards the garden looking good. And there’s always something to see at any time of year.”

The Queen has been enjoying the gardens for 80 years. How do you think the use of them has changed in that time? And what changes do you foresee for the future? e.g. While you were there, footballers played a match on the lawns for the first time.
“I think the Queen has tried to make sure that as many people as possible, from all walks of life, get to see and enjoy the garden. That’s been the greatest change when you consider the garden parties from Queen Victoria’s time. The Queen wants to reward ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary work.

“How the garden is used in the future will depend on the demands made on the family who live in the palace. When young children come along, I’m sure there will be more provision made for them. The tennis court is still there so they can all still play tennis there.

“Like any garden, aside from this one being open to large numbers of people at certain times of the year, it is also home to a family. And therefore it needs to fulfil a role for the Queen and the members of the royal family who are there. Mostly as a safety valve and also somewhere pleasant and private for them to walk around.”

Did you learn anything about the Queen’s favoured plants or produce from the garden?
“Well, her staff are always are very careful not to say what the Queen’s favourites are but it becomes clear that she loves what we would call English cottage garden flowers. She likes proper country flowers. A posy is taken up to her every Monday that she’s in residence, so she gets to see how the flowers in the garden evolve throughout the year. It’s just a handful of things, five or six different flowers. A bit of everything, to give for a snapshot of the garden for that week.

“I had a funny encounter with the Queen this year at the Chelsea Flower Show. I did a garden at the show this year but I didn’t do the filming for it. I showed the Queen round the garden and she said, ‘And you’re filming the garden?’
“So I said, ‘No, Maam, not this year, I’m just making this garden.’ And she replied, ‘No not this garden, you’re filming my garden.’
“So I said, ‘Oh yes, yes, Maam I am.’ She was on the ball more than I was.”

You attended one of the royal garden parties. Were you surprised at the amount of staff, preparation and logistics needed to pull the events together?
“I think you can’t fail to be impressed by it, by the amazing logistics involved and the fact that it runs so smoothly. It’s hugely impressive and the people who are invited feel very special.

Are you sad that your year of exploring the gardens has come to an end? What will you miss most about them?
“It’s like any garden you get to know. You love parts of it and you get to see it change with the seasons. I think this programme will remind us how lucky we are in Britain, having seasonality. It’s not like the tropics where the same thing is in flower at any time of year. And the programme points out how much more interesting a garden is, as a result. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to follow that through.”

Why should viewers tune in to The Queen’s Garden?
“I think if you really want to see what goes on over those high walls, this programme will take you right in depth into what exactly is happening there all year round. Both with the plants and the wildlife. It’s like a secret window into a beautiful, hidden garden.”



The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai




Romola Garai The Miniaturist

Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.

What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.

It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.

Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.

Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.

One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.

Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.

What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.

Anya Taylor Joy The Miniaturist

Anya Taylor Joy plays Nella.

Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!

What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.

I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.

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Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small




Trust Me Sharon Small

Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.

What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].

How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.

How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.

Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.

What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!

What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.

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Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker




Trust Me

Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.

What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.

How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.

Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.

How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!

Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.

Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!

What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!

Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!

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