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I’d rather die in a greenhouse than in a locker room

Caroline Quentin has appeared in numerous television shows and plays, from Jonathan Ruisseau has Dickensian, and is one of the nicest and funniest actresses of her generation. As she releases a memoir on gardening, she tells us that she is also an introverted loner who prefers the greenhouse to the green room.

“When I was young, I spent a lot of time alone and had to have fun,” she says, examining a log, watching for mushrooms. “I can be obsessed with seeds, feathers, mushrooms, leaves. I love all the little details.” We find ourselves on the Devon-Somerset borders, where Caroline, her husband Sam and a retinue of two dogs and four cats are renting a cottage. The actor, who brought warmth and humor to the TV series of Jonathan Ruisseau has Dickensian for 30 years, has enjoyed the countryside.

Caroline, now 63, has lived nearby here since the early 2000s and until recently owned 35 acres of land with an orchard, swimming pond and vegetable gardens. “I’m not an expert but I love growing things,” she says of her new memoir, Attracted by the garden (Frances Lincoln, £20).

The project is a spin-off from her Instagram account @cqgardens, where she might post about finding a giant onion or the beauty of a wild garlic leaf. Its food is soft and absorbent. “I try not to brag because I think it’s horrible when people say, ‘Look at this beautiful thing I did.’ It makes you want to go back to bed – or I do. Gardening, I believe, should be about effort and not results.

SEEDS OF CHANGE

The decision to leave her beloved home and garden was sudden. “I became profoundly deaf overnight,” says Caroline. “It was really shocking.”

The couple was in Italy and returned overnight to seek medical attention. Caroline had developed sudden sensorineural hearing loss in one ear, a serious condition when the inner ear, the inner ear cochlea, or the nerve pathways between the ear and the brain are damaged. Patients have a brief window to obtain treatment.

“I was terrified because I was about to do a play and I was like, ‘I won’t know my cues or if someone walks in,'” she says. “I’m going to have to spend my whole life looking at people. »

After a course of powerful steroids, much of Caroline’s hearing returned. She finds herself with tinnitus, which “drives me to the wall” and worsens with stress: “I am no longer comfortable with large groups of people. Weird and weird things are happening. It’s not all bad. “I’m grateful for it, in a weird way,” she says, explaining how it changed her perspective.

“Sam and I said, ‘Let’s get out of the big house. Let’s downsize. Let’s start doing the things we want to do. She laughs happily. “A lot of actors say, ‘I want to die in my dressing room.’ I want to die in my greenhouse. I want to be there until the last minute, to continue. »

Caroline never planned to become an actress. At the age of ten, she was transferred to a boarding school in Hertfordshire on a dancing scholarship to protect her from her parents’ stormy marriage.

Far from home, she felt sad and alone. “Making people laugh was a shield,” she says. “I used it to make people feel good around me, but also to keep them at a distance. With comedy, people assume they’re close to you, when in reality, you’re the one in control. It’s all about power. »

“Die in my dressing room? I prefer to die in my greenhouse”

Caroline Quentin photographed by Alun Callender for ClukPinterest

CALLER ALUM

Back in Surrey, the mood ranged from outrageously happy – Caroline’s mother could also be funny – to desperately dark – her mother suffered from bipolar disorder and was in and out of mental hospitals. Caroline’s father left when she was 15. When her mother had a stroke, Caroline left school to care for her.

Caroline’s first jobs were in end of pier shows. “I thought I would be a dancer for a few years, but I didn’t know what I would do after that,” she says. She was seen in a London pub musical and had a role in a play at the Royal Court. Other theaters followed, before his big breakthrough on television in Men behave badly in the early 1990s: “I became an actor by mistake. I had no idea I would do this for this long or with this much success.

Is she really ready to give up a large part of her life? “It’s been great, but the downside is you have very little alone time. I realized I was an introvert and I’ve been in an extroverted company for way too long. She smiles. “I am a loner by nature. Acting is not the right environment for me. This doesn’t suit me at all. This is really not the case.

Caroline Quentin photographed by Alun Callender for ClukPinterest

CALLER ALUM

TAKE A BITCH

However, he is a happy loner. Caroline is great fun, joking about falling in love as she poses on a tree trunk by a river for the photo shoot, and chatting with the animals: “I’m going to make you grow on the photos,” she says to Lady Ottoline, her “‘Posh’ ginger cat, as the photographer puts it.

