Clare Holman on life after Lewis, moving to Rye and her favourite Sussex locations
- Credit: JIm Holden
For Clare Holman, best known for playing Dr Laura Hobson in ITV’s Lewis, Rye is a place of “utter peace”
The moment that actress Clare Holman discovered her idyllic 19th century home near Rye, it really was a case of love at first sight. “I saw this place and it seemed absolutely right”, she recalls. It is, she says, a continuing love affair: the house has proved the ideal place in which to hide away and write – a place of “utter peace”.
Besides a prolific acting career – Clare is perhaps best known as forensic pathologist Dr Laura Hobson in the highly acclaimed ITV series Lewis – she also writes and directs. She currently has three writing projects in progress, all at various stages.
“It’s blissful here – no distractions!” she remarks. “The first week we were here I found it difficult to sleep because it was so quiet. Now, I slightly crave it and London is too noisy!”
Clare is married to Howard Davies, Associate Director of the Royal National Theatre, and they head for Sussex most weekends from their South East London base. She welcomes me into the spacious, open-plan sitting room with its wooden floors, looking out on to the large, rambling garden, with its damson and apple trees and, in the distance, a hammock. “It’s a fantastic place to sit and dream. You just stare at the seasons, watch the birds, the sky…”
Not surprisingly, guests are able to “de-stress completely” when they come and stay. “We used to have a tiny cottage in Cranbrook, almost a one-up-one-down. We would drive quite often into Rye and Camber Sands, and grew to love the area”.
Then they decided to look for something slightly bigger – somewhere they could invite people to stay, including Clare’s stepchildren and two step-grandchildren, who are aged eight five and are regular visitors. They love running around in the garden, making dens and swimming in the sea.
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Since moving there a year or two ago, Clare has become actively involved in the local community. She is excited about the new Kino cinema in Rye, also the proposed new theatre there: both ventures were instigated by a group of local residents to promote the name of John Fletcher, the Jacobean playwright who was born in Rye. Once the theatre is up and running Clare hopes that there might be opportunities to run workshops or play readings. She has also been a guest lecturer with the Studio School: “I really enjoyed that. It’s a bit like an academy: they do art, drama, music, stage management”.
On a Tuesday night she will sometimes pop into the King’s Head in Rye and join in a session with the Ukelele Experiment, a local group of enthusiastic amateur musicians. Pointing to her own ukelele in a corner of the room, she admits to being “a complete beginner, but it doesn’t seem to matter! Playing together is the thing. It’s great fun”. As to their repertoire, she says the songs they sing are “quite old-fashioned. I think we’re still in the Sixties and Seventies!”
They all got together and played at Clare’s 50th birthday party earlier this year. “It was absolutely lovely and lasted the whole weekend. We had about 28 friends to stay. Some were in camper-vans, some in tents, the rest were in the house”. There were fires in the garden and a treasure hunt for the adults, all about the history of the area. A neighbour helped devise it – “and some people decided to knock on their door and ask for the answers!”
She believes it’s important to mark the landmarks in life, and is still celebrating. By turns gregarious and introspective, she exudes a restless energy and enthusiasm.
She and Howard have been together for 18 years, and got married eight years ago.
“We talk a lot, and make sure we see each other away from work and the pressures of London.
“We share a lot of interests, so we’re very lucky. Both of us enjoy walking and painting. Sometimes we’ll get on bikes, take our easels and a picnic, get drunk on the picnic rug and then go into the middle of a field and paint something. He’s much better than me, a bit more abstract…”
Has she ever exhibited any of her work? “Oh no, absolutely not!” she laughs, adding that painting is a private affair for them both. “I think it’s about developing that visual eye: he takes that back into directing and I take it into writing.”
Her own directing projects are on hold. She has been invited to direct a couple of Holby City episodes, but has not been free as yet to go ahead. Timing can be tricky, synchronising all the different professional and personal strands in a busy life.
