Spooks star's new mission in Suffolk

You may know Miranda Raison as an all-action MI5 officer in the hit series Spooks, but there is much more to the Suffolk actress. She tells Eileen Wise about her love of Aldeburgh, her new actor boyfriend and the challenges of golf

You may know Miranda Raison as an all-action MI5 officer in the hit series Spooks, but there is much more to the Suffolk actress. She tells Eileen Wise about her love of Aldeburgh, her new actor boyfriend and the challenges of golf

On the rare occasions we’re granted a glimpse into the home life of one of the MI5 officers in the brilliant BBC drama series Spooks, it invariably appears messy - in every sense of the word.

After an adrenalin-filled day foiling the latest plot to imperil the nation, the spies seem unable to relax. The home serves as a mere stopping-off point before the next terrorist threat is tackled. It’s usually an untidy place, bereft of comfort, where, in their hazy downtime, the booze flows and the young, glamorous agents recklessly plunge into unwise relationships (often with each other).

Unless she’s a master of disguise (which all good spies are, of course), Miranda Raison’s domestic existence bears no resemblance to that of her fictional character, secret agent Jo Portman. The 31-year-old actress looks happy, relaxed and very comfortable in her recently renovated little pink cottage in Aldeburgh’s quaint High Street.

The living room is bright and airy, with two squashy sofas and paintings by her artist father hanging on the walls. Before sitting down to chat we move into the newly decorated kitchen, featuring Thai cookbooks on the shelves, where she makes me a welcome cup of tea.

Miranda is an East Anglian girl born and bred. "I grew up in Burnham Thorpe and went to primary school in Burnham Market. My mother was brought up in Holt and my Dad grew up in Aldeburgh and for some years had a shop, Noah’s Ark, on the High Street."

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It was Miranda’s mother Caroline, a presenter for Anglia Television, who inadvertently put the idea of acting into her head. "I was pretty young when I thought about it. When my mum was a newsreader I loved all the attention she got from it – I enjoyed going into the studio and watching her being made up, people buzzing round her with brushes! School friends would say, ‘We saw your Mum on telly today!"

Her father Nick is both a jazz pianist and an artist, so it’s easy to see where her creative talents spring from. Her parents divorced when she was six, and she and her brother Ed remained with their mother. Her father remarried, having three more children, Rosie, Sam and May.

But Miranda stresses that everyone remains close and that it’s a big, happy, friendly family. "I spent a lot of time with both parents and I boarded from the age of nine, so it was really in the holidays when I saw them and I divided my time with them – half and half really".

She was a bit of a handful at school and attended five boarding schools, including prep and senior schools at Greshams and a spell at the now closed Felixstowe College. "I was never expelled. But there were moments when teachers said, you know, she’d be better off elsewhere! I think I thought I was naughtier than I actually was, but the teachers had actually seen it all before."

Did she enjoy boarding school? "Yes most of the time, but I was bullied at one school. I didn’t work that hard and was disruptive in class, but by the time I got into the sixth form I loved it". Her school days finished at the prestigious Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. "So many of my close friends are from my schooldays."

Why did she decide to buy in Aldeburgh? "I think Burnham Thorpe is one of the prettiest villages up here, and I have cousins who live there and when I go back it really takes my breath away. But I have a lot more history here (Aldeburgh), and also Burnham Thorpe is quite isolated and two more hours drive from London.

"The first pub I ever went to was the Cross Keys here, the first pint of cider I ever had was here. In the summer all my mates would arrive and we couldn’t wait to see each other. We’d come at the beginning of July and then just have the summer sailing and snogging on the beach!"

She has fond memories of walking and riding along Holkham beach as a child. "Even though Holkham is so beautiful and sandy and Aldeburgh is all stony and there’s not half as much of it, I really do just love Aldeburgh – I like stony beaches. If I was on holiday I wouldn’t want to sit on a stony beach, but here I just like the feel of the wet stones, the sound of it, I find the sound of the crunching along really comforting."

Having plumped for an acting career, did she find it hard auditioning for and getting into drama school? ‘No’, she laughs. "I was very arrogant about it all, and I got in at 17, which is quite young. I had no doubts at all that I was going make it, and I vividly remember getting the letter that said we would be delighted to offer you a place at Webber Douglas (her drama school). It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me how lucky I was to get the break."

After leaving drama school she was a successful jobbing actress, doing theatre in Chichester, The Salisbury Playhouse, a BBC Radio 4 comedy series and playing alongside Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen’s 2005 film Matchpoint. It was the same year she landed the part of Jo Portman, the attractive young spy in Spooks, and her career really started to take off.

