Wonderful Women Interview with Actress & Campaigner Gemma Oaten
Gemma Oaten’s acting career already includes BBC Doctors which she did just one month from graduation at Drama studio London in 2010 and the role of Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale from 2011 – 2015 for which she received best new comer nominations for the TV Choice Awards, British soap Awards and Inside Soap Awards.
Gemma counts Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Tom as both mentors and friends. It was Patrick Stewart who suggested she use her public profile to raise awareness for mental health, anorexia and bullying issues.
Gemma says she is alive because she found the strength to fight her demons thanks to the support of her parents. She regularly speaks to audiences around the UK about not only being as a survivor and advocate of what it is to really, nearly lose it all but what it was like to get back to full health and fulfil her dreams.
Since Emmerdale she has also appeared on Casualty and has become a patron for her parent’s charity Seed (Support and empathy for eating disorders).
Gemma also appears regularly on daytime programmes such as Good Morning Britain and This Morning to continue her promise to raise awareness for eating disorders alongside promoting the huge TV storylines she has been involved in.
Recently she became an ambassador for the Princess Diana awards in the fight to promote anti bullying and she gained much admiration from her peers whilst delivering a passionate speech on bullying at the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation Gala. She received a standing ovation.
Gemma’s path to success has been a very tough one. Suffering from anorexia for 15 years she nearly died four times. Recovery was incredible hard with many hurdles along the way. It came with hard work and goal setting, achieving and positive thinking.
Gemma has 80k followers on twitter ranging from the age of 8 to 98! Her big exit storyline at Emmerdale resulted in her appearing in many publications and she made the front cover of the Daily Express weekend magazine which a great achievement so early in her career.
1. Describe a typical day for you?
Gosh, this is hard as every day is different! Being an actress means you are self employed, hence you go with the work or the day to day ‘to do’ list!
Let’s go with today. It was a slow starter as I’ve been ill with the horrible virus that’s been doing the rounds of late. (I’ll take this opportunity to apologise to any of my friends I’ve seen over the last two weeks as they are dropping like flies! Sorry if that’s my fault. Whooopsie!)
So, I started with a workout. I can’t even believe I’m writing that?! To explain, I haven’t exercised in over TEN YEARS. But at the start of the year was feeling sluggish and not so good about myself…I also noticed my body shape changing and soon had to own up to the fact that if I want to eat burgers and drink wine at 31 years old, the body doesn’t keep up like it did at 21!
So, I started doing a programme called T25 which has been amazing. 25 minutes a day, following a structured schedule and it can be done at home. Perfect. Having got that out of the way (today felt like torture I’m not going to lie!) I did some gentle voice exercises as I am singing at charity gala in 2 weeks.
I’ve been on vocal rest but generally I try and warm up my vocal chords and sing through my songs at least once a day. Next up was replying to emails. Mainly about future projects, sorting dates, making decisions etc. Then to researching said future projects and reading some scripts I’d been sent. Usually I’m here, there and everywhere, so I have to say, today was lovely to just get wrapped up warm and read.
On an eve I’m mostly out at either meetings, events/premiers or social with friends. I live alone and away from my family in Hull, so my friendship group in London are like my second family and paramount to me. I love nothing more then to put the world to rights with one of my bests. Good for the soul!
2. What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
Many would assume I’d say getting the part of Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale, which in part is true, but it links in with an even bigger achievement, being alive. My biggest achievement is recovering from anorexia. At the age of 10 years old a 13 year battle with the devastating illness began and it tore my family and myself apart in so many ways.
I almost died four times but thank goodness for my amazing parents whom never stopped fighting for me. They gave me the strength to fight for myself and at 23 years old I finally started the steps to full recovery, leading to being well enough to go to gain a place at drama school in London and follow my dreams.
My dreams came true, not just with working on TV shows like DOCTORS, EMMERDALE and CASUALTY but by being fit, well and happy in body and mind. As a result of my battle with anorexia my parents set up an eating disorder charity called SEED (Support and Empathy for Eating Disorders) of which three years ago I became patron and proudly so. That’s my biggest achievement…coming full circle, surviving and starting to help others.
3. What’s in your handbag?
Ok, time for me to get a little excited. I LOVE handbags and pride myself on a structured carrying intake. I cheat! I have a bag that holds all my essentials, which when I change a handbag I simply take out the inner bag and pop it in the other handbag. Does that make sense?! I bag within a bag? Well, that’s just how I roll and I feel extremely cocky doing so “Oooo look at how clever I am, a bag in a bag?!” I worry about myself sometimes. Truly! Haha!
In the bag are my ipods, three to be exact. One that is full to capacity and after changing over iTunes to another laptop I dare not attempt to re-sync for fear of losing the whole library, so that stays sacred to the 90’s/naughties.