Last year she appeared in Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, playing the younger Queen Elizabeth at London’s Tricycle Theatre. It was a humorous take on what might have gone on behind closed doors during the weekly meetings between Her Majesty and Mrs Thatcher. “It was one of those plays where you talk to the audience so, inevitably, the audience talks back to you. We had Neil Kinnock in one night, which was great…it was different every night”. By way of preparation, Clare watched “endless videos” of the Queen, but tried to avoid seeing fictional versions, apart from Dame Helen Mirren. “You can’t resist watching a bit of Helen, can you?” she remarks wryly.
In the meantime she is appearing in a new movie due for release in November: Suite Francaise, filmed in Belgium and starring Kristin Scott-Thomas and Michelle Williams. Set in 1940s France during the early years of the German occupation, the film is adapted from the powerful novel by Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish writer who perished at Auschwitz.
And another series (the eighth) of Lewis is currently underway (it started on 10 October). Kevin (Whately, aka Inspector Robbie Lewis) is, she says, a lovely man, a great company member, very loyal to the crew and it’s a bit like a family.
“We get on very well, plotting our way through this interesting new (romantic) element in the relationship. Neither of us wants it to become soapy. We want to keep it at arm’s length a little bit.”
There was a simmering chemistry between Robbie and Laura in the previous series, but how things develop remains to be seen. No spoilers here!
She receives “masses” of fan mail. “I travel quite a bit for pleasure, and I can be somewhere in the middle of nowhere and somebody will think they know me! It’s a small price to pay in some respects.
“What’s quite nice for me is that people are not always sure why they recognise me. It might be because they think I’m in their yoga class, or our children go to the same school. And that’s fine! I can pretend not to be me if I want privacy!”
Despite rarely having been out of work, Lewis (and Inspector Morse before that), has enhanced Clare’s profile a great deal.
“I’m very grateful to Lewis because it’s been a continuum and a lot of people don’t have that.”
Like many other female actors, she bemoans the paucity of parts for older women, the “doldrum” period: “around 45, when the parts just disappear.
“It’s beginning to change, thankfully, but the competition increases because there are not enough parts for women of that age. It’s a shame, because I think women are interesting at every age.”
It is something she feels passionately about. If the parts dry up completely then she might even end up writing them for herself. But would she ever consider a one-woman show? She looks genuinely appalled. “No way! I like working with people. I’m a complete team player!”
With such a hectic schedule, she says she’s always running out of time. “I don’t know how I’m going to sort that out.”
During Sussex weekends she can at least slow down a little. Free from other commitments, she spends a lot of time in the garden, which she describes as “an ongoing work-in-progress.”
We continue talking over lunch. Afterwards, she drives me to the station, and as she does I sense her mind racing ahead to the next project, the next creative challenge.
The writing and the acting, I suggest, are polar opposites, each fulfilling a different side of her personality. She agrees. “For me, it’s the character work that I love – investigating another person. The research process with acting or writing is one of the most fascinating bits, because you get the chance to see another life. I’m endlessly curious about people.”
My Favourite Sussex
Shop - Bramwell & Cole, a clothes shop in St Leonards. They’re all one-off, home-made clothes. The woman there gets lots of pieces of material from a fantastic haberdashery and makes really amazing clothes.
Restaurant - Hendy’s, a hardware store, in Hastings is the most amazing little place. It’s like a film set. It’s got wood and glass, and there are little pegs with odd clothes on them. At the back of the shop they have a tiny kitchen and you can sit there and watch them cook. There are only about four tables, and they do the most beautiful fish.
Pub - The Ship, in Rye, is great. It has all the ‘footprints’ of Rye: the beautiful timber-framed building… and it’s right in the centre of the town, among the antique shops.
View - There’s a fantastic walk from Fairlight to Hastings, along the coast. It takes about two-and-a-half hours. The view from Fairlight is magnificent, one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. There’s a National Park up there.
Place to visit - Great Dixter (Northiam, Rye). The method of gardening they use is not traditionally English (rose gardens, formal topiary): it’s managed wildness. The colours are stupendous. Christopher Lloyd (whose home it was) would bring exotic plants over from abroad. He was unafraid of having a mad, exotic mix. It’s inspirational. I did a meadow course there and learned that it takes about 20 years to create a wild flower meadow!
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