Home is where the heart is
PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 July 2015
From Sherlock to Poirot, from The Thick of It to Yes, Prime Minister, actress Zoe Telford - who grew up in Norwich - is never far from our TV screens. Natalie Denton catches up with her to reminisce about Norfolk.
After spending her all-important formative years growing up in Norfolk, actress Zoe Telford says the county will always hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s just a gorgeous part of the world,” Zoe says, of her childhood in Norwich. “Each part of England has wonderful things about it, but Norfolk is just so quiet and beautiful. It’s not overcrowded and there’s plenty of space. It has beautiful countryside and the Broads, and the coast is lovely for children. I always particularly liked Wells and all around that area; I just love being by the coastline.”
Like many British actors, Zoe made her TV debut on The Bill in 1993, following it up with one-off appearances in popular 1990s’ stalwarts like Soldier Soldier and Peak Practice, before playing the recurring character of Maggie in cult classic Teachers. Her acting roles have included appearances in some of Britain’s best-loved programmes, including The Thick of It, Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, Foyle’s War, Love and Marriage, Yes, Prime Minister, Criminal Justice, Marple and Poirot. Zoe’s real breakthrough though came in 2003 when she secured the role of Eva Braun in Hitler: The Rise of Evil, which ultimately led her to working with Woody Allen on Match Point.
Throughout her two-decade-long career Zoe, who is now in her early 40s, has worked alongside some of the UK’s most revered acting folk including David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Robert Carlyle, Andrew Lincoln, as well as Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil (2006) who, like Zoe, has links to the county - her mother Miv Watts living in Burnham Market. “We didn’t get a chance to discuss Norfolk sadly,” she laughs, “I was mainly with Sally Hawkins, but I think we actually got cut from the final film, which was a shame. We went out to Shanghai for 10 days so I spent a very brief time with Naomi, but unfortunately we didn’t take a trip down memory lane.”
Zoe’s own memories take her back to her home city of Norwich where she grew from a toddler to a teen. “We lived off Unthank Road, on Whitehall Road, and moved there when I was very small, three or four I think.” The city’s Golden Triangle, which today sees a cosmopolitan mix of students, professionals and families, has long been dubbed “the Notting Hill of Norwich”, featuring highly sought-after Victorian terrace houses and pockets of prized parkland.
“I had a very happy childhood growing up in Norfolk. It really is such a beautiful part of the country.”
As well as attending Avenue Primary School, the starlet went on to train at the Central School of Dance from the age of six. “It was fantastic actually. It taught me discipline from a very early age and I had a wonderful teacher called Miss Margaret who taught us how to behave.” In addition to performing at family dance festivals, Zoe featured in pantomimes in Norfolk: Aladdin, Mother Goose and Dick Whittington, from the ages of eight to 10. “It was a great start for me as I learned how to behave in a theatre environment and the importance of it all.”
Zoe, a mother of two young children, left East Anglia aged 16 and spent many years working and living in London, but life in the country beckoned again and today she lives in Oxfordshire. “We’re very rural where we are now, so all the things I loved about Norfolk I have recreated in Oxfordshire in my adult life. I just love being surrounded by gorgeous countryside.”
While Zoe’s real life sounds as close to domestic bliss as you can get, her latest on-screen character’s life couldn’t be more different, in the gritty-with-a-heart movie Greyhawk. Zoe describes the film as a career highlight, unsurprising perhaps as she scooped the Special Commendation award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where the movie premiered. The “road-movie on a council estate” follows blind war veteran Mal (played by Alec Newman) as he goes in search of his missing guide dog. Through a labyrinth of unseen dangers, he encounters the estate’s oddball cast of characters, including Zoe’s character Paula.
“She’s one of the few residents that decide to help Mal. When we first meet her she’s had a rough ride; her husband’s left her and her teenage son has fallen in with the wrong kids and is out of control,” she explains.
“I think she feels quite deserted and doesn’t really know who to turn to for help, then Mal turns up and suddenly there’s a connection. It’s not necessarily a love connection, but they become interested in each other and they are both at a point in their lives where they need help, so they form a kind of friendship.”
Directed by feature-film newcomer Guy Pitt and written by his brother Matt Pitt, Greyhawk was released on DVD at the end of May. “It was one of the best things I’ve been a part of and I’m just so excited for Guy and Matt because they are going to go on and do terrific things.
“I think it’s just the beginning for them, and right now we are putting our heads together as we want to do something else as a team.” But that’s not all Zoe has in the pipeline now. “I’m doing a series called the Unforgotten that Andy Wilson is directing for ITV, which is a really terrific six-parter that I think will be out at the end of the year.”
As busy working mum with a four-year-old son and newborn daughter, Zoe looks forward to visiting Norfolk again. “I still have family in Norwich and on the coast near Cromer. I don’t get back as often as I’d like to but we are planning a trip.”