The Forum talks with Diane Keen

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Diane Keen is one of Britain’s most recognisable and best-loved actresses.

She has starred in some of our most iconic television series from ‘Cuckoo Waltz’, ‘Rings on their Fingers’, ‘A Touch of Frost’, to ten years in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. More recently she spent nine years playing Practice Manager Julia Parsons in the BBC’s ‘Doctors’. She’s starred in many films including ‘The Sweeney Movie’, ‘Silver Dream Racer’ with David Essex, ‘Sleeps Six’ with Ben Kingsley and ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ alongside Michael Caine.

How long has Diane been living in Hampshire, and does she have a favourite place?
I’ve been living in Hampshire since filming the Ruth Rendell series, so that was around 1991. Hampshire is God’s own country! I loved living in London and I love the buzz it gives you – but there’s nothing like getting back on the train knowing I’ll be in the countryside again very soon. Winchester Hill is one of my favourite places, in fact I used to train there for my Kilimanjaro climb for charity a couple of years ago.

How did you become an actress?
With great difficulty and a lot of dedication and hard work, it’s the only way to achieve something you really want. I was brought up in Kenya, so arriving in England at 18 was a bit of a culture shock, but I also had the advantage of having no preconceived ideas. To me everything was possible.

I read an article in the paper about an agent so I took myself off to meet with them and I persuaded them to take me on! When you’re young, you’re so fearless and driven. They took me onto their books! I found myself working on a teenage magazine program for what was then Southern Television with Fred Dinage. He was so wonderful to work with and taught me a lot about working with TV cameras. I’d never even been in a tv studio before then. We became, and still are, very good friends. It’s not easy in this industry though, you must be strong and dedicated and prepared to accept a lot of rejection which is hard. You really have to believe in yourself otherwise no one else will.

I wonder, which of her many parts has Diane most enjoyed?
Gosh that’s a difficult one. I think the Cuckoo Waltz with Lewis Collins and David Roper was definitely one, it was a gift of a part and brilliantly written by Geoffrey Lancashire. Working with the great, iconic Trevor Howard on ‘Shillingbury Blowers’ was unforgettable too, as was doing the film ‘Thirteen at Dinner’ with Peter Ustinov and Faye Dunaway.

You starred as Practice Manager Julia Parsons in the BBC ‘Doctors’ series for nine years before leaving. Was that a difficult decision for you?
Oh yes, I played Julia for nine years, the cast and crew are like family. The brilliant thing about that series is that there is a new story line every episode and they always cast such good young actors as well as established talented actors, which is a joy for the regulars because we got to work with so many talented people all the time. It’s a show that gives so many young actors a wonderful opportunity. It’s hard to be in a long running successful series, the hours are long and it’s incredibly hard work, with early starts and late finishes, but it’s fantastic to do at the same time.

Could Hollywood entice you?
Diane laughs. Yes of course. I’ve done LA and I love the work ethic and environment there, but Atlanta is fast becoming the new Hollywood and a serious centre for our industry.

Do you have a favourite actor?
Oh, so many! Hugh Jackman is such a versatile actor and I’m a huge admirer of Meryl Streep, Robin Williams, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchette, Gael Garcia Bernal, Emily Blunt. I could go on and on! Some extremely talented actors are also to be found in tv series. For me it’s all about the work, being immersed in a role.

I’ve been privileged to work with some amazing people and been very lucky to have won a few awards over the years. It’s a good feeling to know that people have really engaged and believed in the character you’ve created.

Is there one role you would love to play?
I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare in my time, but if someone were to offer me Lady Macbeth, I most certainly wouldn’t say no!

It’s a different industry these days to the one I knew as a young actor starting out. It’s more technical and money is tight, good roles are hard to come by as no one is willing to take risks with untried talent. I feel sorry for young actors trying to make a name for themselves these days.

You are a dedicated actress who has her feet firmly on the ground and is deeply appreciative of your career and position. I wonder if there are three things you couldn’t live without?
Well, I guess you can live without anything if you have to, but liquorice is my favourite treat. Growing up in Kenya, I literally had a view of Mt Kilimanjaro from my bedroom window, but sweets and chocolate were something that were hard to come by. The first sweets I ever had were liquorice AllSorts, so I kind of made liquorice my go-to treat!

My health I guess, to not have good health would stop me doing all the things I love like scuba diving, travelling and exploring out of the way places.

I love discovering new places. I’m a dedicated conservationist and sometimes that means visiting hard to reach, out of the way places. And books! I mean proper books, not a device, such as a Kindle or tablet. I’m an avid reader, and music, all kinds of music from all over the world.

Does Diane have any charities to which she is affiliated?
Yes, being brought up in Kenya wildlife was an everyday part of my life, so I can’t imagine not having lions in the wild anymore. Potentially, this is what may well happen in ten years at the rate they’re being hunted, so I’m proud to be Patron of LionAid who work tirelessly to stop the killing and save the species.

I have also been an Ambassador for Action for Children for over thirty years now. They do incredible work helping young people and their families with a vast range of issues from homelessness, drug problems, abuse and numerous other problems across the board. We have centres all over the county where we can reach as many young people as possible. These are outreach centres where the most help and support can be given.

Crucially, we have managed to lobby successfully for the law to be changed so that young people who are in care are not turned out at the age of sixteen but remain under protection until the age of eighteen when they then become eligible for benefits if they need it.

With her busy life what next for Diane?
I’m about to do a celebrity edition of ‘Pointless’, which absolutely terrifies me! I’m researching everything I can.

Interestingly, I’m having to research myself as I’m writing my autobiography. I keep discovering times, places and people I can’t quite remember, so I have to dig through letters and photos etc to piece things together. I think I’ll be writing for quite a while!

Mind you, never say never, I am an actor after all, so when a part I want to do turns up I’ll be off and the book will have to wait!

GG