Cambridge-born actress Katherine Kingsley on switching on city’s Christmas lights, supporting the NSPCC and her new role as Dusty Springfield

PUBLISHED: 11:19 10 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:19 10 November 2017

Katherine Kingsley, who will turn on the Cambridge Christmas lights in 2017

Katherine Kingsley, who will turn on the Cambridge Christmas lights in 2017

ILIFFE

The star, who attended Parkside and Long Road Sixth Form, also discusses growing up in Cambridge - and playing a Victorian dominatrix for a Netflix drama.

Light Up Christmas for Children - the NSPCC campaign supported by the Cambridge IndependentLight Up Christmas for Children - the NSPCC campaign supported by the Cambridge Independent

Actress Katherine Kingsley has told how she is looking forward to returning to her home city of Cambridge to switch on the Christmas lights later this month.

The three-time Olivier Award nominee told the Cambridge Independent she was keen to help the NSPCC, which will benefit from the ‘Big Switch-on’ in the market square on Sunday November 19.

There will be choirs, dance troupes, performers and music from 12pm, and Katherine will switch on the lights at 5pm, following festivities at the Grand Arcade at 4pm.

“It came as a complete surprise to be asked to do it,” she said. “It’s really nice because I was born and bred in Cambridge and some of my family still live there.

The Big Switch-on in Cambridge in 2016. Picture: Keith HeppellThe Big Switch-on in Cambridge in 2016. Picture: Keith Heppell

“If in any way I can help raise awareness for such a great charity, then I’m 100 per cent behind that. This is the biggest reason to do this – I’m hugely keen.

“It’s really important because Christmas is such a special time for people but it’s also a very difficult time for vulnerable people – adults as well but particularly children, when you’re starting your life and it should just be fun and joyful and full of family and love.”

She encouraged those attending to donate £4 by texting LIGHTS12 to 70800 to help it run Childline.

The Cambridge Independent has teamed up with the NSPCC and Cambridge BID this year to support ‘Light Up Christmas for Children’ – the nationwide campaign to raise money for Childline.

Katherine Kingsley was raised in CambridgeKatherine Kingsley was raised in Cambridge

Some 175,000 phone calls and online chats from young people, some of whom will have been in desperate need of help, could not be answered in time by Childline last year due to the demand on its services.

The free phone and online chat service, founded by Esther Rantzen more than 30 years ago, needs more support so counsellors can be there for the one in four children and teenagers who hang up or log off while held in a queue.

In particular, the NSPCC-supported service needs £500,000 more per year to employ extra staff to support volunteers so they can respond to tens of thousands more young people who are contacting them via the website or on their phones during the peak hours of 4pm and 1am.

“It’s good to be part of raising awareness and encouraging people to donate,” said Katherine. “That will really help strengthen Childline so if there are young people who need to speak to anybody over the Christmas period, there will be people able to support them 24/7.

An increasing number of calls from suicidal children are being taken by the NSPCC-supported Childline. Picture posed by a model.An increasing number of calls from suicidal children are being taken by the NSPCC-supported Childline. Picture posed by a model.

“We mustn’t forget that there are some people who don’t have the families, love and support that we’ve had in our lives. I feel really strongly about that and it’s a really nice thing to be supporting.”

Katherine looks back on own upbringing in Cambridge with fond memories. She attended Parkside and Long Road Sixth Form.

“I had a good time at school,” she recalled. “Cambridge was a very nice environment to grow up in. It’s a lovely city full of independent minds and spirits. It’s changed a lot though.

“My niece Lilian is at St Matthew’s now and her younger sister will be going there too, so it’s interesting watching them follow my steps, school-wise. I loved growing up in Cambridge and the summers near the Mill Pond… it was lots of fun.”

Katherine Kingsley says she is pleased to support the NSPCC by switching on Cambridge's Christmas lightsKatherine Kingsley says she is pleased to support the NSPCC by switching on Cambridge's Christmas lights

It was during her childhood that Katherine’s path into a successful acting career began.

“I started doing a Saturday morning drama group with a lady called Jackie Cunningham and that was my route into drama,” she recalled. “I stopped doing it in my teens and fell out of it but when I turned 18 I moved to London to do a course with the English National Opera and that took me down the path of acting. I went to Bristol Old Vic theatre school as a consequence.”

Katherine was born into an artistic family – her father is a retired architect and an accomplished artist. Her mother is also a keen artist, having studied for an MA at the University of Cambridge as a mature student. Both are keen on music, but neither has any acting background.