The next ipod is a gift from one of my best friends and it has our infamous “Screw you!” play list on it.
To clarify, tis a genius format for which should be used to deal with heart ache, break ups, silly men, stupid boys and generally anyone who hurts your heart. I was given this after the ex ended our relationship last year out of nowhere. I can’t tell you how Kelly Clarkson, Little Mix and Lily Allen restored my heart and bopping skills. Amen sistas!
Third iPod is used for musicals mainly. Yes I’m a musical theatre geek and often like to listen to the Rent soundtrack on the tube.
Also this ipod is useful for putting on songs I’m in the process of learning. I also have with me everywhere I go, my little portable phone battery charger. It’s like a little cylinder device, bigger than a lipstick, Mum once mistook it for something that resembled a…I’ll stop there! Also I have a spare pair of keys in my bag within a bag.
I also have a spare pair of keys in my purse…and a note on my door saying “GEMMA. DON’T FORGET YOUR KEYS”. My door is on a latch…I have locked myself out three times so far this year *face palm*.
Lastly, I carry a body spray everywhere I go. I’m sorry, but the stench on the tube when one is sat next to one whom doesn’t use such a thing, literally kills me every time. Quick spray…job’s a god un!
4. What are your ambitions in life?
Work wise, I would love to be on the West End stage in a piece of new writing. At present I’m working towards that by brain storming a one woman show idea with an amazing writer, which I am ridiculously excited about. I’ll say no more as don’t want to jinx it. Same with a TV project in the pipe line…a period piece…another ambition which I don’t want to jinx. Sorry! You know how superstitious us Thespians get. Another ambition is to work with Jimmy McGovern. He is the master. The absolute master.
Ambitions personally? To live in abundance. I don’t just mean financially. I’ve never had much materialistically, so money does not reflect my well being. I mean abundant in love, in family, in dreams, in soul, in being. My ambition is to never stop at reaching an ambition…it’s to grow and learn and dream. Ambitions are limitless. I don’t limit myself.
5. Can you share your thoughts on motherhood as you’ve mentioned you hopes of being a Mum in previous interviews?
Well, I don’t have children, although I am an Auntie to 7 nieces and nephews! I hope truly one day to be a Mum as that is a gift so precious I can’t even comprehend. It’s sacred. Giving life. But what advice I would give now I’m older and watch my little ones grow up as their Auntie Gem, is a few things really.
One thing I’ve learnt very much of late is not to worry. For “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of it’s troubles, it empties today of it’s strength.” I would tell myself to always live in the now and remind myself that no matter what life throws my way, everything will be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
As you can see, I take strength and wisdom from quotes. Dr Seuss is one of my all time favourites and I often find myself reading his words over and over. If I knew then what I know now maybe I would have survived my childhood bullying differently, maybe I would never have lost all those years being so very ill. But I did, and it’s what makes me who I am today.
Every experience we have adds to our make up, our heart and our mind and who we are. You can grow flowers were dirt used to be and they can be spectacular. I would tell my pre baby self often to listen to Dr Seuss…’Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!’
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Blimey, now that’s a question! As we would say in Hull “Chuff knows love!” I honestly don’t know. I would hope well and successful and still living my dreams. I would hope I’d maybe be a wife and Mother by then. But in all honesty I don’t like to structure my life so. The one thing I learnt growing up, because of the hardship I often faced, was that you have to take each day as it comes.
You have to live in the now.
I see myself nowhere but here. I hope that makes sense? It’s a valid question to ask, but not one I feel I could answer because I believe you can’t predict or see yourself anywhere…you just hope that you do right by yourself and those you love and that the path goes the direction you are meant to be going in. And who knows what that direction is?!
I’ll be honest, If you’d have asked me this question a year ago I may have been able to answer. But you see, around a year ago, everything I thought I knew, everything I thought was sacred and going in the direction it was supposed to, changed over night. Within two weeks my Grandad died, my darling friend Camille, whom I saw as a little sister, died in a car crash at 24 years old, and the boyfriend I had just spent an amazing weekend with, along with my family, got out of bed the next morning, went to the bathroom, came back into bed, and dumped me.
Life changed in 2 weeks beyond all recognition. Even harder to take when it changes in the space of five minutes at the hands of someone you thought you knew and loved. So you see? I don’t like to see.
I trust I’m going where I’m meant to be and grow from it all, and if I fall off that path there’s a reason. I’m positive Grandad and Camille are up there watching over me like the angels they are. They’ll steer me through it all.
7. What advice would you give a budding actress and blogger?
As patron of my parents charity SEED, I blog for them about my experiences, my journey and also about how to keep going on the steps to recovery. I always write from the heart and would say that that is the essence of a blog, it comes from truth and is you sharing you with others.
I also blog for Muse of London, a salon I am ambassador for, so the tone of that is obviously very different in the audience I am writing for in my blogs for Eating Disorders.
