For a kid who was always down the rink, it’s been a thrill to get her skates on and tell the inspiring story of the world beating skaters, she tells Janet Christie
I love doing period dramas,” says Jaime Winstone, talking about ITV’s Torvill & Dean biopic to be screened this Christmas and underlining that the late 1970s now qualify for that category, with carriages and frock coats updated to Cortinas and flares. While Torvill and Dean are still part of our cultural landscape thanks to Dancing on Ice, Winstone, now a mother and into her thirties, wasn’t alive when their Bolero scored perfect sixes and carried off the Olympic gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.
To echo LP Hartley’s opening line of The Go-Between, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ and Winstone loves nothing better than taking a journey back in time.
“It’s set in the late Seventies, and I was born in 1985,” she says. “We get an insight into what people’s lives were like – it’s kind of 1970s Gothic, a time before influencers and YouTubers. But I’ve always known about them, so I was amazed that they had won the gold before I was born! I always thought I’d grown up in the Torvill and Dean era – well, I have really, because they’ve been a household name from my young years,” she says, then confirms her child of the 1980s vintage by adding, “but how did I know about them? There was no Twitter or social media then.”
As Winstone says, it’s because they’ve been a fixture in our national psyche since they revolutionised ice dancing and championed skating as entertainment as well as sport. Not to mention further popularising Ravel’s Bolero, which unlike the rest of us the composer hated, probably causing him to triple axel in his grave.
Winstone, however, loved nothing better than whirling around the ice and Torvill and Dean were natural heroes, she tells me in an accent a little more estuary than her famous dad Ray’s cockney, the family having left London for Essex when she was in her late teens.
“I loved them. I grew up in North London so I was always one of the kids on the ice at the weekend at the Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace]. But I didn’t expect to be skating in front of a film crew 30 years later,” she says.
Delighted to land a part in the T&D story, Winstone got her skates on and was soon back on the ice preparing for the role of trainer Janet Sawbridge, alongside Game of Thrones actor Will Tudor as Christopher Dean and Poppy Lee Friar (Mr Selfridge, Ackley Bridge) as Jayne Torvill. Stephen Tompkinson and Jo Hartley play Jayne’s parents, Dean Andrews and Christine Bottomley are Christopher Dean’s and Anita Dobson also stars.
It was Sawbridge who first spotted Torvill and Dean’s potential and paired them for the first time, igniting the spark that saw them go on to become Olympic gold medallists and the highest scoring figure skaters of all time. To get up to speed with the part, Winstone trained with Britain’s current ice dancing Olympians Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland.
“Penny and Nick were amazing, both so into it and we had lots of fun on the ice. It was great training with them, and really helped me get into the role of Janet Sawbridge. As soon as I put on the track suit and slid out onto the ice, I was her. She didn’t take any prisoners; she wasn’t strict, just firm and direct. Her way was to throw people in at the deep end, or the wet and slippery end,” she laughs.
Torvill & Dean writer William Ivory also wrote Made in Dagenham set in 1968, another ‘period drama’ in which Winstone starred as one of the machinists at the Ford car plant fighting for equal pay. Having family who worked at Dagenham and a mother, Elaine, and grandmother who were machinists, she felt a personal connection to the story.
“My mum was very good at tailoring and textiles. She was an interior designer for a while too, and loves her clothes. I think that’s where I get my love of clothes from,” she says.
“Every job you work on you take a bit of the character away and it becomes part of your character. Something always comes with you – mine’s usually a piece of clothing. This time it was Janet’s 1970s tracksuit, I loved that! So does my mum. But you always take something else away with you too, something of someone’s character.”
Torvill & Dean focuses on the duo’s early years and we catch up with them in their late teens in 1970s working class Nottingham. Torvill is an insurance clerk and Dean a trainee policeman, struggling with his parents’ divorce, and for both the ice is a form of escape that evolves into a passion. We see them winning their first competitions in Sheffield and Bristol, skating off with European then international titles and launching themselves on the winning curve that would see them go on to win Olympic gold.
“We really get to know Jayne and Chris from a young age when their passion for skating begins and their working relationship is formed.They go to the rink in their spare time and whatever’s going on at home, they’re always on the ice and concentrating,” says Winstone. “Janet Sawbridge saw two sparks at either side of the room and brought them together, formed them and they went on to become national treasures.”
Winstone is no stranger to national treasures, being the daughter of Ray, exponent of the working class hard man school of acting, who has long been filling cinemas with films ranging from Scum to Sexy Beast to this autumn’s blagbuster King of Thieves, the story of the 2015 Hatton Garden robbery, with Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Jim Broadbent and Michael Gambon.
Having a famous father meant Winstone had misgivings about following an acting career herself, despite sharing her father’s interest from a young age and spending time with him on sets.
“Acting was definitely an escape for me when I first started, to go into new characters. I was more interested in the story side of things and did anything that went under the entertainment bracket at school. I liked to study and work hard, but I struggled with dyslexia. That opened up a bigger door for me in the arts and it suits where my skills were. I’m good with people and I love doing theatre and film. It’s about fine tuning your qualities and I love doing something raw and creative. For me it’s perfect.”
Aware she would be judged, she felt conflicted about pursuing it as a career, but nevertheless studied acting at Harlow College.
“If your parents are successful in an area there’s pressure on you to prove yourself. There was a hint of denial in my early teens because we moved from London where I went to an all-girls school and no-one knew who my dad was, to Essex where there was more attention on him because that was when his career took off overnight and he became famous.
