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Death in Paradise star Shantol Jackson opens up about love life, brush with Harry and Meghan and more - exclusive

Shantol Jackson plays Naomi Thomas in the hit BBC drama Death in Paradise 

Shantol Jackson cover photo
Emmy Griffiths
TV & Film Editor
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Playful and vibrant as she strikes a series of dramatic poses for the camera, actress Shantol Jackson is clearly loving every minute of her exclusive photoshoot for HELLO!. Despite declaring herself “not a fashionista at all”, the Death in Paradise star looks a complete natural as she models a selection of cool and colourful designs.

“I have very little fashion sense, so I get people I trust to do this,” says Shantol, 31, adding that the shoot has been the highlight of her stay in London, where the star – born and based in Jamaica – has been promoting the new series of the hit BBC show she’s been part of for three years. 

WATCH: Shantol Jackson works her magic in behind the scenes photoshoot

“I love London. I call it my ‘second city’,” she says. Although it was Death in Paradise’s costume designer Lisa Phillips-Dodsworth who sparked the actress’s interest in fashion and bright colours – “she’s really good at finding things that fit my skin tone and pays so much respect to my culture”, Shantol says – she was equally happy wearing the uniform of a police officer before her character was promoted to the rank of detective sergeant. “I won’t lie, I did love my uniform,” she says with a laugh.

Shantol landed the part as intuitive police officer Naomi Thomas in the show, which is filmed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, in 2021 – but securing the role wasn’t all plain sailing. “I auditioned a year after getting my agent and I didn’t get the job,” she says. 

Shantol lives in Kingston, Jamaica when not filming the show© Christopher Fenner
Shantol lives in Kingston, Jamaica when not filming the show

“They said: ‘We really like your tape; you’re just not the right fit for this particular role.’ “At the time, I couldn’t understand it, so I cried. My manager in Jamaica got so excited and then it didn’t happen. I was so disappointed.

“Then, a few years later, my agent said: ‘So you remember that audition you did for Death in Paradise? They think they have a role that’s good for you now.’ I said: ‘What?!’” Her “chemistry read” audition had to be done from her home near Kingston, the Jamaican capital, over Zoom – not helped by the fact that building work was going on nearby. “I had to go next door and ask the men please to kindly stop their work. I said: ‘Could you just give me ten minutes?” 

They were very kind and gave me about eight minutes,” she laughs. “We managed to get it done and I’ve been on the show ever since. It’s been a lovely learning experience. I’m so grateful.”

The show wasn’t Shantol’s first acting gig; she previously starred in Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie, for which she had a surprise , for which she had a surprise meeting with the Luther star. She was told that the director was flying to Jamaica to meet her, but hadn’t realised that it was Idris himself. “I knew he was connected – I thought he was an executive producer,” she says.

“I get to this place and there’s this massive human being. Really tall, really big, and he’s just very cool and I’m standing there like: ‘This is fricking Idris Elba,’ and he’s just acting like my uncle, quite chill!”

Her success is all the sweeter knowing that it hasn’t come easily. As her father’s only child (her mother has three other children), the pair are close, and her dad, who runs a car wash, worked hard to ensure she had the best education and opportunities. However, he was initially wary of her ambition to act. “He was like: ‘How are you going to survive? You have to get a degree,’” she says. “He didn’t send me to a theatre college, which I wanted to do, and I was mad, but he was paying my school fees, so I had to do what he wanted me to do!”

However, her determination and ambition paid off, eventually securing her the role of a lifetime. “He’s so proud – and that’s my biggest dream, to be honest: to make my daddy really proud,” Shantol says. “On my very first day on Death in Paradise, I took a photo of myself in , I took a photo of myself in the uniform – and that’s his WhatsApp display picture.”

It was especially fitting to win a part on a show that Shantol and her dad used to watch together. “It must have been the first series, starring Ben Miller,” she says. “We were interested because this is a show in the Caribbean but a British guy was the lead.

“When I got the job, 11 series later, my father messaged me to ask: ‘Is the commissioner still the commissioner? Who is still there from the show?’ He was so excited.” Being away from her dad is a downside, as is the fact that her schedule hasn’t allowed much time for Shantol to find love – yet.

“It is a long time to be away, and that makes having a partner quite difficult. I’m hoping to work on that this year. We have biological clocks, so we need to get the ball rolling when it comes to that,” she says with a laugh.

“But you need to find someone who understands your lifestyle when you have to work away from wherever home is, and it has to be someone who is also able to come to you. When you’re there, you’re there; you can’t leave. “It has to be somebody who can hop over now and then, who understands that this is my life and can handle something that is a bit difficult.” Surely seeing 'must be willing to visit me in Guadeloupe' on her Tinder bio wouldn’t be a dealbreaker for many eligible partners? “I haven’t been on Tinder,” Shantol says. “It’s tricky, but I’ve seen people do it, so I know it can be done.”

Who is Naomi Thomas in Death in Paradise?

Shantol Jackson as Naomi© Amelia Troubridge
Shantol Jackson as Naomi

Naomi is a Detective Sergeant on the island of Saint Marie. She comes from a hard-working farming family who sold tropical fruits. She learnt to stand her ground and is not afraid to say it how it is from a young age. 

According to the BBC, Naomi is a natural detective, who dreamed of becoming an investigator. "Smart and ambitious, she is a gifted officer with a friendly charm who immediately clicks with the rest of the team."  

Among those with a longdistance relationship is co-star Ralf Little, who’s engaged to American screenwriter Lindsey Ferrentino. Of her friendship with the actor, Shantol says: “Ralf is an interesting character. Off camera, it’s mostly banter and him messing and fooling around, but on camera, I think both characters play well.”

Ralf Little and Shantol Jackson play DI Neville and Naomi Thomas in Death in Paradise© Denis Guyenon
Ralf Little and Shantol Jackson play DI Neville and Naomi Thomas in Death in Paradise

Although she travels a lot and enjoys working in Guadeloupe, it is evident that Shantol has a deep love for her home country.

“I’ve been to a few other Caribbean islands and I love the Caribbean, but Jamaica – the warmth of the people – they’re just so excited,” she says. “I do miss home and even outside my family, I miss my people and I miss the food. Nobody does it the way we do.” While spending time in Kingston recently, Shantol walked the red carpet at the premiere of the Bob Marley movie One Love, where she was amazed to see the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

“Meghan and Harry just casually walked past me,” she says in disbelief. “I’m sure only the government officials knew they were coming. They were very sweet and very excited. “I was dumbstruck because I wasn't expecting it. I’m like: ‘This never happens.’ They enjoyed being there and it didn’t feel as though you couldn’t access them. Of course there were bodyguards, but if people said hello, they said: ‘Oh, hi.’ It wasn’t like: ‘Oh, don’t speak to me.’” 

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As her career trajectory continues upwards, Shantol may well find herself surrounded by her own awestruck fans on a red carpet one day. But for now, she’s having the time of her life as a star of one of the biggest shows on the BBC, even getting to work in paradise. 

“I appreciate the island," she says. “I love being there. It’s like a second home.”

Photographer Christopher Fenner

Styling Rachel Davis @ ONE Represents

Hair and Makeup Dionne Thomas using Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath, MAC

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