Interview with Holby City star, Jaye Jacobs
- Credit: BBC/Kieron McCarron
Holby City star Jaye Jacobs reflects on beautiful Bath, am dram in Street and the Glastonbury vibe, as she chats to Catherine Courtenay
The promise of long summer days in an outdoor heated swimming pool made a childhood move to Street just that bit more bearable for actor Jaye Jacobs.
Emma Jaye Jacobs (Jaye Jacobs being her professional name) adores Bath, the city where she was born, but she arrived in the mid Somerset village at around the age of eight, when her dad got a job at Clarks.
“Moving to a town with an outdoor swimming pool – life couldn’t be better! Every summer we were at Greenbank Swimming Pool,” she says.
But she’ll always consider herself a ‘Bathonian’, like her dad. Reminiscing about it from her home in London it’s the landscape she describes, the way the city is framed within the hills which surround the Georgian city.
“I love Bath. All dad’s family are still in Bath and whenever I go back it feels like a homecoming.”
As a child growing up there she says: “I thought the entire world was built of Bath stone and that everything was Regency period!”
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Jaye plays Donna Jackson in BBC One’s hospital drama Holby City. Initially coming into the series in 2004, she took a break for a few years to pursue other work opportunites, before returning to the series.
She admits that it was living in Street that probably kick-started her acting career, after she joined the Joy Tinney School of Dance at Strode Theatre.
“I did my first show on stage the year I came to Street with Joy Tinney and I just got the bug. It’s the buzz…I got addicted to the buzz.
“My first show was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and I was Grumpy - I feel I’m still like Grumpy now!” she laughs.
“The thing about Street was that the culture was the theatre and I naturally gravitated there. I spent all my time there; it was where I first got on a stage and thought, ‘this is incredible!’
“I think Street gave me that; it sort of channelled my energies into something I loved at an early age. If I’d stayed in Bath I wouldn’t have got on to a stage – I suppose it might have happened later...or perhaps not at all.”
Jaye got a place at the National Youth Music Theatre after her name was put forward by Joy. Then at 16 she went to the Arts Educational School in Tring for two years, doing her A-levels and at the same time still attending the National Youth Music Theatre in her holidays.
Her parents had always encouraged her and been supportive, she says, but Jaye herself was full of doubts about her ability.
At 18, she says, she still didn’t feel ready to go out and audition, so she opted to continue her studies at the Arts Educational School in Chiswick.
“I felt that no one would employ me. I wanted to carry on studying. I trained for quite a long time,” she laughs. “But I wasn’t ready to fly the nest. I was really cautious, and nervous... I still am really.”
She’s convinced it was the right thing to do though, and her advice to any would-be actors is to try and train as much as possible.
It was while at the Chiswick school that she got her big break. In her first year a producer came in and saw her perform; although students weren’t allowed to work, he persuaded them to let Jaye attend an audition – so he could hear her sing on her own.
It turned out that he wanted her for his production and she found herself landing a role in Rent in the West End.
“I was very, very lucky,” she says.
But the hours were demanding. She ended up attending college each day then performing in eight shows a week.
“I had a lot more energy at 19! But I remember sitting on the tube one day and working out how many hours I was working...it was 86 hours a week!”
“But that time is still one of my happiest memories. It was sheer joy.”
Three months after finally leaving college she was called up for Holby City, after the casting director had seen her in a musical.
Her first episode was called Baptism of Fire.
“That was an understatement!” she laughs again. “I had no idea how it worked. I genuinely had no idea what to do.”
Holby, she explains, is unlike any other show – it’s a well-oiled machine, never stopping and producing an hour of TV every week of the year – and this year it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Thinking back to when she first arrived on set she says: “Everyone was so kind to me and put up with me being a blundering idiot!”
After seven years she took a break from the series. “I’d been to bed at 9.30pm to get up at 5am throughout my entire twenties. I decided that I should probably have a bit of a life - and if I didn’t do it, then I’d totally lose the confidence.”
She went on to work on Waterloo Road, among other things – and also had her daughter, now five.
“So I really did get life experience,” she says. “I got to have loads of time with her and Holby were very sweet, they wanted me back but I was able to have loads of time with my daughter.”
Senior staff nurse Donna returned to Holby City in 2017. A much loved character, she’s funny, always speaks her mind and is devoted to her two girls. Jaye is equally devoted to her daughter, but does she share any other similarities with her character?
“I’d be lying to say I’m nothing like her,” she says. “But she’s an extreme version of a part of myself - and it’s really fun to explore on a daily basis.”
Jaye still has family in Bath and her parents are in Street, so she goes back at any opportunity
“I’m a bit of a home bod,” she confesses. “I love London, but that’s because I can leave it and come back to Somerset.
“And it’s lovely for my daughter to have that rural setting - otherwise I’m not sure she’d know what a cow was!”
It turns out she’s a big fan of Street’s neighbouring town of Glastonbury.
She’d hang out there as a teenager, she says, and visiting its shops inspired her to start making her own jewellery. “I’ve always been massively into jewellery,” she says.
“The Glastonbury thing has always stayed with me. The last time I was there I went up the Tor. If I have something big in life to meditate on, that’s where I go.”
Jaye’s favourite Somerset places:
I know it’s a cliché, but I love it. It’s a place I go to clear my head and hopefully gain perspective. My experience has been that most people are up there to do the same, so everyone just leaves you alone. It’s only let me down once – when as a teenager some friends and I decided to sleep up there. We took no tents, no food, no warm clothes. Needless to say we ended up at my mum and dad’s house in pyjamas eating pizza at 3am.
• My mum and dad’s house
Home is the best place in the world - to me at least. The garden is south and west facing so as a kid I would sit and watch the sunsets all the time. It made me feel connected to nature. We’re still out there in the summer, but now with several sun-downers.
• Avalon Marshes Centre, Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve
I didn’t fully appreciate this as a younger person. It was the site of geography projects and I was more interested in finding parties; but now I take my daughter there and she’s thrilled. She loves birds and it’s so different to our everyday life in London. I think she thinks the hides are play houses. Either way we have a lot of fun.
Bath is a real homecoming for me and I love to go and see Pulteney Bridge whenever I’m there. I get nostalgic remembering the puppet shows at the little theatre there. I always thought the term Bog Island was a quirky name my family had come up with because they remembered the public loos. Turns out it is actually called Bog Island. Doh!
• Glastonbury High Street
The places I live are always decorated with random items I’ve found there. I think it’s some tragic attempt at bringing a piece of home to London. I always stock up on health foods too and grab vegan brownies which are so much better than the ones I get here. Bliss.