“And you want to fight stereotypes anyway, if you’re a teenager. So I said I want to go into writing and directing. But so be it, it’s in my blood to act.”
Winstone’s father Ray hit the big time with Nil by Mouth when he was 40 and suddenly the spotlight was on Jaime and her elder sister Lois, a musician and model, now 36. Youngest sister Ellie Rae joined the family in 2001.
“It’s difficult to make life choices, but I was lucky enough to be guided by my parents. I had done a lot of travelling with my dad and was on film sets with him, being a runner and assistant, and that was really helpful in terms of taking the fear away. Then a casting director got me an audition and explained the process to me. I was very embarrassed and weird about it, but they got me to do a long improvisation and that was the first time I had taken acting seriously. I left the audition feeling ‘this is what I’m supposed to be doing’ and from that day on I did.
“I wouldn’t always get the job or get seen and you have to have a very thick skin in this business, but the ones you do get have a big impact on you.”
Being in the public eye wasn’t always to Jaime’s liking and for a while she was tabloid fodder, along with her then partner Alfie Allen and his sister Lily, being snapped on red carpets and out on the town.
“In my twenties there were a lot of free newspapers going around and they had to fill them and I was one of the children of famous people. It was hard. I would be lying to say it didn’t have an effect and make me want to fight against the machine. Now I’m thankful that I’m a working actress but there was definitely damage done. You want to be yourself, but my dad was Ray Winstone and they liked to assume certain things. That’s not me. But you just have to get over it. It’s tomorrow’s chip paper.”
After college Winstone launched herself into a film career with small parts in Bullet Boy and Love Letter and made a real impression playing Becky in Menhaj Houda’s 2006 British teenage drugs, sex and violence rite of passage film, Kidulthood and its sequels.
“With Becky in Kidulthood it was the first time, and I didn’t know how to act. I had seen my dad but I was a real virgin and acting’s the opposite of lying, it’s just becoming. So my method then was to become the part and live it and that’s how I became the character. Also at my school there had been a girl who was very out of control and fearless, so I combined the two. The film was dealing with abortion and drugs, things that young girls do and are faced with and so for true life characters I could incorporate them into me. Now there’s a little bit more of a method in what I do.”
Next came Dead Set, the 2008 horror series, with its Big Brother house under siege by zombies storyline that saw Jaime playing Kelly the show runner.
“I’m lucky in that I started when I was 16 and got to work with a lot of young, fresh directors, like Dead Set’s Yann Demange and with Charlie Brooker, who wrote it. I worked with people trying new projects that luckily were very successful and that gave me confidence in what I could be doing.”
More films followed, such as Made in Dagenham, the 2011 teen comedy Anuvahood, Powder Room and Love, Rosie, and she won praise for her disinterested mother to Jessica Barden’s Ellen in the eponymous Channel 4 TV movie in 2016. Meanwhile on TV she has racked up appearances in MIT: Murder Investigation Team, Vincent (with her dad), Mad Dogs, Foyle’s War as well as starring as Lauren in the Sky 1 sitcom After Hours.
Another thing Winstone loves playing is real people, as in Torvill & Dean, and previously in 2016 when she stepped into into a young Dame Barbara Windsor’s stilettoes and leopard print in the BBC biopic Babs.
Casting her as the twenty and thirtysomething Windsor before Samantha Spiro picks her up mid-50s, it was masterful casting. Windsor thought so too. Fifteen years before, a young Winstone had been sitting behind Windsor at an awards ceremony and when the elder actor heard her cackle and titter, she turned round and said ‘you should play me!’.
“What an honour to work with Barbara Windsor,” says Winstone. “We worked with her on a daily basis and to be guided by her through her life... If you’re playing real people you get the opportunity to show who they really were. And people like her need a certain amount of character to strive for the top.”
With her career on track, Winstone took time out after having her son Raymond (named because he’s the spitting image of his grandfather), now two and a half, with partner DJ James Suckling. She enjoyed the break, yet worried about being out of the business for a while.
“I took a year out and it does play on your mind. Are people going to forget about you? Then there are weight issues…” She laughs.
“But when you have a child all that stuff really melts away and you focus on the prize, which is what is the good material? Who are the good people to work with? Your work focus is pure and better, and you’re more consistent.”
As it turned out Winstone found the changes in her life away from the cameras altered how she was perceived and the roles she was offered in a positive way.
“People look at you differently, and they think that because you’re a mother, you can play a mother. I’m getting more interesting roles these days.”
Her latest film, Farming, is due to be released after Christmas, and also stars Kate Beckinsale. It’s about Nigerian children being fostered in 1980s London and follows the story of a Yorba child placed with a white working class family who grows up to join a white skinhead gang.
“It’s really interesting,” says Winstone, “directed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and I’m very excited to see it. I’m also about to do another film that’s not confirmed, so I can’t talk about that yet!”
She’s also got a wedding with Suckling to plan somewhere down the line, but for the moment, “we’re concentrating on life,” she says. “And when we get a moment and he stops working and I stop working long enough, more kids, yeah!”
Winstone is big on family, and what better than to be able to sit down with hers this Christmas, sprawled on the sofas, like the rest of the country, to watch Torvill & Dean.
“I’m really honoured and excited to be in it,” she says. “Especially at Christmas. It’s certainly one for getting all snuggly on the sofa to. There’s something quite romantic about the Torvill and Dean era. It’s a story in which there is no darkness, nothing gritty… and we’re all infatuated with them. People are in the mood for something like this... an inspiring story where if you work hard and believe in something, you can end up at the top.”
Torvill & Dean airs on Christmas Day at 9:15pm on STV