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Jenny Seagrove

She made her name playing A Woman of Substance in the Barbara Taylor-Bradford mini-series which 25 years on still boasts Channel 4’s highest-ever viewing figures – and she wasn’t scared of standing up for her beliefs in Judge John Deed. Rebecca Gooch discovered that in real life Jenny Seagrove is an equally feisty woman of substantial principles…

The huge green eyes are fixed and unblinking, with a challenging stare. Neat nostrils are quivering with barely restrained emotion. Rosebud lips are pursed with determination. You’ll have seen this face on TV, when actress Jenny Seagrove breathes life into the character of barrister Jo Mills, who unflinchingly battles various contentious issues like MRM vaccinations, mobile phone masts and vivisection, as she gives voice to the victim and speaks up for the defenceless.

And you’ll see just the same face in real life: an expression of firm resolve and fervent commitment to her ethical cause – or to be accurate, her many causes. Hedgehogs, wallabies, squirrels, donkeys, circus animals, captive primates and big cats, vivisection victims, factory-farming, the EU banning of high dose vitamin supplements, recycling, composting, waste, irradiation, GM crops, landfill, organic food, pesticides, alternative medicine, Photodynamic Therapy for cancer, vegetarianism…

She’s patron of the Bristol-based vegetarian and animal welfare group Viva!, a patron of the British animal abuse organisation Welfare Aid, a trustee of the Born Free Foundation and an avid supporter of the anti-vivisection society PETA, and Recycle Now.

Whether it’s supporting animal welfare or environmental issues – or her footie team Everton FC, of which her theatre impresario partner Bill Kenwright is chairman – this is a woman of substantial passion. So much so that I felt compelled to make a confession….

I deplore laboratory experimentation on animals, it makes me feel sad and helpless, I tell her. But every time one of those anti-vivisection leaflets plops through my letterbox, I know the pictures will be so heartbreaking that if I see them I’ll end up in tears. So I don’t look.

“I’m with you!” she almost gasps. “Sometimes you just think ‘I can’t! I don’t want that in my head.’ It’s very difficult. I know what’s going on, an animal dies in an EU lab every three seconds, and sometimes I think I just can’t know more, it hurts too much. I’ll just send my money or do what I can in terms of raising awareness.

“So do you give up hope?” she continues. “No, you can’t. Last night I had dinner with a friend who runs a charity called Wildlife Aid, and we were going through the despair of the world, and he said ‘No. You’ve got to keep positive. You’ve got to know that we can do something, otherwise you’ll just walk into your grave tomorrow’. I know when times are hard people think why should we worry about the animals, when people haven’t got jobs and homes. But if we can’t look after the other sentient beings which share this planet with us, how will we ever have the humanity to look after each other?”

And so Jenny Seagrove continues to do whatever she can to make a difference, even if the injustice sometimes rips her apart. “I see people who are doing amazing things for animals and the environment and think – what am I doing? So I sometimes think of giving up this silly job of acting. Yes, I’m entertaining people and that’s important because people need entertaining – and they also need their thoughts provoking, which some of the work we do does – particularly in John Deed. I’m incredibly proud of some of the issues we tackled; it was a remarkable series and really did stimulate people’s thoughts – particularly with the MMR storyline.”

She’s an inspirational idealist, but she’s also an emotional softie. She got the science A Levels to become a vet, but realised she couldn’t cope with the harsh realities of the job. Instead she notched up a further three arty A-levels and enrolled at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. It was a particularly good crop during her three-year stay: her contemporaries included Miranda Richardson, Greta Scacchi, Daniel Day-Lewis and Amanda Redman.

Her Judge John Deed co-star, fellow vegetarian, environmentalist and animal rights campaigner Martin Shaw, is not just a dear friend, but also shares her passionate views.

To her delight the chemistry they created on the small screen is now refuelled in a new stage partnership, in The Country Girl, about a washed-up actor and his long-suffering wife whose marriage is put to the test when he gets a second chance at stardom, which comes to Bath Theatre Royal in September as part of a national tour, before moving to the Apollo Theatre in London until February.

“Because of our shared attitude, there’s a trust and a shorthand between us, and when you work with someone who is a friend and who you really admire, it’s just a joy. But you won’t really have seen Martin like this – he plays my drunken, flamboyant actor husband, and it’s an astounding performance. My character is the country girl, the wife who at the start of the play you see on the point of leaving him.”

And is Jenny, with all her green credentials and eco-campaigning, a country girl? “I’m a townie by necessity who is a country girl at heart – but real country people are much less sentimental than I am about the environment and animals,” she admits.

Nevertheless she’s happy to put her head above the parapet for her beliefs, even if speaking out might cost her work – which it almost certainly has, she says. And she’s as green as she can be in her daily life. “I’m an avid environmentalist, and every household can make a difference. It really hits home when you imagine that in less than two hours the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert Hall!”

“I try and cycle when I can, and drive a Toyota Prius – I have to have a car because I’ve got dogs. I’ve been a vegetarian since forever; I go round switching everything off stand-by, turning things off, emptying the kettle – I’m a nightmare, a terrible nag! We’ve got a wormery, a water filter system, a compost heap and a Bokashi bin…

The list goes on and I start to get breathless. So what’s her favourite green tip? “Bokashi juice!” she cries. “You put all your compost stuff into the little Bokashi bin, add some bran, and after a few weeks you get this weird juice out of it which is packed with microorganisms. It makes the most incredible drain-cleaner.

“No need for any of those heavy duty chemicals, just tip the juice down. It’s great fun, and just goes to show that what comes from nature really can be the greatest power of all…”

Jenny Seagrove appears in The Country Girl at Bath Theatre Royal 20-25 September and the Apollo Theatre, London, 11 October- 26 February.


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