We Caught Up with Leeds-Born Actress Angela Griffin
Holby City has come to an end but Waterloo Road is back
Since her days on Coronation Street’s cobbles, Angela has voiced the vet in Postman Pat, played a detective in Canada and even hosted her own live daytime show. Now, as she returns to the school corridors of Waterloo Road, she reflects on her Northern roots and the importance of celebrating talent.
Angela was born and grew up in south Leeds on Cottingley Estate, near Beeston. ‘I’ve got a lot of love for my hometown,’ she says. ‘It was very normal, I think. Maybe not run-of-the-mill in terms of everybody’s life; it definitely wasn’t a middle-class childhood but, at the time, I don’t think I knew any different.’
She discovered acting at a very early age and recalls, aged five or six, being introduced to the world of drama locally in Leeds. ‘My mum’s friend, who I call aunty Linda (who of course isn’t my aunty by blood, but is my aunty), offered to take me to an amateur dramatics improvisational class which ran on a Saturday morning for around three hours.’ It’s there that Angela found her love of acting. ‘I just decided then that’s what I wanted to do forever,’ she says. ‘I don’t think I realised you could do it on TV. I don’t think I realised that you could make a living from it, I just knew that I really loved pretending to be someone else.’
Between 1992 and 1998, Angela appeared in Coronation Street as hairdresser Fiona Middleton, which is regarded by many as her big break in terms of fame and recognition. But she claims her big break came a little earlier: her first ever professional job (when she was 13) was in a children’s show on Yorkshire Television called Under the Bedclothes. ‘Obviously it went out nationally but it was in the days when regions made their own shows,’ she explains. ‘For me, that feels like my big break in terms of realising I could make a living out of acting. Once you have one TV job, that helps you get your next one and so on and so forth, so by the time I got to Coronation Street I think that was the fourth contract I’d signed.’
Each role Angela has played has been entirely different. She was on set for the first episode of the BBC medical drama Holby City and played staff nurse Jasmine Hopkins for three series. At the Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards in 2000, she won best actress for that role. ‘It was my first job after I left Coronation Street,’ she remembers. ‘That was life-changing because not a lot of people came out of soaps at that time and got good jobs. The fact that I came out of Corrie and got a job was quite amazing. I met my two best friends on the show [Lisa Faulkner and Nicola Stephenson] who I’m still best friends with now, and that makes Holby City really, really special and I’m so sad that it’s ending.’
‘Not a lot of people came out of soaps at that time and got good jobs. The fact that I came out of Corrie and got a job was quite amazing’
Holby City aired its final episode in March. ‘We had to do a little message for them the other day and myself and Lisa and Nicola had all been asked separately to say goodbye to Holby,’ Angela explains. ‘We were like “we can’t do it separately, we need to do it together” because we did the whole thing together and it’s shaped our lives. I’d just moved to London and it was all very exciting.’ Equally exciting for Angela was bagging her role in the BBC’s Cutting It, which she says was her first ‘“cool” job. ‘There were water cooler moments that happened in Cutting It and I met Amanda Holden and Sarah Parish. That was really a great job,’ she laughs. Another highlight was jetting off to Canada in 2018 to play the lead in a show called The Detail. ‘It was a remake of Scott & Bailey. I was playing the Lesley Sharp character and I was number one on the call sheet,’ Angela adds. ‘I’d never worked abroad and certainly never worked on a North American show before and that was an eye-opener and really exciting. I did Help during lockdown with Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham for Channel 4, and I knew I was part of an important piece of television, and that’s something I’m proud of. We were nominated for awards left, right and centre. But there were no socials on that job, because we were all social distancing.’
However, what Angela may be known most (and best) for is her iconic role as art teacher and head of pastoral care, Kim Campbell, in Waterloo Road, with former Cutting It co-star Jason Merrells and former Coronation Street co-star Denise Welch. It’s been more than 10 years since Kim left Waterloo Road, and seven since the iconic drama went off air, but when the news broke that it was making a comeback, fans were thrilled to hear Angela was returning to their screens as Kim – in her new role as headteacher.
While Angela is keeping schtum about her storylines, she’s more than happy to reflect on her beloved character Kim. ‘There’s been a lot that’s happened to Kim which we will find out when she comes back,’ she reveals. ‘But it’s very exciting to slip on a different set of shoes. Bizarrely, that is one of the places we started with the character this time. When she was there last time, she was wearing long tops, leggings and Birkenstocks. One of the first things we did when it came to dressing her this time is realise she’s the head now – she’s not wearing Birkenstocks anymore; she’s going to be in a heel! We really started from the feet and worked upwards. As head of pastoral – her character was very much about a holistic look at children and their education and lives. As head, she has a very different hat to wear. She is there, she deserves the job, and she is determined to do it justice.’
Looking back, Angela says schools are very different to how they were when she was younger. ‘I remember the first time around doing Waterloo Road and I was like “what is pastoral?”,’ she laughs. ‘We didn’t have those kind of roles when I was at school.’ Angela has found that holistic care in schools has progressed even more now, even in the seven years the show has been off air. ‘I’ve been doing quite a lot of research coming into this series because it’s been brought back for a reason – to tell the story of the people who have been massively affected by Covid. A lot of the storylines reflect that: where are teenagers and teachers now? How have the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement and Me Too movement affected our young people? There’s been a lot of research into making sure we tell these stories right. There was one particular head that I spoke to and they said that teaching has changed more in the last three or four years than it had in the last 20.’
Waterloo Road was a springboard for young, Northern and working-class talent – something Angela is particularly proud of. ‘It was a real attraction to coming back to Waterloo Road for me,’ she reveals. ‘My first break was in a children’s TV show. When those TV shows (that employ young talent) go, how do you develop those young actors (who don’t live in London, and don’t have a drama school in London and maybe don’t have the money to get to a drama school like that?). Shows like Waterloo Road springboarded so many people; half of Bridgerton! Bridgerton wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Waterloo Road,’ Angela laughs. ‘Plus, you’ve got Jenna Coleman and Holliday Grainger, and there’s a load of directors who have gone on to other things too. It’s both in front of and behind the camera that the show propelled Northern talent. When the executive producer Cameron Roach was putting together the new series and pitching and so on, part of the remit that he put forward was that he wanted to give a step up to this talent again. I just think it’s so important to nurture new talent and I really wanted to be part of that.’
‘Waterloo Road was a springboard for young, Northern and working-class talent – something Angela is particularly proud of’
It’s evident that Angela has never strayed from her Northern roots, especially through her strong Leeds accent. ‘It’s who you are i’nt it?’ she says. ‘Some people do lose their accent and at one time, when people went to drama school, they were told to lose their accent. But television and the media for me should be there to represent everybody. It can be difficult because it was very London-centric for a very long time. As soon as I finished in Corrie, I moved to London! That was what you had to do just for the fact that even if you got a casting meeting – it doesn’t matter where it was filmed – you auditioned in London.’
What Angela truly loves most is playing different roles. ‘I really admire people that go into soaps and stay there for a long time and can find a new passion for their character, but I love taking on a new character and getting underneath the skin of different people,’ she explains. ‘I like pretending to be different people. I like the research. I like finding out what motivates people and what drives them – whether it’s a positive or a negative action. I like changing it up all the time.’ But she’s also considering exploring the world of directing. ‘I had a little foray into it during lockdown when I did a web series called Dun Breedin’ about menopausal women,’ she says. ‘I directed one of those and I think I might want to investigate that path a little more sometime.’