Interview: Sandy McDade - Potential to get married to a postman

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Sandy McDade thinks herself lucky to have landed a role in Lark Rise to Candleford, but, finds CATHERINE SALMOND, a career in acting was always on the cards

'THEY'RE so uncomfortable – I'm always trying to get the costume people to let mine out."

Actress Sandy McDade laughs as she describes wedging herself into tight, heavy, intricate corsets on the set of the hugely popular BBC Lark Rise to Candleford series – a show she has now been in for more than two years.

"Honestly, some women love them," she says. "But not me. I have to work on breathing out."

McDade, 45, who grew up in Gracemount, considers herself immensely lucky to have landed a role in the show, first hitting our screens in the 2008 series as Margaret Ellison, who went on to marry and become Margaret Brown – stealing the hearts of millions of viewers in the process.

"I am grateful the producers liked what they saw and asked me back, realising I had the potential to go on to marry a postman," she laughs.

The success of the show – it's now a fixture on the Sunday evening calendar for millions of fans – means talk of filming another series is floating around the corridors of the BBC.

McDade says she would jump at the chance to stay in the role, insisting the six months of filming a year are like "a holiday".

"We film in Bristol and Bath, which is great. The people are wonderful, as is the job. Honestly, it's like a holiday."

The show started as an adaptation of Flora Stevenson's memoir of her Oxford childhood and is set at the end of the 19th century in the small village of Lark Rise – just a stone's throw from Candleford, a wealthy market town.

McDade is just one of a star-studded cast who has worked to make the show the national treasure it is today, acting alongside Julia Sawalha and Dawn French, to name only two.

"Dawn French was wonderful – really great fun on set," she says. "But she was also a very committed actress who was very serious about getting things right."

And while such success could hardly be predicted, even as a 14-year-old pupil at Gracemount High School, McDade knew acting was what she wanted to do – and by 15, she had a place with the Scottish Youth Theatre, making her debut at the Capital's Royal Lyceum Theatre.

"The production was called The Children's Crusades," she says. "I remember being chuffed to bits because there weren't many female parts, yet the directors changed the role of a male farmer to a female, just for me. It was a decent speaking part and I also had to plough fields when my children went away."

McDade's parents, Joan and Bill McDade, who live in Ferryfield, have been pillars of support from that moment on.

Her mum was an avid costume maker and was one of her daughter's "biggest fans", traipsing around the country for rehearsals and performances to help make her dreams a reality.

"My mum definitely had the potential to be an actress herself," McDade explains. "Maybe that's where I get it from. She used to take me to see shows a lot and therefore gave me an awful lot of opportunities.

"Growing up in Edinburgh also really helped, but the fact my mum was willing to pack in four shows a day during the Festival was great."

It has been a long and varied career for McDade, who left the Capital aged 19 for London to make her name in show business.

Lark Rise to Candleford has been her longest running television part, but she has also had roles in Taggart, Silent Witness, Hamish Macbeth and The Office.

On stage, she says one of her most memorable roles was in Rona Munro's Iron at the Traverse Theatre, for which she scooped the Best Actress title at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for her role as Fay, a murderer.

The show premiered as a Traverse Theatre Company production during the 2002 Festival and was then taken to London's Royal Court the following year.

An intense psychological drama in which the characters try to break through barriers which have separated them, it follows the story of Fay, who is being visited in prison by her daughter for the first time in 15 years

"It was very fulfilling. It gave me so much and for a few years after that I did not want to do any other theatre," she says.

Speaking from her London home where she lives with her husband David, 46, and their three children, Skye, 23, Miriam, 14, and Clara, 12, McDade admits she misses Edinburgh.

"I have been away for such a long time that I see the city somewhat rose-tinted," she laughs. "I really miss the humour of the people though."

Just last year, the actress and her family bought a colony property in Stockbridge to use as a base when visiting the city – something she hopes will allow them to be here more often and for longer.

"It's funny, because when I was growing up I used to have lessons at Glenogle swimming pool and used to pass these houses a lot," she says. "I used to think they were like a fairytale village and Glenogle was some sort of castle. I never thought I would have a little piece of it of my own."

But London is where she must stay, at the moment for work – although it wouldn't take much to lure the actress back home.

"I would love to work in Edinburgh again," she says. "But I really feel parts should go to people who actually live here all the time.

"I suppose if there are any spare ones going though – I'd definitely take them."

Fans of Lark Rise to Candleford can, of course, see McDade on their screens at the moment with the next episode of series three showing tomorrow night.

It's unlikely all her own children will be sitting down to view the show though as McDade admits her eldest teenage daughter finds anything with her mum in it highly embarrassing.

"She normally leaves the room," she says.

"I think the beauty of the programme is that families do watch it together though. It comes to a Sunday night and you know nothing terrible is going to happen to anyone in it – right always does prevail."

Lark Rise to Candleford, 8pm BBC1, Sunday