Carol Drinkwater: ‘I don’t file acting and writing into separate compartments'

Virgil may have coined the phrase ‘Love Conquers All’ but it took Carol Drinkwater to reinvent it as a creative metaphor, writes John Rainsford

Carol Drinkwater: ‘I don’t file acting and writing into separate compartments'

Carol Drinkwater  made her name in the hit BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, before choosing ‘the road less travelled’ with life-altering consequences for her career.

Given the benefit of hindsight, the award-winning Anglo-Irish actress, author, and filmmaker, can point to the role of nature, (as much as nurture), in shaping that choice.

First educated in a Kentish convent, (she still likes to rise early in the morning and surrounds herself with candles), Carol studied French, Italian and Spanish, as well as speech and drama.

A certain bohemian outlook was, however, evident aged nine when she won a prize in a girls’ magazine for an essay entitled; ‘Live life to the full’.

She explained: “My father, Peter, strongly believed that I should be taught the value of money so I was rarely just given pocket money.

“Instead, I had to earn what I needed and wanted and that included cleaning houses to pay for my drama lessons in London on Saturdays. These were very expensive and also involved a weekly train journey from Kent to London.

“As a result in my subsequent life I have never looked for security. Rather, I look for challenge, a wealth of experience, and the love of entertainment, which includes storytelling, and writing books.” While Carol was born in Islington, London, her mother, Phyllis, was Irish and worked as a nurse. The family then moved to a small farm in Laois, (Carol still holds an Irish passport), before returning to the UK.

Her father’s side of the family had ‘Vaudeville’ in the blood and Carol was performing from the tender age of five singing and doing soft shoe shuffles, accompanied by an iconic top hat, and walking cane.

She said: “After working backstage at the Mermaid Theatre and National Theatre in London, I went to Drama Centre, now part of the University of the Arts (UAL), London, which provides a magnificent training for both actors and writers.

“The National Theatre Company was then under the leadership of Laurence Olivier. He thought that I had the makings of a very fine actress and encouraged it at every possible opportunity.

“Indeed, he frequently popped into my dressing room after a performance to give me notes. He was a god to me.”

Her first venture into the world of filmmaking, however, held even greater Kudos when she was cast as a nurse in Director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece A Clockwork Orange (1971). Then, in 1978 following her role in The Shout, with Alan Bates and John Hurt, she was cast for the part of Helen Herriot (née Alderson) in All Creatures Great and Small.

She and fellow actors, Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison and the late Robert Hardy, all became household names but by 1985 (after 42 episodes and two films), Carol had enough.

“I left because I felt it was time to move on and meet new challenges,” stated Carol. “Robert Hardy was very upset with me for my decision as was the BBC producer Bill Sellars (I have rarely worked with the BBC since). Today, I would make a different choice but that is the journey of life.

“I still love acting. I have a new agent, and if the right role is offered I will accept. In fact, something rather fun has come along. If the film producer raises the finance and they still want me I will accept that role.”

Carol Drinkwater

Carol Drinkwater

In 1986, Carol was offered the leading role in a mini-series in Australia, Golden Pennies. It starred a young Jason Donovan. The executive producer on this production was her future husband, Michel Noll, who encouraged her desire to write.

Her first novel for children, The Haunted School sold more than 150,000 copies and was made into a TV mini-series, produced by Michel and sold to Disney, with Carol in the starring role of English governess, Fanny Crowe.

It, subsequently, won the Chicago Film Festival Gold Award for Children’s Film. Six months after proposing to her in Australia Michel and Carol attended the Cannes TV Festival. She began house hunting in Provence and together, they purchased an olive farm named ‘Apassionata’ (‘with passion’).

Harvested in the Northern Hemisphere in the autumn and winter, the capacity of the olive tree to flower, despite the harshest of circumstances, led Carol to share a special affinity with it.

As a consequence, in 2005, she embarked on a 17-month, solo Mediterranean odyssey to discover and film the tree’s historical origins.

During this period, she was held at gunpoint in Bethlehem and barely avoided being blown-up by al-Qaeda in Algiers.

These collective experiences later inspired her to write a series of travel books and a five-part documentary film series entitled The Olive Route (2013).

Subsequently, UNESCO asked her to help create an Olive Heritage Trail around the Mediterranean to promote peace by telling the olive’s global history.

Carol commented: “I don’t file acting and writing into different compartments. They are both aspects of storytelling. I am excited by characters, their stories and their inner journeys.

“Whether I achieve that through my own words or through the interpretation of the words of others depend on the challenge to hand. The great joy about writing is that it is a universe of my own making and I love that.”

Like the sturdy olive tree itself, reconciliation with set-backs and personal loss, (mentor, Robert Hardy, and mother, Phyllis, passed away in recent times), nourish her creative life.

Indeed, of four novellas published for Amazon two of them hit number one spot on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, ‘Scholastic’ editor, Jill Sawyer, encouraged her to write on the theme of love and war.

The resulting teenage novel The Only Girl in the World (2014) was swiftly followed in 2015, by a two novel deal with mega-publishing house Penguin.

The Forgotten Summer (2016) and The Lost Girl (2017) are now both in print making Carol a dual success, both as actress and author, on multiple continents.

A continuing point of exploration in her work is the power of love to overcome life’s greatest challenges even counting these ‘little miracles’ each night before going to sleep.

Carol concluded: “I am fascinated by modern history and French modern history has many untold stories, layers, secrets not revealed and hidden dramas.

“However, I come at politics from observation. I travel a great deal and have spent time in several war zones. Man’s cruelty to man; man’s huge sources of resilience when under fire, under stress, have marked me deeply.

“That is why in The Lost Girl I felt impelled to write about the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. I watched the attacks unfolding on the news and I was devastated by it. My late mum was with me.

“When we heard of the 1,500 concertgoers locked within the Bataclan concert hall, held as hostages, being shot dead in cold blood, my mother said to me: ‘For every one of those inside praying to be saved, there is a mother outside praying their child will live’. This statement was the seed for The Lost Girl.”

The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

Penguin, pb €16.00 (large format)

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