“Is it your real name?” I asked actress Nicole Harvey last week.
“It’s not just Harvey Nichols back-to-front?”
I saw Nicole in the Freestival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, performing her show Delicious and Dateless about her love life.
“Any luck in love in Edinburgh?” I asked.
“I did wonder if people would interpret it as an advert,” she replied, “but they didn’t. Audience-wise, there were lots of middle-aged, Middle England, 40+ couples who just ‘do’ the Edinburgh Fringe. And I had younger girls in their 20s going Mmm, she’s right. It IS like this.
“I just did two weeks at the Fringe because my birthday was in the middle of the month and I went on holiday with my mum – I’d not performed at Edinburgh before and I thought I might be playing to three people looking bored so I had thought I might be quite glad to escape. But, as it turned out, I had full houses and ended up having to move to a bigger room… I didn’t get any reviews, though, because my run was short.”
“Are you going back to Edinburgh again this year?” I asked.
“No. But I’m doing Delicious and Dateless at the Brighton Fringe in May – I managed to get evening slots in the first two weekends and Brighton is nearer to home and warmer than Edinburgh. I remember having to buy vests and socks in Edinburgh because it was hailing.”
“You sound very posh,” I said.
“I went to Harrogate Grammar School,” Nicole told me. “I remember auditioning for Bugsy Malone and getting the part of Tallulah but then they didn’t even bother to stage it, because creativity was not deemed ‘important’. It was literally: If you’re thick, go and be a hairdresser; if you’re smart, work in a bank or be a diplomat.”
“So you…?” I asked.
“I was on the debating team. I believed in justice. I was naive. I wanted to work for the UN and save the world. So I went and studied law at Bristol University.”
“Being in court is a form of acting,” I suggested.
“Well, I thought being a barrister would have been interesting, but everything I found interesting in law had a human element in it. When you’re in it as a career, though, everything has to be black or white; there’s no grey. I nearly did an MA in medical ethics because it’s all grey, it’s all fascinating.”
“I am,” I said, “not a great admirer of the English legal system.”
“It was a three-year course,” said Nicole. “At the end of the first year, I knew I wanted to change my degree, but my dad said No.”
“Why did you want to change it?” I asked.
“Because I realised I had been very naive, believing in justice and idealism… and the legal system is nothing to do with that. I was a country girl. I grew up just outside Harrogate; we always lived in villages.”
“Still sounds very posh,” I said.
“But there wasn’t even a village shop. I grew up with my horse.”
“What did your father do?”
“Just lots of very traditional things. Personnel Director and Distribution Director and things.”
“Did your mother work?”
“She was around and then, when my younger brother grew up, she worked in a doctor’s surgery because she wanted something to keep her busy. In fact, she is really talented at water colours, but it’s quite a solitary pursuit so she doesn’t do it. She has not really found her purpose since we all fled the nest.”
“You sound,” I said, “like you really did want to flee the nest.”
“I lived in Paris when I was younger and worked in distribution – buying and selling TV rights. And I worked in TV production here.”
“For Avalon and the trendy Planet 24 production company,” I said.
“Yes. Planet 24 had a legal show they wanted to do, so I was a researcher on that.”
“How had you got that?” I asked.
“It was the summer of finishing my degree and I’d devised this big fashion show for the NSPCC. Then I’d gone and done some presenting at HTV in Bristol.
“I really enjoy making documentaries and I’ve done some TV anchor stuff, but I don’t see where I fit into telly. You either need a specialist subject – which I don’t; I’ve done lots of different things – or be a hostess dolly and I realised as a producer, seeing the bigger picture, getting the deals – all of that – I’m good at. But crunching numbers in Excel I’m not that good at.”
“You sound like your mother,” I said. “As if you haven’t found your exact thing yet.”
“Well, we’re talking about my past,” explained Nicole. “What I feel now is a good ‘fit’ is being able to write my own stuff and perform it and get it made. It’s firing on all cylinders now because I’m a ‘doer’. I have the performance side, but I’ve also got this practical, resourceful nature. It’s satisfying to get stuff done and make things happen.
“I’m on my second wind as an actress. As a younger actress, it’s all Get yer kit off, cry, don’t say very much, be the pretty girlfriend. Which is not very fulfilling. Whereas, when you are slightly older, you get a chance to play The Lawyer or whatever.
“I think the first time round, I just didn’t try hard enough with acting. I trusted the wrong people and made a lot of shit decisions. I wasn’t very grounded and didn’t have a lot of self-belief. Whereas now I think I’m in a better place and that comes with age. I’m comfortable in my skin.”
“To me,” I said, “you seem perfect for TV.”
“I’ve only had a few TV auditions in my life. I was pencilled to play the lead in a spin-off of Footballers’ Wives called Extra Time. They’d asked me how I felt about on-screen nudity and I’d said: Well, if it’s story-appropriate, it’s something you deal with. If it’s gratuitous, then I’m not so down with it. Then, of course, the whole angle was gratuitous. I watched an episode and the character I would have played was spread-eagled, getting banged by a 60-year-old dad.
“So I tried to move to the States. In Britain at the time, they were all: Well, you look like a leading lady, but you haven’t got the CV because you didn’t do the drama school thing and you’re too young for character stuff. We don’t know what to do with you.
“So I thought: Well, in the States, being attractive is not held against you. I thought: Fuck it, I’ll go there and feel like I’m on holiday every day. But I got deported for waitressing illegally for two weeks in Los Angeles.”
“Surely,” I said, “half the acting profession is illegally waitressing in Los Angeles?”
“You would think so,” agreed Nicole. “In my show, I say it’s a case of: How dare they! These foreigners coming over and taking the Mexicans’ jobs!… Basically that broke my heart more than all the boys I’ve ever met.”
“Can you go back to the US?”
“I was banned for 5 years – that was 12 years ago. Back then I enjoyed acting because I escaped reality – Why would I want to be in some kitchen sink drama? – but I don’t think I look desperately right for period drama, except maybe Poirot.”
“Why not period drama?” I asked.
“They usually pick brunettes and they usually pick… I dunno. I think I look more modern than English rose… After L.A., I ran off to Buenos Aires for a bit.”
“Why Buenos Aires?”
“They like horses; they speak Spanish; I had an agent for commercials and the rand had got strong in South Africa so they were using Buenos Aires cos it looks like a European city.”
“Was there a Spaniard involved in this?”
“Yes, it’s in my show. I thought I’d get kidnapped by some handsome hunk but I met an evil dwarf instead.”
“So now, comedy,” I said.
“When you’re acting,” explained Nicole, “all the things you work on are all about screaming at each other and crying, so comedy is a bit of a revelation for me. I started with this monologue – and then I thought: Mmmm. Each of those points could almost be content for a webisode.”
“It’s nice to be creative and to be seen.”
Nicole’s first webisode is currently on YouTube.
“So,” I said, “there’s your one-hour show and upcoming webisodes… but not stand-up comedy as such.”
“I did pop my 10-minute spot cherry in Edinburgh,” said Nicole, “but, because I wasn’t talking about my periods, I didn’t really fit in.”