"I really loved doing Spooks. Perhaps in the last year or so I started to feel it was time to move on, but I loved the people and I loved the work. It made a real difference to my life, it helped transform my career and took it to another level. It was a combination of becoming better known and also being part of something special."

Having had that success, did it make her feel more secure, especially financially? "It’s very important to me and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I do voiceovers now and they reap good rewards. I like being able to look after myself and help other people and I’d hate to lose that independence having had it – I’d find it very difficult. I’ve gone through times when I was down to my last 20 quid and bought a panini and thought, oh, that’s a quarter gone! Being broke is awful and I never want to be there again."

So what does she like and dislike about acting? "I love the camaraderie of actors, I think it’s an amazing thing to be part of. Actors have a reputation of being a bit of a nightmare but I’ve only come across about three or four like that and generally they are unprejudiced, very warm, fun people. There are certainly more plusses than minuses."

But there was a time when she found the attention on her looks difficult. "I’ve always been someone who’s quite conscious of looks, and that did not do me much good to start with. There was a period in which if I read that someone thought I was a terrible actress I’d have been less upset than if someone thought I was not very attractive, so for a couple of years I was a little off balance."

Why was her physical appearance so important to her? "Because like everybody I’d grown up watching models and film stars, I mean you don’t watch real women. In the days of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, people talked about how they looked and might say as a secondary thing, oh, she was really good in that part. So it wasn’t until later on I started to appreciate women like Judi Dench and Julie Walters, and think that maybe that’s the way to longevity and happiness in the business rather than trying to be something else or do something that’s going to give you less of a span."

Whilst making Spooks, Miranda met and married her co-star actor Raza Jaffrey, but after a couple of years they divorced. It’s not something she talks about publically, but she says. "It’s very amicable and we have promised each other to keep everything private between ourselves".

Did she find it hard being on her own after her marriage ended? "It’s funny, I’ve always felt quite solitary, I’ve got great friends and my family and I have lots of work to throw myself into."

When she’s not working Miranda is obsessing about the next job and enjoys coming to the cottage between assignments. "I don’t give myself down time until the next thing is lined up; then as soon as I get a job I relax a bit."

Her big passion of the moment is golf and she’s joined the Aldeburgh Golf Club. "It’s my obsession; I took it up a year and a half ago. I have lessons with the lovely instructors Simon and Keith, and the club has taken me under their wing. As much as I like bed and lounging around in the morning, it’s good when you get back after playing and have your drink and sandwich, it’s just so rewarding – I really love it and I hope I’ll still be as keen in a few years time. I’ve got to know the course quite well and I’m planning on spending quite a lot of time there this year."

She also likes nothing better than devouring a good book while snuggling up on the cosy sofa when it’s cold and miserable outside. "My lowest brow is Jilly Cooper and my favourite Somerset Maughan – I can read and re read him. I like Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and PG Wodehouse, F Scott Fitzgerald and JD Salinger – I love being transported back to the 20s, 30s and 40s".

When she’s not reading she enjoys the local restaurants. "I like The Regatta here very much, they have their own smoke house, it’s delicious. It’s the first place I’d go to because it’s so close and the fish and chips at the Lighthouse are great." And she buys fresh fish from the shacks on the beach, whipping up a yummy sounding dish of fresh crab meat, garlic and spaghetti for all her hungry friends.

Miranda likes to keep her private life to herself but says that the reports in the press that she is seeing Ralf Little – the actor who plays Anthony in

Did she feel it was easier to date people in the acting world because they understand the industry? "I had the most fantastically normal relationship all the way through drama school with a lovely Australian guy who I met when we both worked in a bar – he did building jobs and worked as a postman, but I think he found my ‘actressyness’ quite funny. I went out with a dancer for a while, which I suppose is in the same sort of area. I think generally you go out with the people you are around. I’ve never been someone who feels the need to be set up with people. I’ve never been interested in bankers called Rupert – no offence to Ruperts around the world!" she laughs.

Last year she starred as Anne Boleyn in two different plays at The Globe Theatre, and remembering how she felt on the first night makes her glow with pride. "The feeling of going out there in front of about 2,000 people, and having this huge monologue on the first night when we hadn’t actually done a dress rehearsal! It was like jumping out of a plane, it was just the most sensational feeling to get to the end of the night and say, gosh, that was really something."

Miranda likes all forms of acting, stage, television and film, and she has a hankering to live and work in the US. "I’d love to work in the States, to be part of something, a long running show or a film – I’d like a transatlantic lifestyle."

But Miranda says she wouldn’t make the permanent move across the Atlantic without some substantial work lined up first. So for her fans here in Suffolk and the rest of the UK, let’s hope the job offers continue to pour in from this country so we don’t lose this talented young performer to America.

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