Call the Midwife star Helen George on the thrill of following in the footsteps of acting legends Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn in a musical classic and a TV wedding
We last featured Birmingham-born Helen George back in 2015 when she was one of the stand-out stars of Strictly Come Dancing (many of us thought she should have gone all the way and won the thing!). She eventually waltzed her way to the quarter-finals and she certainly hasn’t rested on her laurels since with a very high profile start to 2022.
The season finale of BBC’s hit-series, Call the Midwife, has just aired with the climax being the long-awaited marriage of her character, 1950’s midwife Trixie Franklin to Matthew. And she’s also been in her hometown starring in the multi award-winning production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Helen plays Anna Leonowens in what’s widely regarded as one the greatest musical of all time with an incredible score that includes Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
Starring alongside Darren Lee, Helen, 38, has stepped into the role made famous by Deborah Kerr as the British schoolteacher who is hired by the King of Siam to educate his many wives and children. “I’d been wanting to do a musical for a while,” she says, “and I was waiting for the right one to come along and just couldn’t say no. It’s just such a classical musical theatre part.”
She had enjoyed the show as a young girl, so it was a wonderful opportunity to take the lead role. “I went to see the show when I was seven or eight when I was growing up in Birmingham,” she says. “I haven’t gone back and watched the film because I needed to find Anna myself, and I hadn’t realised how many songs she sings. I knew them but I hadn’t quite figured they were all together in this show.”
The show is a gloriously lavish production that’s been brought to the stage by an internationally renowned creative team under Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher (South Pacific/My Fair Lady/To Kill a Mockingbird). As part of a record-breaking UK and international tour, the show enjoyed fantastic reviews from its five-day stint at the Alexandra Birmingham.
As for Call the Midwife, Helen has been in the show since its first episode in 2012 and has become one of the drama’s best-loved characters, so filming Trixie’s big day was an incredible but exhausting experience. “It was a long day and we went over our schedule by about an hour-and-a-half. But it was also a beautiful day. There was a real sense of occasion. And it was lovely that all the cast got to be together.”
And of course, there was THAT dress. Inspired by a Givenchy campaign starring Audrey Hepburn, Helen looked stunning in the vintage, high-neck gown that she reportedly didn’t see until the day of filming. “It was a beautiful photograph of Audrey looking demure and gorgeous with this small pillbox hat on her head, and a long veil. Trixie’s version was loosely based around that.”
It wasn’t until she was 15 that Helen, originally from Harborne, was bitten by the acting bug. The daughter of a politics professor and a social worker, she had previously been into athletics and wanted to be a long jumper before deciding that instead she’d be the first female football manager of her favourite football club Aston Villa!.
The Edgbaston High School student changed direction again after appearing in a production of Les Miserables and from that moment her heart was set on becoming a musical actress. She attended regular lessons at Brockway Morris School of Dance and became a junior associate at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Her bedroom wall had pictures of her favourite dancer, Covent Garden ballerina Dame Darcey Bussell. Helen worked in a local florist to earn money to go to Birmingham School of Acting and then the Royal Academy of Music, where she trained in musical theatre.
Singing engagements followed which saw her perform at the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena, singing backing vocals with Elton John. Her acting credits include Hotel Babylon, The Three Musketeers, Scar Tissue, Doctors and Hollyoaks, plus theatre roles in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, Into The Woods, and High School Musical.
But Call the Midwife changed everything and has made Helen the huge nationally-recognised star she is today. But despite the fame, Helen is adamant that her happiest time will always be the days spent in Brum – “as a child playing in my parents’ garden, which they still have, and where my daughters play, swinging on my swing that my dad made for me”.