Annette Badland fell in love with acting as a young girl watching Shakespeare at Birmingham’s Old Rep. She talks to David Johns about her illustrious career which spans stage,TV and radio, her role as wicked Aunt Babe in EastEnders – and her delight at receiving a very special honour
As a seven-year-old, Annette Badland fell in love with acting after seeing her first stage performance at Birmingham’s Old Rep. It made such an impression on her that she says she knew from that moment that she would be an actress.
After the family home moved from close by Edgbaston cricket ground to Tamworth when Annette was aged 12, she saved every penny she could from her pocket money to get the train into Brum by herself so she could follow her love of acting – and Shakespeare in particular – at the historic theatre. “I got the train as often as I could,” she says, “but not as often as I would have liked!”
A few weeks ago, the childhood experience came full circle when the star of countless TV, stage, film and radio roles returned to the Old Rep to be honoured as its new patron. And Annette was as thrilled to receive the accolade as any acting award. She said: “The Old Rep was so important to me when I first fell in love with theatre and acting, so I was utterly delighted, surprised and honoured to become a patron. It is really important to me as I was born and bred in Edgbaston, so Birmingham is my home town and my beginnings.”
Olivier-nominated actress Annette is best known for her roles in Doctor Who, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cutting It and most recently Midsomer Murders. But for millions of fans of the BBC soap EastEnders, Annette is most associated as Aunt Babe, the devious and villainous relative of the Carters at the Queen Vic.
She chuckles as she accepts that despite a lifetime of acting at the highest level, she is most often recognised as Aunt Babe. “I’d worked before with the executive producer of EastEnders and he said he wanted to find a part for me in the show,” Annette explains. “Babe started out as an ordinary kind of character but her wickedness just grew and grew as it went along. She really ended up being rather unpleasant! EastEnders was the first non-finite drama I had done – there’s no real beginning, middle or end. With a soap, you never know as an actor what is going to happen next.”
Annette remembers how she came to realise at an early age that she had what it takes to entertain an audience. “At a parents’ day my class chanted my poem and I found that I could make people laugh. I could be a clown in the classroom and I took part in all the school plays and dramas.”
After attending drama school in London, Annette joined Sir Ian McKellen’s Actors’ Company before moving to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. Her career reads like a Who’s Who catalogue of theatres – she has appeared at most of London’s most famous playhouses, including productions this year at the Globe.
Her TV CV is equally impressive – as is her radio résumé – covering drama, comedy, sci-fi and soaps. As we spoke, she was grabbing time between filming for a new ‘secret’ series which should be completed early this month.
Work often dictates that Annette has to be in London but she still finds plenty of time to ‘come home to Brum’. “I’ve still got my parents’ house just outside Birmingham,” she says. “I am a regular visitor to the city. Coming home is me being me, relaxing and walking in the countryside. I get back just as often as I can.”
As the a patron of the Old Rep, Annette joins fellow patrons Brian Cox, Toyah Willcox, Brian Blessed and June Brown and has been dedicated a seat in the auditorium – Stalls, Row F Seat 7. She took her seat during a special visit after being welcomed at the stage door by the Old Rep team, who led her on a tour around the building to reminisce about her time at the theatre.
Annette’s dedicated seat has a plaque that reads: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it”. Are there any dreams left for Annette to fulfil we wonder? “I’ve always fancied playing Lady MacBeth but it has just never happened – not yet, anyway,” she says.