Sam, who she met on set in his early days as a TV runner, now acts as chief support officer, recommending that Caroline give “a stroke to her hair” to straighten it. He runs a unisex deodorant company for teenagers. They often finish each other’s sentences.

Caroline’s energy and morale are restored by spending time outdoors. She also grows what she can, wherever she is: “Even on tour, I always had a plant with me. These, she says as she picks up a packet of seeds for microgreens she is about to grow, will give me so much pleasure.

“It’s like being on hallucinogens all the time”

In the spring, she will walk regularly and enjoy life. “April and May are our months,” Caroline says of the local campaign. “There is a ragged blackbird. There are foxgloves. There are hyacinths. There are all these little native green plants… The hedges in Devon are probably the best in the world at the moment. And because it’s so wet, and because our banks are so high, you get this corridor of bright green, pink, blue. It’s like being constantly on a hallucinogen.

When a woman has had enough of Devon, she heads to Cornwall, where Caroline and Sam have been vacationing for years. They stay on the River Helford, an area between Falmouth and the Lizard Peninsula, passing through Glendurgan, a wooded valley garden, and Trelowarren, an estate with woods and other gardens: “I could spend days there, just wandering around. »

IMAGING THE FUTURE

One of the delights of Caroline’s book is her illustrations, from a bottle of sloe gin to a hungry goose. She has been drawing since she was a child. “A lot of my drawings are terrible, but sometimes I do something really nice,” she says, sketching the outline of an egg cup. “While I’m doing it, I get an out-of-body feeling. Once I start drawing, all my worries disappear. I forget where I am. I’m in a happy place.

Writing and drawing allowed Caroline to regain a sense of autonomy: “As an actor, you are always speaking someone else’s words or you are always directed by someone who has their own vision,” she said. “When you write or draw, it’s your decision. If it’s crap, so be it, it’s your mistakes… It’s good to be the master of your own destiny. Caroline is now halfway through a novel.

Caroline and Sam are still discussing the details of their new house, even though it’s probably nearby. They could build their own. They just need space for some greenery. “I loved my old garden, but it’s time for a smaller, more manageable one,” says Caroline. “Maybe I’ll call it my drivel garden.” I will continue to grow vegetables, still have some fruit, grow dahlias, but on a smaller scale. I can’t see myself ever not doing it because it’s my absolute joy. This is where I find peace of mind and pleasure. The new challenge will be that of the bees. Caroline wants to make her own honey.

The inspiration might well come from this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which Caroline attends every year. She likes to go early so she can talk to the gardeners while they are setting up.

“I love looking at big, spectacular gardens, but I get my ideas from smaller ones,” she says. Last year, the School Food Matters Garden, designed by Harry Holding, made a big impression. “They grew their vegetables in a jumble, one on top of the other, and it worked very well. I’m looking for ideas that won’t tie me to something neat and tidy. I love soft, friendly gardens – and the interesting ideas that come from them.

The dream for the years to come, Caroline says, would be six months a year of theater and presenting, and six months of writing, drawing and gardening. “I want to respect what I have left of my life,” she said, “and there is a lot of it. I don’t feel old. I feel like I’m entering one of the most creative periods of my life. Now I have to make the most of it.

CAROLINE QUENTIN’S CV: FROM STEP TO PAGE

1960 FIRST POSITION Born in Reigate, Surrey. Discovered a love of ballet at the age of three

1975 FAMILY QUESTIONS Left performing arts school at 15 to take care of his mother

CAN-CAN ATTITUDE of the late 1970s Dancing during shows at the end of the pier

1985 HAPPY TIMES Joins the RSC choir Wretched

CELEBRITY COUPLING FROM 1990 Marries comedian Paul Merton. They divorced in 1998

1991 CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED Receives a commendation from the Ian Charleson Prize for The Seagull

1992-1998 GOOD BEHAVIOR Gets his burglary on TV Men behave badlywinning recognition at the British Comedy Awards

1997-2000 MAGIC TV Play as an investigative journalist who helps solve murder mysteries in Jonathan Ruisseau

2004-2006 Round of applause Stars in life beginsawarded at the British Comedy Awards

PERFECT MATCH 2006 Married Sam Farmer. They have a daughter, Emily Rose, now 24, and a son, William, 21.

2020, GIVE YOURSELF A TOUR Competition on Strictly Come Dance

2022 LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER Appears in Mrs. Warren’s profession at the Theater Royal Bath with her actress daughter

PLOT TWIST 2024 Brings out a memoir, Attracted by the gardenand start writing a novel