The uncomplaining bravery of the senior royals

Sophie Winkleman

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I had my first in-person audition since the Covid era began last week. What a thrill finally to be in a room with the casting director, director and producer rather than the lockdown-triggered misery of self-taping. Actors generally fall into two categories: those who rather like watching themselves and those who would rather be boiled in oil. For the latter category, the self-tape is a unique form of torture. From quickly finding someone, anyone, to read the other lines (most recently a well-meaning neighbour who put so much into her off-camera performance that she needed a gin and a therapy session afterwards) to trawling through the takes while trying not to look at one’s face or hear one’s voice – it’s just gruesome. So hurrah to meeting in person again.

The impersonal nature of self-taping is just one small patch in the tapestry of how we do things now. I am so unnerved by society’s ever-swifter transition to an online existence that I flee from it in many ways, from avoiding all social media to moving my poor daughters every time their schools get too iPad-happy. I’ve now gone one step further and have spent the past year planning a screen-free secondary school with a very smart group of educationalists. We now have a template for an intellectual but low-pressure education in which screens, both on and off site, will play a small rather than seismic part in our pupils’ lives. Now we just need money. Easy, right?

On the money note, it’s fundraising time for my charities: School-Home Support (which keeps children from very tough homes in school and learning – please look it up, it’s extraordinary), Age UK, the Children’s Surgery Foundation, Cure and the great social enterprise the Big Issue. I have found the art of fundraising to be rather a delicate one. I have about ten very successful acquaintances whom I tap regularly for money, and during lockdown all the charities’ needs became more urgent. So I sent more and more emails with intense pleas and terrible statistics until one of the ten called me up and said: ‘Sophie. I used to find your charity emails interesting and moving but now you’re just a pain in the arse.’ It was rather a shock at the time but I realise it was a kind gesture when he could easily have said nothing and diverted me to spam. To all those who consistently fundraise without irritating the hell out of your donors, I salute you.

Finished recording an audiobook of Darling, India Knight’s wonderful retelling of The Pursuit of Love. How I love audiobooks and radio plays. For actors, no job is lovelier. You go to a studio in Soho (or even better, South Tottenham near Green Lanes – if you’re a foodie, do go before Christmas to stock up on Turkish treasures), get settled by a sound engineer and create an entire world with just your voice. It’s so intimate, such a different medium from that of screen or theatre, where the sets, lighting and costume do so much of the work for you, and deeply satisfying as a result.

This Christmas will be spent in London. I love a London Christmas. The streets are quiet, the parks are empty – it’s a bit like lockdown London but without the masks. We’ll see my parents on Christmas Day and some of my husband Freddie’s relations in various locations. I cherish my growing closeness to the senior members of the royal family who are so hardworking, uncomplaining and brave in the face of relentless and brutal media attention, criticism, lies, undermining and fictional TV programmes – and always so good to me that I’m honoured to know them.

Time to pop into the Chapel Royal, St James’s, for a God chat with Canon Paul Wright. I haven’t had a straightforward path to God. My father is an irreligious Jew who believes ‘religion masks the face of God’, and my mother is a gentle Protestant scared off the church by violent nuns in her convent. Nevertheless, I’ve been on a haphazard journey towards a higher being since meeting the Revd John Graham, a priest who also happened to set fiendishly brilliant crosswords for the Guardian. He was so intellectual, so witty and so deeply Christian that I was intrigued. Similarly, the unwavering faith of the late Queen fascinated and moved me. How does one put aside rational thinking and science and believe in something so allegorical and, well, mad? It is a question which keeps whispering to me and one which I feel compelled to keep exploring.

Just found out I got the part from that audition – yippee. A complex duchess in a simmering Regency costume drama filming in Edinburgh for six months. It will be hard work of course, not blissful relief from the astoundingly difficult role of mother – one I never seem to know the lines for. Gulp.

Written by

Sophie Winkleman

Sophie Winkleman stars in the third series of ITV’s Sanditon, out next year.

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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