She was the TV award-winning villain we loved to hate as Kirsty in Coronation Street, wowed us with her nimble moves on Strictly Come Dancing, and she's blowing our socks off as the physically and mentally tough Bella in Jekyll and Hyde.
We’re big fans of the way Natalie Gumede has made a name for herself playing strong, complex female characters on our TV screens. Now we love Natalie even more, because she’s supporting our Christmas appeal to help protect homeless children all over the world. In this exclusive interview Natalie tells us about her own childhood hopes and dreams, reveals some pet (social media) hates and worries, drops some hints about her future plans and talks movingly about the human rights crisis that’s unfolding on Europe’s shores.
What is it about Christmas that makes you feel happiest?
The best aspect of Christmas for me is the opportunity to spend quality time with my family. We are dotted around the country so I don’t see as much of them as I would like throughout the year, but the festive season is a time to unplug from the stresses and distractions of life and be completely present in their company. I now have a niece who celebrated her first Christmas last year, which made it all the more special.
What makes you feel safe?
I moved to London alone aged 17 so I had to learn the importance of looking after myself and staying safe in the practical sense very quickly. I’m happy to say that I have always felt very safe growing up in London, and I have a strong support network of friends in whom I find my emotional safety.
What were you scared of as a child?
Death was a terrifying concept to me as a child, and something I was frequently fixated by. I have recollections of asking what death was like, and when I was told it was just like falling asleep, I became fearful of not waking up, which then extended into being afraid of the dark.
I also remember when very young asking my mum if I would be alive in the year 2000, because I struggled to understand time and the passing of it. Thankfully the fear retreated into something smaller and healthier: an appreciation of time and making the most of it!
What are you scared of now?
Some of the experiences I’ve had as an actor and performer have been extremely daunting, but ultimately they have been the most rewarding. Therefore if I’m scared, I see it as a sign that I need to step towards the experience rather than run away from it. Live performance and public speaking are never not frightening!
What are the things you worry about now?
I worry sometimes about how technology, although I couldn’t live without it, emotionally disconnects us from one another. Social media is a classic example of this, particularly with unpleasant commentaries or online bullying — because somebody cannot see the upset it causes, they don’t censor what they write.
It also numbs some of the joy of real life experiences — I’ve been to so many concerts where people are watching the act perform through their phone whilst they record it — they must surely miss the impact of how the performance makes them feel. I try as much as possible not to use my phone whilst out and about, so that I can notice the things around me, and enjoy other people’s company to the fullest.
What news story from this year most sticks in your mind?
One of the most harrowing events of the year has undoubtedly been the refugee crisis. In Britain we cannot begin to comprehend the desperation felt in order for people to risk their lives to reach the relative sanctuary of Europe. Nor can we truly contemplate their alternative had they stayed in their home country — even if we keep up with news stories.
The opportunity refugees seek is one of our basic human rights — to be safe. It is a right that so many of us take for granted, and we should reach out to ensure that those who need it have our support.
What do you hope 2016 brings?
I hope 2016 brings more challenging work projects and new travel adventures. I only flew for the first time aged 21, so I still feel as much excitement for each journey I take as the experience I have upon arrival!
How can we help to have a happier 2016?
Natalie’s right — the refugee crisis is a human crisis. So many children around the world are afraid right now, because they’re homeless. From Greece to Nepal, India to Bangladesh, they’re facing a Christmas and new year of uncertainty and fear.
ActionAid staff are working really hard to help homeless children. We’re providing warm clothes, hats and boots, to make sure they survive the winter. And that’s just the start. The causes of the kinds of homelessness that children are facing are complicated and not easily solved. They need long term commitment and financial support.
And that’s where you come in. A monthly gift helps us to be there for children; not just now, at this huge moment of crisis, but into the future. So please consider setting up a regular donation to ActionAid now. It really is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
Top left profile photo of Natalie Gumede: Clare Walsh.
Main photo: Anna Pantelia/ActionAid.