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‘There is a lot of me in Stacey, but I am not little girl ditsy’

Joanna Page’s sweet, nattering Welshness made her an instant star as Stacey Shipman in the BBC’s multi award winning Gavin Stacey, but her greatest asset is her smile. When she is not talking

sad, but she was in floods of tears a few weeks ago, she tells me, as she and her actor husband James Thornton (best known as John Barton in Emmerdale) moved out of their London house.

‘It was our first home together, and it was full of memories so I just couldn’t stop myself. While everyone else was loading the van, I went up into the attic with the dog and howled. Then

I remembered where we were going and realised there was nothing to cry about.’

For many stars who find themselves riding the wave of an instant television classic, the next stop is Hollywood; for Joanna, it’s a thatched cottage in deepest Oxfordshire. ‘People keep saying, “Surely you should be in America?” But I’ve no desire to live there,’ she says. ‘I love my life here. Staying here doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I’m happy because I’m doing what I want to do.’

The move to Oxfordshire is a significant shift for Joanna, who grew up in Mumbles, near Swansea, but has lived in London since going to Rada at the age of 18. ‘I used to be forever in Selfridges buying handbags, but I’m done with city life,’ she says. ‘I’m nesting like mad. I can’t stop baking bread and cooking casseroles.’

Professionally, too, she is changing gear. She may still look and sound like the relentlessly bubbly Stacey, but, at 35, she is focusing on more grown up roles.

Earlier this year she played Leanne, a mother with a dark past in BBC1’s critically acclaimed The Syndicate, and this week she begins a new Sky Living comedy series Gates, in which we see her as Helen, a harassed working mum desperate to avoid the drop off politics at her nine year old daughter’s primary school. ‘It was getting boring falling in love all the time. It’s much more interesting playing a mum,’ she says. Which begs the question, are she and James, 36, thinking of starting a family any time soon? ‘Let’s just say it’s something we’re working on,’ she says, suppressing a Stacey like giggle.

Gavin Stacey turned my life around, but it feels very much part of my past. It’s three years since we made the last episode and we have all moved on. I don’t keep in touch with Mat [Horne, who played Gavin], but Ruth [Jones/Nessa] and I text a lot and I sent a message to James [Corden/Smithy] when he won his Tony award recently [for best actor in One Man, Two Guvnors]. He’s adorable. We were laughing all the time when we worked together. I think for everyone there was definitely a sense of magic being created when we were on the set, but it was good to end on a high. I’m always being asked if we’ll make some more, and I wouldn’t say never, but it is honestly not something I think about.

‘I don’t envy anyone with the possible exception of any actress who gets to do love scenes with Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender’

There is a lot of me in Stacey. I am bubbly, enthusiastic and excitable, but I am not little girl ditsy. The other side of me is harder, darker, sharper. I am stubborn, direct and incredibly fiery a typical Aries.

I’m known as a comedy actress, but I am much more comfortable in serious roles. I spent ten years in costume dramas for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company before Gavin Stacey came along. And even when I played Stacey, I didn’t think of myself as the funny one. A lot of the storyline between Stacey and Gavin was heartfelt, and that suited me.

Being famous is brilliant and exciting, but after a while, it just becomes horrible. I remember going to the Baftas after the first series of Gavin Stacey and thinking that no one would know who

I was, but when I got out of the car, everyone was screaming my name and wanting to talk to me.

You get invited to loads of parties and sent free gifts and it all seems amazing at first, but then it starts to feel false. The people you meet are so superficial, and the things they think are important really aren’t. You are judged on your hair and make up and what you are wearing, and I got to the point where I thought, “I don’t want to be doing this glitzy stuff any more.”‘

Jumper, Red Valentino, From Harvey Nichols. Skirt, Roksanda Ilincic, from Selfridges. Ring, Lara Bohinc. Previous page: Dress, Vivienne Westwood, from Matches. Earrings, Tatty Devine

I’ve got a wardrobe full of designer dresses Alexander McQueen, Vera Wang, Armani. When we moved house, I got them out and tried them on again and it felt strange, because the person who bought those dresses doesn’t feel like me inside any more. If I go to a party now, I’d much rather be wearing my new outfit from French Connection. So I’ll keep one or two of the designer dresses in case I have a daughter that I can pass them on to, but I’m going to sell the rest of them.

I am Welsh before I am British. I’m fiercely proud of my Welsh roots. My dad’s a garage mechanic, my mum worked in financial services before she retired. They still live in our family home and they gave me the most blessed, stable, happy childhood any girl could have wished for.

I’m good in my own company, probably because I’m an only child. As a little girl, I didn’t yearn to go off and play with other children I would spend hours reading or playing with the contents of my dressing up box. James is the same he is the youngest of four, but his siblings are so much older than him that he was effectively an only child. He says he likes it when it is just him and me together, and I’m the same. A perfect day for me is working in the garden with my dog Daisy and not having to talk to anyone. And then when James comes in from work, I cook him supper on the Aga and we settle down in front of the telly.

A Gavin type would never work for me in real life. I am too feisty I need a man I can’t walk over. James is an alpha male passionate and strong. He stands up to me and calms me down when I get manic, while I make him more positive and optimistic.

The first moment I saw James I turned to my mother and said, ‘I want that man to be the father of my children.’ We both had roles in a BBC adaptation of David Copperfield, but none of our scenes was together so I only set eyes on him when I watched it on screen. That was in 1999, and it wasn’t until more than a year later that we met when he was starring in The Cherry Orchard at the National with my friend Maxine Peake. She called and said, ‘There’s a man here who says he’s in love with you.’ I had always said I never wanted to get married, but as soon as we started going out, I couldn’t wait for him to propose.

Our wedding was a double celebration because it took place just after my mum recovered from breast cancer. She found a lump while I was filming Love Actually [Joanna had a highly memorable cameo alongside Martin Freeman as the porn film stand ins who killed time on set with mundane chatter about Christmas shopping]. Fortunately after treatment she was fine, but when you’ve lived through that thought of, ‘Oh my God, my mother might die,’ it puts all the other stuff in your life into perspective.

When I was 28, I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. I was waking up in the morning feeling like I’d been drugged and I just couldn’t get warm. The heating would be on full blast, and I’d be layered up in thermals, Uggs and a hat, while James sweated in a vest and summer shorts. Eventually I dragged myself to the doctor and a blood test identified the problem. Basically it means my body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone thyroxine. It can be treated with tablets which I will have to take for the rest of my life. It’s frustrating, but things could be far worse. As long as I manage my dosages, I am fine.

I’ve always looked about half my age. I was buying some beers in Tesco the other day when the woman at the checkout asked for some ID. When I started laughing, she said, ‘You look familiar like that girl in Gavin Stacey.’ I had to tell her, ‘Yes, it’s me. I am Stacey and I promise you I’m old enough to buy this beer!’

When I was younger, I thought I might never want children. But in the past year, the broodiness has hit me. My underactive thyroid affects my body clock, but if my medication is sorted, there is no reason why I shouldn’t get pregnant. I’m an optimist. That comes from my parents they instilled in me the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to. So I think everything will be fine and if it’s not, then we will deal with it.

James has always wanted children, but if for some reason it didn’t happen, we both know it wouldn’t be the end of our world. We’d just get loads of dogs and carry on living happily as
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