Sonja bags a partridge

MOST smitten couples want the approval of their families when they decide to tie the knot, so actress Amelia Bullmore and actor Paul Higgins were a little taken aback by the reaction from their parents to their happy announcement.

Former Big Train and Coronation Street star Bullmore is back on screens playing the fiery Sonja, the girlfriend of Radio Norwich DJ Alan Partridge in I’m Alan Partridge which starts on BBC2 on Monday.

The 38-year-old actress and Higgins have now been happily married for nine years and live in Kennington, south London, with their two daughters Mary, seven and five-year-old Flora. These days both sets of parents couldn’t be more happy about the match, but they had a very different reaction when the couple originally revealed their plans to marry.

Bullmore recalls: "I remember going home to tell my mum that I was in love and that Paul was an actor. Mum said just because I lived in a pond didn’t mean I had to marry a frog."

Her future husband didn’t receive a better reaction when he announced that he had fallen head over heels for a fellow thespian.

"Paul went to tell his mum that he was in love with a well known actress. She asked him if she would know me and he told her I was Steph Barnes from Coronation Street.

"His mum just said, ‘Oh my God we all hate her’. Luckily both sides of the family moved on pretty quickly - thank goodness!"

Despite this initial reaction Bullmore was never in any doubt that she had met her perfect match.

"It is just so much easier that we are both actors. I love hearing about Paul’s latest job and he is the same with me. We even help each other with our lines.

"We have the same agent too, which means that they know whether we would probably be interested in a job because of our family commitments."

Bullmore is unsure if either one of their daughters will follow in their footsteps and end up treading the boards.

"When some people come to the house and see them play acting they tell me they are chips off the old block but I think most kids play act - they all have great imaginations.

"Both girls are pretty strong-willed and I think once they’ve made up their mind to do something they’ll do it. Mary says she wants to be an author - she has already started leaving notes round the house to prove her point.

"Flora is a bit of a thrill-seeker and she wants to be a professional surfer but she is a little bit accident prone, so I don’t think that’s a very good combination."

Born and raised in London, Bullmore studied drama at Manchester University and then formed a cabaret group called Red Stockings. She got her big break when she was spotted performing at Manchester’s Contact Theatre.

"I was only 26 when I got cast as Steph Barnes and she was a great character to play. She was in a long line of feisty women to come out of Weatherfield.

"I had some great storylines - lots of arguing, smashing plates, fires and even broken legs. It was a great laugh having a pretend marriage on screen and Phil Middlemiss and myself turned into something of a double act.

"But it got to feel safe and I just knew I had to move on, even if I have never had so much money in my bank account before or since."

After leaving the Street, Bullmore discovered she had another talent as a writer. She even wrote a couple of episodes of the classic TV series This Life and has a famous friend to thank for getting her started in the first place.

"I’ve always written, but after university I put that side of things on the backburner. Then Niamh Cussack gave me a much-needed kick up the backside and I started writing again. She gave me the confidence to start script writing."

But acting currently has the upper hand. As well as appearing in I’m Alan Partridge, Bullmore is filming the new Paul Abbott political thriller State Of Play.

It is five years since Alan Partridge was last seen on our screens. Last time he was down on his luck, his wife had left him, his TV show was cancelled, he was living in a motel and doing the graveyard shift on Radio Norwich.

The new series sees a change for the better as Partridge now has a regular slot on the radio station, is building his dream home and has a Ukrainian girlfriend, played by Bullmore.

She explains: "Sonja had come to this country to be with another man but he went back to his wife. Luckily, she met Alan in the mobile phone store.

"She likes him and thinks he is a good catch. His posters are all over Norwich, she is convinced he is a powerful man and he has done nothing to convince her otherwise."

Bullmore reveals she was the first person approached to play the part and thinks she knows why writers approached her.

"I think they had just seen me in the comedy sketch show Big Train and other shows and just thought I was good at playing foreigners."

I’m Alan Partridge starts on BBC2 on Monday, 10pm