As with the blogs I write on my Rolfing sessions, a practise I’m exploring with a view that it may help eating disorder sufferers and those in recovery with their mind and well being…so again the one of that is very different also. In all the blogs I like to think I’m taking the audience on a journey with me.
It’s about reaching out to your readers and staying true to what you really are experiencing in the topic of the blog.
My main advice would be to stay true to you and be brave. Share as much as you feel comfortable with and know what message you want to get across on each blog. Blogs really are a fabulous way of expressing in detail who you are and how you tick.
You want to resonate with others and relate. It’s a wonderful platform to have and an amazing way of connecting with strangers who then start to feel they are part of your world. I love the idea of that.
When it comes to acting….When I was young, I never made that outright decision to be an actress. I never said “I want to be an actress when I grow up Daddy” it always just was. Even my parents didn’t need to ask, we all just knew that was the path I was going down. Maybe it was something to do with me prancing round the room putting on shows, acting out Disney scenes or singing to Dusty Springfield at the tender age of 5 that gave it away?!
So, long story short, here I am. No one really gave me any advice to be honest, I did it all by myself at the start.
I had my GCSE A* in drama and a distinction at college in my BTEC Performing Arts, then I gained a place at The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, but then after and during all that I was working in Hull at McDonalds, TK Maxx, cleaning toilets, chamber maiding… to name a few jobs I had.
So it was down to me.
Researching and applying for drama schools, preparing my monologues, raising the money to even go to drama school once I’d been accepted…it’s a hard slog. Be prepared for that. Try and get involved in as much amateur dramatic theatre in your local area as possible, look at your local youth theatre also if you are of that age. Drama school is where the doors open.
Some are lucky and don’t ever need to attend, but to be honest it’s an invaluable training, not just on the skill of acting but what to expect once you graduate and gives you an ‘in’ to gaining an agent.
Aside from the logistics, my advice would be…always stay true to you. The industry is hard, I mean really hard. But if you always hold on to what you know in your gut, that you are worthy, you can do it, you can achieve, and you don’t let any other persons words tell you different, that’s the key.
So many in this world tend to try and knock those who dream, down. More so in the acting world. It’s full of jealousy, competition, cliques…it’s also full of amazing people, extraordinary talent, mesmerizing personalities and a world like no other.
The latter is why we do it!
I’ll let you in on a secret, I was told by someone whom shall not be named, that I was a a failure, a disgrace and I’d amount to nothing. I was told this on my last day of drama school. I was destroyed. It was all absolute rubbish. Then I realised I was the only one in the school to have a secured an agent before graduating, and not just any agent, one of the best.
I had also managed to get some amazing people to my showcase through my own balls to ask them, graft and work hard. I also had 2 auditions with big casting directors before I graduated, through my own drive and work.
You see, I left already on a high, with a chance…this person had to drag me down a peg or two right? Well no they didn’t but it was a need in THEMSELVES and nothing to do with me. It was their demon not mine. You understand what I’m saying? You have to be strong and you have to know that all that matters is what YOU know is true. If you want to succeed in acting there’s a big lesson I can share.
Confidence is different to ego. You must have confidence in yourself always, but…LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR.
Egos can be so ugly, trust me, I’ve seen a few.
And one thing I know is that ego doesn’t go unnoticed, by the crew, the director, the production team watching from the gallery…it does the individual no favours and soon you’ll be out on your ear. Or if not out, word travels fast in the industry, oh you’d be amazed. You’ll work that out as you succeed.
Because if you’re reading this as a budding actor and you really want it…you’ll get there…and you’ll understand my words.
Be kind, be grateful, be considerate…it’s vital in the profession and often will get you much further than say someone who you considered to be better for the role or more talented. Acting is based on what’s in us.
Yes you pretend, but you use your core, connect with what the character is going through and there’s a realness and truth to that. You have to find the imagined truth. So, buckle up, get your mind and body healthy and strong and go for it! Even if you don’t get the job, you got the audition and auditions are as much a training as anything else.
8. Finally, happiness is…
Contentment. Just being. Happiness is about you, now, enjoying and being grateful for what you HAVE. Not what you WANT. Those are muddied waters to swim. Just BE. Gratitude is one of the highest forms of blissful happiness in my eyes.
For every day and every thing be thankful. I often feel happiest when I let go of doubt, of thought and of worry. Why hold onto to extra baggage when what is important is what you have now. Don’t ever lose sight of the present.
The world can seem so fast at times, the race to achieve, to make money, to find love, to have a family, to get promoted, to get fit. STOP. Look at what is there in front of you. That’s happiness. being content with you and what’s present.
To quote ‘Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness, and just be happy’.
As patron of SEED many of my blogs are on the site and anyone suffering from an eating disorder or effected by one can find lots of help and support including contacts for help.