DAME KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS: PROUD TO BE CORNISH
PUBLISHED: 17:31 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:18 30 August 2017
Born in Redruth, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas is proud to be a local girl, as Bernard Bale recounts
On film she is every inch the image of a quintessential English woman and why not? Yes she spends most of her time in Paris, speaks French like a native and has dual citizenship but Kristin Scott Thomas never forgets that she is from the West Country and is proud of having been born in Cornwall.
I was actually born in Redruth but I don’t really remember very much about that of course. I have been back quite a few times though and I am delighted to have been born in such a lovely place,’ Kristin said. Cornwall is such a fabulous county with the most gorgeous coastline and lovely people, I love telling people that Cornwall is my birthplace and the West Country is my heritage. Redruth is especially lovely, full of character. It is little wonder that the area has been so popular for filming.’
Life has turned out well for Kristin – or, Dame Kristin as she should be named. Indeed she has been acclaimed internationally as an actress and honoured by both Britain when she was given the title of Dame and by France who awarded the Legion d’Honneur.
When Kristin was just five, her father, a serving Fleet Air Arm pilot, was killed in a plane crash. Lieut Cmdr Thomas was leading the exercise when he and three other Sea Vixen pilots were appointed to fly from air base HMS Heron, in Yeovilton, Somerset, and attack a target being pulled by a frigate, HMS Zulu, off Portland.
We were living in Trent at the time and it was all so surreal,’ she recalled. I remember that everyone was very nice to us. We didn’t really understand what had happened which is probably just as well. I know that my sister Serena and I used to call out to him by looking up at the sky and asking if he could hear us.
You don’t really take on board for the full shock when you are that age. You feel it more later and I still remember him very well. Because of his work he often had the smell of engine oil about him and I still cannot bear that smell.’
Kristin went to St Antony’s Leweston school in Sherborne and life returned to some sort of normality but not for long. Her mother remarried to another Fleet Air Arm pilot, Simon Idiens, who also died in an air accident in 1972.
It was also unreal and I was just eleven at the time,’ said Kristin. It was at the end of the school summer holidays and there was little anyone could say that would comfort us so I was packed off to Cheltenham Ladies College to cope with a new way of life.
I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it at all. I was not in the slightest a sporty person so hockey and lacrosse did nothing for me. I think the best thing about it was that I learned French much better. I didn’t enjoy the rest of it and as soon as I was able at 16, I left and enrolled at the London Central School of Speech and Drama. My idea at the time was that if I couldn’t be an actress I could at least become a drama teacher and help others. It’s a wonder really that I ever became an actress because most people told me that I didn’t have the talent for it. I think that might have made me all the more determined although it was also quite off-putting at the time.
My mother had been a drama teacher and she didn’t think it was a good idea for me to have anything to do with drama. However, I did have something nagging at me. I fell in love with the Sound of Music and I was totally inspired by it. It kept telling me that was what I really wanted. I still love to watch it. The trouble is that while you have something burning inside you, you can’t help also listening to those around you and assuming they know best.’
Kristin changed direction and headed to Paris.
I originally went with friends for a two week holiday but I knew then that I just wanted to live in Paris,’ she said. Getting a job as an au pair was really good news but after a while I realised that I wanted more out of life and the same desire to become an actress bubbled to the surface. Being the sort of character that I am I decided that I wanted to prove everyone wrong and show that I really could act.’
Kristin enrolled at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques du Théâtre, the French version of Britain’s RADA. I loved it, I felt totally at home,’ she remembered. Suddenly there I was living in Paris, the best city in the world and at least having a toe in the water of the profession I really wanted. Life was good and got better when I started getting a few small stage parts and some minor television roles.
Working with Prince in Under the Cherry Moon, playing a French girl, was great and helped me to get noticed. More work came in, still minor parts but it was work just the same.’
Kristin shot to fame in the 1990s when she starred in the internationally-embraced Four Weddings And A Funeral.
It was a great film to make and we had no idea that it would become so big,’ she recalled. Suddenly I found myself being recognised and life became very different. I started getting work offered instead of having to hunt around for it. That is when you find out more about yourself. For some it changes their personality but I was quite determined to be the same person.’
Kristin married obstetrician Francois Oliviennes, sealing her love affair with France. They had three children – Hannah, Joseph and George – but, sadly, after 18 years of marriage they divorced.
There was never any real doubt that I would remain in France,’ said Kristin. My work takes me to various parts of the world including England but my roots remained in France. I like the way of life and the attitudes. Even in films there is a different approach. In Britan and many other countries they don’t want leading ladies that are over 50. They might want you in the film but not for a really substantial role. French film-makers are totally different. They love women who have been around a bit longer and make your wrinkles look beautiful and attractive.’
For all her international fame, Kristin has never forsaken her West Country roots. I have been back to Cornwall and Dorset many times and it is still a superb part of the world which has a special place in my heart. Mostly it seems unchanged and that is such a charm. It is real England. Yes the major towns have changed but essentially they are still the same and the old thatched cottages in the countryside are still as picturesque as ever. It is very beautiful, a real chocolate-box county with nice people.’
Although Kristin does mostly live in France these days but fortunately Cornwall is not far away and there will always be a welcome for Kristin Scott Thomas, the English rose with Parisian parfum.