“I’ve got three brothers – one is a writer, one is an artist and another is a town planner. I’m a bit of a black sheep really…” she laughed.

The 2016 Big Switch-on in Cambridge. Picture: Keith HeppellThe 2016 Big Switch-on in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

A black sheep who has won widespread critical acclaim.

Her portrayal of Marlene Dietrich in Piaf, Lina Lamont in Singin’ In The Rain and Helena, which she played opposite David Walliams and Sheridan Smith in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, earned her Olivier Award nominations. In 2014, she played Christine Colgate in the West End production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Katherine has also worked widely on TV, with roles in The Bill, Casualty, Hollyoaks, Bad Education, Uncle Series 2 and the film Genius, starring Jude Law, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.

“I started off in theatre. I love being on the stage. There’s something incredibly thrilling and fulfilling about a role on the stage. You start at the beginning and you complete it within two hours and the audience has been with you,” she said. “When you are filming something, it’s much more fragmented and completely different but wonderfully enjoyable.

“I’ve been focusing more in the last year on screen work. I’ve just been filming in Budapest for The Alienist, which is an American drama that will air in January,” she said.

The switch-on in Cambridge attracts hundreds of families. Picture: Keith HeppellThe switch-on in Cambridge attracts hundreds of families. Picture: Keith Heppell

Netflix has acquired the international rights to the psychological thriller, based on the book by Caleb Carr, which is set in 1896, when New York is gripped by a series of murders of boy prostitutes.

“I play a Victorian dominatrix prostitute – a madame,” says Katherine. “The Alienist is a Victorian term for ‘psychologist’, which is a term they didn’t have in this period. Everybody is part of a dark underworld. I have a brilliant psychological scene with Daniel Bruhl. It should be brilliant.”

Katherine has also just finished filming Eric, Ernie and Me for BBC.

“I play Joan Morecambe and it’s about Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and their relationship with their writer Eddie Braben and that should air over Christmas,” she said. “So I’ve been quite busy and it’s all really very varied roles. It’s great.

Cambridge's market square during the 2016 switch-on. Picture: Keith HeppellCambridge's market square during the 2016 switch-on. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I always wanted to do a variety. I don’t want to get pigeonholed in one genre. I’ve done Shakespeare, musicals, screen. I want to do it all really and hope I can continue to!”

Next year, Katherine will take on the lead role in Dusty, a musical about the life of Dusty Springfield written by Jonathan Harvey.

“It’s an amazing piece produced by the people who managed and produced Dusty’s music,” said Katherine, who will sing hits including Son of a Preacher Man, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and I Only Want to Be with You.

“It’s a really brilliant piece, like a biopic, that tells the story of her life, her difficulties and it’s very funny at the same time. The music is incredible,” she said.

The festive lights go on Cambridge in 2016The festive lights go on Cambridge in 2016

Directed by Maria Friedman, the show will open in Bath on June 23, and will travel to Sheffield, Newcastle and Salford, after which it is expected to open in the West End.

Katherine admits: “There’s nothing like the nerves of an opening night! And doing a long run, you can do eight shows a week. Sometimes it can be up to a year. I try not to do anything like that because I think there lies madness.

“One of the great things about not doing theatre at the moment is I do feel a bit more rested! You use your voice and your body on stage. It’s really hard. But it’s also amazing and the audience give you so much back. You are like an athlete really when you’re doing a theatre run.”

Katherine is married to actor Dominic Tighe.

Hundreds watch the Christmas lights go on in Cambridge in 2016. Picture: Keith HeppellHundreds watch the Christmas lights go on in Cambridge in 2016. Picture: Keith Heppell

“He’s just been in Denmark doing Hamlet,” she said, admitting they can be like “ships in the night”.

This year, they are looking forward to spending the season together.

“I’m not working over Christmas for the first time in years. The plan is we’ll be in Cambridge for Christmas Day and we might try to get to Devon, where Dom is from, in the run-up.”

First though, Katherine will do the honours in Cambridge’s market square, part of a weekend of celebrations in the city that will also see the Grand Arcade, The Grafton centre and Cambridge’s independent traders hold events.

Xmas lights switch on on the Grand Arcade and Market Square. Picture: Keith HeppellXmas lights switch on on the Grand Arcade and Market Square. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I’m thrilled to be part of it,” said Katherine. “It will be lots of fun.”

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