Most recently, fans saw Connie suffering a brutal attack at work, while in 2017 she was diagnosed with cancer. The storyline brought back painful memories for Mealing, who revealed it had re-triggered the post-traumatic stress (PTSD) she’d experienced following her own cancer battle.
“I was happy to talk about it, because Casualty is a prime-time drama and a great way to bring awareness of health issues that affect so many people,” she said at the time. Mealing was diagnosed with breast cancer just days after the birth of her second son in 2002, and later underwent a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemo. She recovered, but the PTSD – a mental health condition can be triggered by ongoing or sudden traumatic experiences – came a few years later.
Here, Mealing, 51, who recently returned from a trip to Ghana in support of WaterAid’s Water Effect Appeal, talks about Connie, not letting fear hold her back, and why sleep, daily chanting and Pilates have become important parts of her wellness regime...
You’ve been playing Connie for a long time – do you feel really connected to the character now?
“Every other day, I wonder whether I’ve morphed into Connie or she’s morphed into me, because I’ve been playing her for so long. I’m actually really proud of her because she’s feisty, minxy, can be a bit of a bitch, but beneath her tough exterior is a complex sometimes vulnerable character. When I first got the role, there were very few leading female characters and those that were there, were secondary to the male lead: the wife, mistress, lover, daughter. Playing a woman who was not only fiercely independent, but highly skilled and able to play the boys at their own game, was a dream of a part. Moreover, she’s not afraid of her sexuality.
“Since then, things have changed a lot in the world of drama. I’m pleased that over the years, Connie’s proved to be a bit of role model for young girls. So many contact me to say it helps them aspire to a career and make something of themselves.”
Are you and Connie alike?
“I see a little bit of me in her. I’m quite determined and not afraid to speak my mind, but while Connie’s personal life is a bit of a car crash, thankfully mine’s completely different!
“Whereas Connie’s sacrificed absolutely everything for her career to the detriment of all her relationships, including the one with her daughter, Grace, I have a very happy home life with my husband Richard, a writer and producer and our two sons – Otis, 19, and Milo, 16.
“She’s never been lucky in love – but I’m going to talk to what I call the ‘grown-ups’ on the show, about her really making something of her on/off romance with Jacob [played by Charles Venn]. I think they’re really well matched. And I think Connie needs something like that, particularly as she was brutally attacked recently, which is really going to impact her badly emotionally.”
Would you like to return to Holby City?
“I started in Holby City, so have a real affection for it. When the two shows combined recently for a crossover episode, it was brilliant, and like reuniting with an old friend. I don’t know if it [going back again] could happen, but it would be quite fun. I think Connie’s at her best when she’s in the thick of it, dealing with the politics of hospital management, which is that show’s focus. I love the clashes with Jac Naylor [Rosie Marcel], as they’re both alpha women. It makes it even more interesting, and off-screen we’re great friends.
“I only quit Holby after six years because my children were very young, and living miles away from the studios and long work hours meant I lost out on family time. When I joined Casualty, we moved to Cardiff where it’s filmed, so I could easily combine work and family life. I love the show, and I direct as well as act. There’s a real family vibe, as we all work so closely together constantly, whereas Holby’s filmed on several different sets, so you might not bump into some people for weeks at a time.”
You had breast cancer 16 years ago – how has that affected you?
“At the time it happened, my whole focus was battling to survive and cope with the treatment. I’d just had my second baby when I was diagnosed, and to go from giving life to having my own hanging in the balance was almost impossible to face, let alone process.
“Thankfully, the treatment was successful, but a few years later I got debilitating PTSD. I’ve since learnt the emotional and psychological fallout of fighting cancer, or facing one’s own mortality, can last for years. I recovered – but playing Connie brought back flashbacks of my own experience and re-triggered the anxiety and panic attacks I’d suffered before.
“Fortunately, I knew how to quickly seek help and therapy this time around. While I still have a low-level anxiety, I have strategies to deal with it, which ground me and calm me.”
How do you look after your health?
“I enjoy being active and have run the London Marathon several times, but I’ve paid a price for it. I’ve had sciatica for a year and I’m still trying to get it sorted out. It’s dreadful, agonisingly painful, and I’m suffering a lot with it at the moment. Yoga and Pilates, which I do in my dressing room as well as at home, gives me some relief.
“Generally, I try to eat healthily, drink a lot of water, and recognise the importance of sleep. Recently, I realised how much I’d learnt from the show about health and medical procedures. On my way to work, I came across a guy unconscious on the street. I went into ‘Connie’ mode, checking his airway, putting him into the recovery position, and making checks on him and calling an ambulance. It was rather weird after that to go into work and pretend to be medical.”
What gives you a perspective on life?
“I lost my brother when I was a teenager, and that tragedy really made me determined to embrace life and not worry about the thought of failure. I realised life can be short, so I always push myself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
“Visiting Ghana to support WaterAid’s Water Effect Appeal to get clean water and sanitation to health centres around the world was shocking, heartbreaking but also inspiring. I met people who struggle so much because they don’t have clean running water, and it was humbling to see how hard they work to battle against every difficulty.
“It makes you really appreciate what we have and take for granted. Going there meant a lot to me, because I was adopted as a baby and it was an opportunity to connect to the home of my biological paternal grandparents.”
How do you look after your wellbeing?
“Apart from my occasional anxiety, I’m a very optimistic person. I always try to look for the positive, which is part of my Buddhist faith. I chant for 20 minutes in the morning and in the evening, which is calming and helps foster a good outlook.”
Amanda Mealing is supporting WaterAid’s Water Effect appeal to get clean water and good sanitation into health centres around the world. For more information, visit wateraid.org