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Dawn Steele to star in The Perfect Murder at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

One of the most recognisable faces on TV when Monarch of the Glen was at its peak, Scottish actress Dawn Steele is now relishing a new life on the Kent coast and a starring role close to home at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre. Jo Roberts reports.

Dawn Steele stars as Joan Smiley in The Perfect Murder
Dawn Steele stars as Joan Smiley in The Perfect Murder

Whitstable is a town used to famous faces passing through – Orlando Bloom, Harry Hill and Janet Street-Porter are among the local regulars.

But one recent arrival to the town causes whispered conversations wherever she goes, as passers-by wonder, ‘Is that...?’

Yes, new girl on the block Dawn Steele IS the one who played feisty and fresh-faced Lexie MacDonald back in BBC’s Monarch of the Glen between 2000 to 2004 and then went on to replace Amanda Holden as a leading character in ITV’s safari-based Wild at Heart, playing Alice Trevanion.

Although Dawn, 38, now sports darker hair with a fringe and cuts a more petite figure due to her love of pilates, nevertheless her dazzling and distinctive blue eyes are instantly recognisable to TV fans, despite the fact the Scot is so far from home in her new incarnation as a Whitstable yummy mummy.

The TV and stage actress lives near the seafront in Tankerton with her actor partner and fellow Scot, Paul Blair and their daughter Coco, two, where they are regulars at town events like the Regatta, charity fundraisers, and Whitstable Literary Festival.

Starring this week at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre in the dark comedy thriller The Perfect Murder, based on the novel by Peter James, will offer the touring actress a rare chance to sleep in her own bed at night, as she told What’s On.

Alexandra Gilbreath as Stella, Dawn Steele as Lexie, Alastaiir MacKenzie as Archie, Alexander Morton as Golly, and Susan Hampshire as Molly
Alexandra Gilbreath as Stella, Dawn Steele as Lexie, Alastaiir MacKenzie as Archie, Alexander Morton as Golly, and Susan Hampshire as Molly

Whitstable is a long way from your home city of Glasgow. Tell us about your old stomping ground.

“It is a tough city – it’s dark, gloomy, it rains a lot. The accent is harsh, it just doesn’t sound friendly. But it’s also green and gorgeous. I’ve not lived there for nearly 15 years but my family’s there and my partner’s family’s there.”

You’ve appeared on TV in paranormal drama Sea of Souls, crime show Case Histories and in the comedy Magnolia. On stage, you’ve done Noel Coward’s Volcano in the West End and are now touring in thriller The Perfect Murder. Which did you study most heavily at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, stage or TV?

“We didn’t do lots of TV, we were more classically trained – it was more theatre it was thinking of. Now they focus lots more on TV. I graduated in 1998 and am still close with all of my friends. We are coming up to a 20-year reunion! TV was the first thing I went into. I was in Gregory’s Two Girls, just a scene, and then I got Monarch of the Glen pretty much straight away. I try to alternate TV and stage.”

Did your life change overnight with the instant success of BBC’s Monarch of the Glen?

“Not so much when we were filming because we were up north for six months of the year and got every second weekend off. So on location, you never really guessed how big it was. I was learning on the job from Richard Briers and Susan Hampshire. Later, Case Histories was the same crew. It was so lovely, you’d spend six months with these people. We shared houses, etc... Monarch opened a lot of doors. It enabled me to get my own flat!”

What were the challenges of the job?

“Every job takes you away from home. You miss your home and family. It was six months in Africa for Wild at Heart. I made sure I’d always got visitors and they all went on safari. That’s why this job (The Perfect
Murder at the Marlowe Theatre) is so great because, just for
one week, I can stay in my own bed.”

Filming Wild at Heart in Africa must have been an extraordinary experience?

“It will always have a special place in my heart. We had giraffes walking into our dressing room, bonkers moments. I filmed in a cage with lions, released a vulture – that was the most terrifying experience. Vultures are smelly because they vomit to make them lighter for flying. I can’t imagine when I’ll get another job like that. I’m still close to Hayley Mills (Dawn’s co-star who played Caroline DuPlessis).”

Dawn Steele in Comic Relief in 2005, the year Monarch Of The Glen ended
Dawn Steele in Comic Relief in 2005, the year Monarch Of The Glen ended

How do you juggle acting work and a home life?

“I’ve just had a long stint at home. Coco came to Africa, Paul would bring her, and when she was six months, I did a play. They will join me each week (on The Perfect Murder tour). There is the thrill of opening a play and then it becomes as close as you’ll get to a normal job. But I’m used to change.”

What attracted two Scots to make their home in Whitstable?

“I lived in London for 10 years. We used to come to Whitstable with the dog but we didn’t
know anyone. Then we had a baby and the (London) flat was imploding on us. We didn’t
see ourselves bringing our child up there. I wanted to live by the sea so we would come down every weekend and look at houses. That was two years
ago. Now Coco goes to ballet and I do pilates... there’s so much going on. We love it here.”

The Perfect Murder is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday, September 2, until Saturday, September 6.

Performances are daily at 7.30pm with a matinee at 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets from £16. Call 01227 787787 or visit www.marlowetheatre.com

Peter James
Peter James

Stage dream

The Perfect Murder is the first stage adaptation of the work of international best-selling crime thriller novelist Peter James. In it, his best-known character, a young detective called Roy Grace, investigates his first murder case.

Peter has sold more than 15 million books within his Roy Grace series, which has been published in 36 languages.

He said: “Ever since I was a small boy when my parents first took me to the theatre, I dreamed of one day having something I wrote appear on stage. This wonderful, extremely funny and in parts very scary adaptation of The Perfect Murder is a dream come true.”

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