The Interview: Martine McCutcheon
MARTINE McCUTCHEON INTERVIEW
Actor Martine McCutcheon and her record producer husband Jack McManus chat exclusively with Angela Sara West about their life in Surrey, favourite spots in south west London, and their shared love of music…
During lockdown, creative duo Martine McCutcheon and her husband Jack McManus put their time to good use making music in their studio in their new Esher home. The couple work together, with Jack her co-manager and Martine advising him on the songs he writes. Says Martine: “As we’re both in the arts, it was a natural instinct to express how we felt through music. I definitely think we dug a little deeper and did some great work during lockdown!”
Martine found her passion for singing and acting at an early age, inspired by her mum’s records. “She constantly had music playing in the house when she was cooking or getting ready to go out and, as a result, it always felt like home had a wonderful atmosphere,” she tells me. “She would play such a wide range of music, from Frank Sinatra and the Eagles, to Barbara Streisand and Marvin Gaye. I always had an affinity with Streisand, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac… Barbara and Stevie are my female icons. Both strong, feisty, and incredibly talented.” Jack, meanwhile, grew up listening to Elton John and Billy Joel, to whom he’s been compared. “My dad was very influential when it came to playing me great music,” he tells me. “He was also into Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne from ELO. And of course, The Beatles – they became my heroes… I’ve always loved that 70’s sound.” In the same year as Amy Winehouse at the BRIT School Of Performing Arts, Jack went on to West End musicals, and his career has seen him write for the likes of The Wanted and Boyzone. “I still get so excited when I hear a song I’ve written on the radio for the first time, and the buzz that someone else is singing it instead of me is even better.” His recent career high was working with the legendary Dame Shirley Bassey.
Martine started out in TV aged just 11, went on to play the ill-fated Tiffany in EastEnders, starred alongside Hugh Grant in Love Actually and won acclaim for her stage work in My Fair Lady. The late Barbara Windsor became a close friend. “Barbara and I worked together on my first TV job, and she took extra time and care to help me. I fell a bit in love with her… I was so upset when the filming ended and I remember buying her a scented make-up case! Years later on my first day of EastEnders, she came up to me and said, ‘Wow, hasn’t that little girl I worked with on Bluebirds become a beauty!’. We hugged each other and she became my best friend on set.”
Martine says Barbara knew the reality of the industry and taught her a lot. “We had many chats in her dressing room and would go out for glam lunches and dinners. She was naughty, had a wicked sense of humour, that I shared, and I miss her madly…”
She says she had a top time as Tiffany on Albert Square. “The team was like a family. The show had tens of millions of viewers and the press intrusion could be scary, but the cast cared about each other and helped you laugh at it all. It kept you on your toes as the schedule was intense, and there was no time for anything other than being completely on the ball. It gave me the most fantastic discipline.” But her career has been hard won with Martine struggling with health problems. She was diagnosed with Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome ME. How is she now? “My health is the most stable it’s ever been. I seem to have found the right combination of medication, supplements and exercise that works for me. It’s taken many years, and I think for Lyme disease, ME and fibromyalgia everyone is slightly different, so it can take a long time to find what really works for you, personally.”
Falling pregnant with her now six-year-old son Rafferty eased the symptoms of ME, meaning she can now live a normal life. “I had a fantastic pregnancy with Rafferty… It was almost like my body had something else to focus on and it was a wonderful relief to be out of pain. I also found that swimming, walking and gentle yoga really helped.”
Martine cautiously juggles work with being a mum. “I‘ve had to be quite disciplined with the amount of hours I work. I’ve realised that health really does come before everything else… I generally only take on projects where I can pace myself and only do the things that I’m really passionate about. I, of course, sometimes miss Rafferty and have Mummy guilt, but I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘wherever you are, be all there’. This mantra really helps me to fully enjoy what I’m doing 100%, being in Mummy mode or work mode.”
Landing the lead in the stage production of My Fair Lady was the perfect role for the ex-EastEnder. Her appearances have seen her clinch coveted awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award for ‘Best Actress in a Musical’. How did it feel to follow in the footsteps of previous winners Dame Judi Dench, Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson? “Winning a Laurence Olivier Award was a dream come true for me. It’s hard to explain, but I felt in my heart I was meant to play the part of Eliza Doolittle. It was an incredible experience and I still say ‘Morning!’ to Larry every day whilst he sits on my fireplace!”
Martine also received rave reviews for her performance as tea-lady Natalie, seeing her shoot to silver screen fame alongside Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Surrey-born Bill Nighy in the hit feature film Love Actually. “After watching Four Weddings and a Funeral, it was my dream to work with Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it when Richard told me he’d written the part for me… I was so nervous and felt like I wouldn’t hold my own with all these big Hollywood A-listers… I think he told me to build my confidence a bit. He and Hugh helped me every step of the way.”
Shot partly in Putney and at Shepperton Studios, Martine has many magical memories from filming, with THAT iconic smooching scene shot behind a REAL Christmas school play with a real audience in a school near Wimbledon. What was it like to kiss Hugh Grant?!! “As I always joke, he’s a great kisser for a posh boy! Seriously though, he was the ultimate professional and we did have an amazing chemistry on screen. It’s so amazing that people still talk about it…”
Back with a bang earlier this year, Martine gracefully took to the stage as ‘Swan’, donning a huge, heavy wired sculpture whilst belting out the ballads in the second series of The Masked Singer. “It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in the industry!” she explains. “It’s great that so many people get to show their talent without any preconceptions or labels.”
With no idea that his mum was behind the mask, Rafferty’s reaction when watching her unmask herself on TV (posted on her Instagram) was priceless. “He was SO proud and not being able to breathe and having backache was worth it!”
She’s also starred in Spooks, Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Marple TV series. “I loved working on those dramas. My favourite was definitely Miss Marple. It had an old-school Hollywood feel about it.”
SW London and into Surrey
Martine and Jack have been drawn to the charms of south west London, living in several places there, before settling in Surrey, first in East Molesey and now Esher.
“As I got older, the beauty and calmness of Surrey was something that kept calling me…” Martine reveals. “I had lived in Chelsea, then Wimbledon, and slowly worked my way up the A3! I met a friend in Bridge Road, Hampton Court, and we walked around the palace, the river and the stunning residential streets nearby… I knew then I wanted to live around there.
She and Jack also lived in Battersea. “We lived opposite the park for a couple of years,” Jack says. “It was perfect because we got our first dog, Harry, when we lived there, and having the park so close was a bonus! I’ve worked a lot over the years in music studios all over South London, but I spent the longest time working in Parsons Green which was lovely, especially in the summer.”
What do they love most about life in Surrey? Says Martine: “There are so many great pubs with amazing food. The Wheatsheaf in Esher is definitely a favourite and so is The Ivy Brasserie in Cobham. We love the Everyman Cinema in Esher and the delis and antique shops on Bridge Road, Hampton Court, are regular haunts.” Fave places to ‘shop local’? “We love Garsons Garden Centre and Farm Shop – I could live in there!”
And they’re both big fans of Beaverbrook Hotel in Leatherhead. “It’s our favourite place! It has an olde-worlde Great Gatsby feel to it… my idea of heaven, especially if we want to really make an experience of an event. I may have a delayed 45th birthday dinner celebration there… any excuse to go!”
Speaking of turning 45, she says: “I love that as a woman the possibilities these days are endless, but that I can also do it at my own pace and trust all will be okay. Of course, I still get a bit daunted and nervous about it all, but if you don’t give these things a go you’ll never know, right?”
Photo credit: Alan Strutt