Armand Beasley talks the Hollyoaks actress about her 30 years in the industry, and her personal challenges

Tell us about your childhood

I was born in Nairobi but I came over to London with my parents when I was a baby; my siblings were born here. As the eldest of four children, my parents, who only wanted the best for me, were keen for me to set an example: get married and be the perfect housewife and have a great job too. I went to university to give me some time and my parents were happy with me doing that and graduating to become a science teacher but really, I wanted to be an actor.

When did you realise you wanted to act?

I was around 13 or 14 and we went on a school trip to do a backstage tour of the National Theatre in London. Usually, you’re not allowed on the stage but because there were no productions on we were allowed onto the Olivier Theatre stage. I remember it so vividly, standing dead centre stage looking out into the auditorium and thinking that this is what I would love to do.

Great British Life: Harvey has played Dr Misbah Maalik in Hollyoaks since 2017. Harvey has played Dr Misbah Maalik in Hollyoaks since 2017. (Image: Hollyoaks)

What was the reaction from your family when you told them?

I wasn’t brave enough to tell anyone for a long time. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve. I was in the school plays but I honestly did not think it was a path I could go down. So I became a biology teacher but in my spare time, participated in little drama classes and studied for LAMDA in the evenings, for fun. It was when I saw an advertisement in The Stage newspaper for open auditions for The Academy Drama School in Whitechapel that I knew I had to go for it. I had already prepared a monologue for my LAMDA exam, delivered that in my audition… and got in.

This year you celebrate 30 years in the industry. What moments stand out?

Getting my first acting gig, which was a touring show with Soap Box Theatre Company in 1994. Also, the first time I got a role at the National Theatre was very special; my family came to watch. I was so excited, but when I saw them after the show, expecting them to be excited too and want to go out for dinner to celebrate, they just said they were going home, so I stopped trying to force them into my world. It was years later when I was doing a play about the Indian Partition, my mum and dad decided to come to see me again. That was the first time my dad said he understood what I did and why. Approval at last.

Great British Life: Harvey has also branched out into writingHarvey has also branched out into writing (Image: Hollyoaks)

Your work has spanned theatre, film and television but you’re also an accomplished writer with last year's hit play, Happy Birthday Sunita. Tell us a little about the premise and why you wrote it?

I’ve written quite a few plays. Happy Birthday Sunita, was a revival of a one-act play I had written about nine years earlier but this time I expanded the story. It’s a modern-day story about an older woman who comes over from India and falls in love with an English guy but her children back in India struggle to accept it.

Are you working on another play?

I’m exploring an idea at the moment based on stories I’m hearing about children getting their parents to sign over their house to them, which is quite disturbing.

You’ve worked a lot with a pal of mine, writer and director Gurinder Chadha on films including Bend It like Beckham, Anita and Me and It’s A Wonderful Afterlife. What is it about her projects that you love?

I think it’s about being heard. Her stories straddle generations and celebrate our British and Indian cultures. They are much more than your stereotypical arranged marriages. Gurinder gets it, she’s a wonderful writer and director.

We met back in 2008 on Coronation Street when you played the ex-Bollywood star Nina Mandel, girlfriend to Dev Alahan, and I played the rather pretentious Ravi who was the maître'd of her favourite restaurant. Nina must have been a fun character for you to play.

It was joyous to play a sexy slightly older woman. She was a little intimidating to portray, especially on such a huge show like Corrie. Now that I’m older it would be interesting to revisit that character as I’ve learnt so much since then.

The discipline and pace of working on a continuing drama like Coronation Street and now of course Hollyoaks must be challenging.

Absolutely. It’s hard work. You’re always learning lines and the character is constantly evolving.

Great British Life: Harvey Virdias as Dr Misbah Maalik and her Hollyoaks huband Zain Randeri (Jonas Khan). Harvey Virdias as Dr Misbah Maalik and her Hollyoaks huband Zain Randeri (Jonas Khan). (Image: Hollyoaks)

You’ve been playing Dr Misbah Maalik in Hollyoaks since 2017, tell us about your character.

Misbah is a strong woman who cares and puts her family first while encouraging people to be the best they can be. Her first husband died but she has since remarried to Zain and is the matriarchal figure to five children. As a consultant in ER, she has a high-pressure job and has to think ahead. There’s a lot of wisdom to her; I’d like to think she’s Hollyoaks' answer to Yoda. Wise, she is.

You’ve had some great storylines over the years that have highlighted issues such as family mental abuse, historical rape and targeted racism. What's in store for Misbah?

I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have such important storylines . At Hollyoaks, because of our 7pm transmission time, we have to work hard to convey the stories in a sensitive and truthful way. What’s interesting for Misbah at the moment is that her children have all grown up and left. She’s been used to having all these people around her but now it’s just her and her husband Zain in an empty nest. She sees people around her living exciting, fun lives, which is making her question her own life at the moment.

You lost your dad two years ago. How did you cope and what kind of support did you get to help you through it?

I felt initially I had to be strong for my mum so I kept a bit of a lid on my grief. My dad became poorly in September and passed away in the following January. Throughout that time I was tired because work was so busy and I had some challenging storylines. I would sometimes have a little cry on the way to work before I pulled myself together. Every night I would call Mum and keep it together for her, so she could have a little cry. It got to a point where I knew I needed some time off. The Hollyoaks team were lovely and so I had two and half months off last year and took myself off to Italy.

How do you look after yourself physically and mentally?

I have a date with myself where I take myself off with a book and relax maybe have a bite to eat or a drink. I meditate as and when I feel I need to and that can be using breathwork, or as I'm walking I will do a little gratitude mantra to myself. I also have a meditation practice at bedtime to relax me for a good night's sleep. I do the gym too and especially enjoy spinning.

Great British Life: Harvey Virdi and Armand Beasley. Harvey Virdi and Armand Beasley. (Image: Armand Beasley)

What are your favourite beauty products?

I’m a bit fickle and can jump between brands but I’m a bit in love with Pat McGrath and have her lipsticks, bronzers and eyeshadow. I use her rose oil just before my moisturiser. It feels so good.

Coconut oil – it’s such a versatile product. I use it on my cuticles and a tiny bit on the ends of my hair.

Chanel waterproof mascara. It doesn’t budge. I love it.

Where are your favourite Cheshire haunts?

Waverton – we have a narrow boat moored there. It’s lovely.

Chester – I love to mooch around there during the daytime.

Hawarden Estate – I enjoy having lunch there, plus they’ve got a great garden centre too.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I wish I had been braver sooner.