Soap star Ali Bastian talks to Shelley Carter about life in Brum, awards ceremonies, family support and crafting through the quiet times
If you have any preconceptions about soap stars leave them here because Ali Bastian isn’t that. The Doctors actress formerly of Hollyoaks and The Bill fame is warm, clever, insightful, grounded, thoughtful and slightly awkward – in the very best of ways. More likely to be crafting pots out of cement or walking her dogs in the Lickey Hills than courting paparazzi, Ali is a breath of fresh air.
Having said that, she likes a red carpet shindig as much as the next girl and is thrilled to be nominated in the Best Actress category at this year’s Soap Awards later this month for her role as practice manager Becky Clark in BBC soap Doctors. Ali said: “I haven’t been to the soap awards for years, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s a huge celebration.” An opportunity to catch up with old chums too.
SETTLING IN NICELY
As a recent starter on Doctors – which has received multiple nominations this year, including Brummies Laura Rollins and Ashley Rice – Ali lives in Birmingham Monday to Friday for filming and is in London at the weekend. She said: “It’s a new bunch of actors and a challenging role, so I feel like I’m finding my feet. We have a fantastic crew and although it’s a bit of a cliché it is like a big family.”
Previous practice manager Lorna gave Ali the lowdown on Brum and the best places to see, eat and drink, although this isn’t Ali’s first time working in the city. She says: “I’ve really good memories of Birmingham. I came here for Agatha Christie at the New Alex and Chicago when I stayed in the city centre. This time I’m settled further out close to the Lickey Hills which I didn’t even know existed. I have two dogs so it’s great for walking. Culturally, Birmingham is brimming too.”
Ali’s husband, actor David O’Mahony, helped her settle in but he’s back in the capital now. She explained: “He’s started in Mamma Mia, so he’s anchored to London, but it was lovely to spend a bit of time here while I settled.” Their wedding earlier this year was a star-studded affair in London followed by a dreamy honeymoon in the Maldives. Ali recalled: “We’d spent a lot of time planning, dreaming and imagining what it would be. It was such a good day.”
Growing up in Berkshire, Ali knew exactly what she wanted to be. She begged her mum to take her to dance and drama classes and loved it so much that she attended drama school full-time for a few years. “I always knew what I wanted to do. It was a huge part of my life. I got my first job aged 10 and learnt on the job.” Unlike many child stars you read about, Ali managed to navigate the unusual lifestyle successfully. She said: “It would have been incredibly easy to get swept up in it all, but I’ve always had really strong support at home which I suppose keeps you grounded. I feel very lucky.”
HELL OF A PACE
In terms of Ali’s favourite genre of work, she enjoys the whole spectrum of media. She says: “When I do a lot of film I can’t wait to do TV and vice-versa! I guess variety is good. On the TV set we work at a hell of a pace. You get to know the crew and a shorthand develops. It’s great being part of a team and every day is a pleasure although I love theatre too!”
Downtime as an actor when things are quiet must be tough. Ali manages to handle it by letting her creative side continue to flourish. “There are quieter moments as an actor and over the years I’ve had those, but I think it’s what you do with those moments that matters. Rather than wondering if the phone will ever ring again I try to live creatively even when I’m not working.
“I teach in a film school and I make things. Crafty things like pots out of cement and dog collars and leads. I’ve never talked about this in an interview before! As I’ve got older I’ve found I need something for my soul. I also appreciate family time so much.”
The pressures of social media must be immense for somebody in the public eye. Ali agrees it can be difficult to manage. “We need to be more conscious about how we use social media. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand it’s great for connecting with people in the industry, but it can make people feel isolated – whether you’re in this industry or not.”
Refreshingly, Ali’s heroes are very close to home. “My mum is my hero. I’d like to be everything she is. And my best friend, Jess Huie. She couldn’t find a greetings card that represented her and troubled by the lack of diversity, she created her own. She’s also written a book, Purpose and has been awarded an MBE. She’s gone out and made a real difference.”