Back in 2016, HELLO! caught up with Cold Feet star Hermione Norris to chat about the eagerly awaited return of the hit series to ITV that autumn, 13 years since the final episode aired on our screens. Hermione, who played Karen Marsden, opened up about her concerns over the reboot, and why she couldn't resist it.
In our exclusive interview, Hermione, 49, explained: "It felt like only yesterday, but it first started 20 years ago, so you keep remembering where you were at that time. It was a totally different life – I wasn't married, I didn't have children. But I'd much rather be where I am now than where I was back then, any day."
The cast of Cold Feet
Cold Feet established Hermione’s career and put her firmly on the map. But her husband, TV writer and producer Simon Wheeler, and their children Wilf, 12, and Hero, eight, now take centre stage. “It’s all about them,” she said. “They are the most important people in my life.”
We met her in a shady spot of Forte Village, the luxurious resort in Santa Margherita di Pula, Sardinia, where Hermione, 49, came to escape with Simon and the kids for a well-timed break. For the past six months, she had been working on back-to- back projects in Leeds and Manchester – first on In the Club, the Kay Mellor drama about parents-to-be, then on Cold Feet. Away for months from their Somerset home, this was the first decent stretch of time they’ve spent together for a while. “It’s lovely not to have to think about anything apart from, ‘Which pool shall we go to?’” Hermione told us, as her children intermittently pop up, dripping in towels, to say hello.
At first, she didn’t want to revisit Cold Feet, which began as a pilot in 1996 and ran to five series from 1998-2003. In fact, she refused when writer Mike Bullen asked her last year. But the pull of her character Karen Marsden, the uptight former alcoholic mother and divorcee, was too strong. “I didn’t want to undo anything we’d done – the series was so loved. If we made it, it had to be really good. But Karen is mine, you know?” she said, her hand on her heart. “She’s mine.”
Hermione plays frosty, aloof and acerbic very well but in person, she was warm, quietly spoken and quick to laugh. She confessed to being “introverted, shy, a naturally private person” and joked that people think she’s posh because of her name and good posture from years of ballet training.
She revealed that she has kept in touch with the other Cold Feet actors over the years – she’s godmother to John Thomson’s daughter Olivia – but was nervous about them all being together again after so long. Their characters had of course moved on after 13 years – Karen had become the mother of teenage girls, James Nesbitt’s character Adam was living in Singapore with his son, and Pete (John Thomson) and Jenny (Fay Ripley) were together.
The actors had moved on too. “It was weird when we met for the first read through, but it was comfortable,” she said. “Usually in those situations, you’ve never met anyone before and you have to set up the story, the characters. But in this case, the foundations had already been laid.” Helen Baxendale, whose character Rachel died in a car crash in the last series, was greatly missed. “It was like, ‘Where’s our Helen?’ But I totally respect why she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to be a ghost, or a voice.”
Hermione felt a “huge weight of responsibility” for the series, but had no idea how it might be received. Nor is she likely to find out as she never reads reviews. “I know what I’m like, a bad review would upset me,” she said. Fame doesn’t sit comfortably with her and she found the recognition that came with starring in a hit series alarming at first. “You can be walking down the street and someone will just shout, ‘Cold Feet!’” she winced. “Then people stare at you and you don’t quite know why.” Perhaps that’s why she likes living in a remote area of rural Somerset, surrounded by sheep.
Hermione and her husband
Hermione was 35 and at the height of her success when she met Simon on the set of Wire in the Blood, where he was working on production. “I’d just returned from filming an episode of Cold Feet in Australia and was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got no normal life,’ and there he was,” she said with a smile. “There was something of a recognition. I knew that if I got engaged in it, it would become quite serious.” She had never been particularly interested in getting married. “It wasn’t really my focus. It just wasn’t. I didn’t grow up with that dream. I think some people find that quite weird. But for me, if it happened, great, but if it didn’t...” she shrugged.
When it did happen, however, it happened quickly, with the couple marrying a few months later in a candlelit ceremony in the Tower of London in December 2002. The subject of children was raised early. “In relationships in the past, I’d never have dared bring that up,” she said. “But that’s why I married Simon – because he was sure, he knew what he wanted. Everything was very open, there were no games. It enabled me to be honest, feel safe and be heard.”
She described her children as “chalk and cheese” – her son Wilf has a sensitive side, while her daughter Hero is a gregarious tomboy. She welled up describing the impact they’ve had on her life. “I had no idea,” she said, about becoming a mother. “Nothing could have prepared me for the love. It’s the most profound thing. I don’t think I knew what love was until I had my children. I’ve loved, but not like that. Simon feels the same – our children are our passion.”
When they were young, the family had a nanny and the children would accompany Hermione on acting jobs. Since then, she and Simon – who runs an independent production company, writing and producing dramas and documentaries including ITV’s Kingdom – share the childcare between them. Though marriage and kids weren’t really on her radar before meeting Simon, his commitment to family life was compelling. “That’s why I married Simon – because he was sure, he knew what he wanted,” she said.
Hermione was born in London, the second of four siblings (she has two sisters and a brother) and grew up “all over the place”, first in Essex, then in Derbyshire. Her mother, a health visitor, and her late father, a businessman, divorced when she was four and she describes her childhood as “chaotic”. “I was one of four and my mum was a single parent, so we had to bring ourselves up, really,” she recalled. Her upbringing taught her that: “You have to look after yourself, you have to be responsible.” This independence was reinforced when she won a scholarship to a boarding ballet school, where she was a pupil from the age of 11 to 18, which she describeed as “a cross between being in the army and a nunnery.”
It taught her discipline and focus, she said, but she doubted she would have been any good had she continued. “I probably would have been in the corps de ballet in Germany or something,” she joked. Instead, she discovered a passion for drama. She went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, performing in the theatre and episodically on TV until landing the role of Karen in the pilot of Cold Feet in 1996.
At the time of this interview, Hermione was approaching her 50th birthday and while proud of her achievements, she acknowledged that it was a “reflective” time for her. “I can’t believe I’m this age, but I’ve always looked forward to it, both as an actress and as a woman,” she said. “There’s a weight of experience, the pressure’s off. I’ve been lucky: I’ve had children, I’m married, I’ve had a very nice career... and you just don’t care as much, you know what I mean? There’s a strength in that.”