05 October 2002: Daily Record

Rachael's A Hot Tip For The Top

Rachael Stirling headed for the hills - literally - after finishing work on the controversial TV drama Tipping The Velvet.

She sought refuge on her dad's Perthshire estate, so exhausted was she by the lesbian love story.

"I hadn't realised how tough it was going to be before I started filming," says Rachael, 25. "I'd only done bit parts before so the workload came as a bit of a shock.

"Ironically, I had leafed through the script before we began filming and thought: `Great, my character is in every single scene.'

"But I wasn't saying that by the time filming was drawing to a close. I must admit I had lost a little of my enthusiasm for acting by that time.

"Which is why I was so keen for a break. I went on a barge holiday, with my DJ boyfriend John Green, and then headed for Scotland to spend time with my dad, Archie. It's the perfect place to relax and get right away from it all."

Now, however, she is back to face the music, back to answer questions about one of the most controversial dramas the BBC has ever shown.

Tipping The Velvet has been adapted for TV by Andrew Davies, and its bound to raise eyebrows.

The title, for a start, is a Victorian slang term for lesbian sex. The story follows Nan, daughter of a fish restaurateur in late 19th century Kent. Nan falls for the charms of theatre performer Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes) and moves with her to thebright lights of London.

Episode one contains an intimate, passionate love scene between Nan and Kitty. Later episodes, in which the unfortunate Nan slips into prostitution, contain graphic sex scenes.

Watch With Mother it most certainly isn't.

"Although I would argue very strongly that, at heart, it's a love story," says Rachael, whose mum is award- winning actress Dame Diana Rigg, the leather-clad Emma Peel in cult '60s TV show The Avengers.

"That was certainly my understanding when I first read the script and I haven't changed my mind since. I don't think people would have got nearly so hot under the collar had the love story been between a man and a woman.

"It's the fact that it's a lesbian love story that has got everybody worked up. So maybe I underestimated people's homophobia.

"Love is love, whether woman to man, woman to woman or man to man. It's not grotesque. Many of the scenes are done with a sense of humour."

Co-star Keeley Hawes - interviewed during filming - felt the same.

"I'd rather call it a love story than a full-on lesbian romp," was her take on the eye- opening thriller. "We've already filmed a little bit of the embarrassing scenes."

Keeley, who has since split from her husband, Spencer McCallum, the father of her baby, Myles, once joked that her part in the lesbian epic would actually turn her away from her man.

"I haven't really gone into it with him yet to be honest," she said at the time.

"I could just see me coming back after filming and saying: `Hmmm, yes, darling, work was rather nice today, and, er, I'll not be coming home again'."

It's funny how things work out, but don't jump to any conclusions. The latest is that Keeley is rumoured to be seeing Spooks co- star Matthew Macfadyen.

Rachael's boyfriend John wasn't so sure either, after watching a tape.

"He said: `Oh god, you didn't tell me you'd be kissing with tongues'," laughs Rachael.

Relationship status isn't likely to be the reason for Rachael, Keeley, or co- stars Anna Chancellor and Jodhi May hitting the headlines once this series airs.

Yet Rachael knows what to expect - now.

"I didn't expect this level of controversy at first," she says. "Maybe I was naive not to expect it - maybe a more experienced actress would have anticipated what was to come."

Whatever. One thing's for sure. With a mother who has just been named the sexiest star in TV history by US TV Guide, Rachael's a chip off the old block when it comes to sending temperatures soaring.

Tipping The Velvet is easily Rachael's biggest role to date, but she certainly hasn't ridden to success on the coat tails of her mother's golden reputation.

"In fact I can't imagine being Diana Rigg's daughter has ever got me a part and it didn't get me the role of Nan in Tipping The Velvet.

"I had to go through seven auditions before they finally gave it to me and you can be fairly certain that a lot of other people were considered for the part. I understand that La-La from Teletubbies was even in the frame at one point, such was the extentof the search.

"The problem was that certain people at the BBC didn't think I was suitable for the role. I was considered too pretty to play a character who spends a lot of the drama pretending to be a boy and there was even concern over the size of my forehead.

"Mum always thought they were going to give the part to me but I wasn't convinced until I passed that final audition. But there was no point in me having any doubts once I'd been given the job.

"Some of the sex is very explicit, and we all had to just go for it with our characters doing some very naughty things to one another."

Tipping The Velvet also stars Hugh Bonneville, who reckons it is going to be massive.

"It's going to be like something you've never seen on British TV," he says. "It's a lesbian rights of passage story, and it's done with great finesse and wit, but it's up-front, so to speak."

So what's Hugh's part?

"I play a rather complicated misunderstood lesbian."

Really? "No. Our heroine ends up living with a sweet girl in London, and I play the girl's husband, in a non- sexual menage a trois. Almost an emotional menage a trois."

Meanwhile, Rachael is canny enough to realise that the fame about to come her way might be a double- edged sword.

She knows Tipping The Velvet is going to raise her profile but talks about "having to lay low for a while" until her association with such a memorable drama wears off a bit.

"Although, by the same token, I'm also hoping Tipping The Velvet will open a few doors for me. The journey that my character Nan goes on is so varied I'm probably equipped to play a whole range of roles now. Or at least I hope I am."

A varied journey, yes, but one that has opened her eyes to the love that dare not speak its name?

"In the late Victorian era there was a fashionable underworld of lesbianism that was very quiet and very low key. I've seen a collection of photographs that you would not believe.

"But as for me? I've never even kissed a girl. I love women and can understand why some women are attracted to others because we are much more beautiful naked, and make such good friends.

"I have no physical attraction, and that stays the same."

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