The Way I Was: Liver and bacon in the Gorbals: Nicola Pagett tells Nicholas Roe how Glasgow taught her she really could act

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS is a funny old picture. I always hated it but I quite like it now, looking back. It's a front-of-house publicity photo for the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow, taken in 1967, not long after my 21st birthday.

I'd been acting for two-and-a-half years and I'd got this proper job at last - I mean, I'd had proper jobs before but here I was going to play some decent parts with enough time to rehearse.

I'd done a play with Vivien Leigh which had flopped and I'd done weekly rep at Worthing - five days per play, and never enough time to learn the lines. And I'd just come back from Ireland where I'd done this terrible film called The Viking Queen. You won't remember it, it was one of those 'war in ancient times' things, like She. I was the youngest sister in a Viking family and had to fight with a sword; but that was the only bit that was any fun.

It was garbage, but I got pounds 100 a week, which was a fortune, and it paid for going to Glasgow where I earnt far less. But I've got this super agent and, instead of wanting to make money out of me, he was delighted that I should go and learn about what I should really be doing. I've always liked good stuff, you see. It sounds snobby, but Worthing had been all Agatha Christies, and then there was this terrible film. In Glasgow I did Twelfth Night and Racine . . . and I found I liked these people, I liked being in their plays. You find your own home, and I felt I belonged in that world.

I lived off liver and bacon and used to go to the theatre by bus until I passed my driving test - which I shouldn't have because I crashed into another car a few days after taking the test.

I had a bed-sit in the Gorbals which I loved, and I met this chap in the company and we had an affair. I bought a huge mattress from a second-hand shop which covered the floor, and then, when we fell out, I cut the mattress up with a pair of scissors, because it was so symbolic. It took five hours and I stuffed it into several dustbins. Those were the days; you're both young, on you go.

In Glasgow I played seven parts and I think I was different in each of them. I thought, well, that's what I'm supposed to do, maybe I can go on and be different in something else.

My ambition then was to open in the West End and have men with cloaks take me out to dinner. I wanted to go to London and act there - and I have, and I love it. But I don't love it for the reasons I thought I would. It doesn't make me feel important, it doesn't make me feel successful. I adore being in the paper and I love people knowing who I am, especially if they're nice to me in the supermarket but, more than anything, I like looking into the eyes of someone whose work I respect and seeing them look back as if to say 'I think you can do it, too'. If anything means anything, that does. If I hadn't gone to Glasgow I wouldn't have known I could do it. It gave me the confidence to go on and do other stuff by good writers.

Nicola Pagett appears in Harold Pinter's 'Party Time' on Channel 4, 17 November at 9pm.

(Photograph omitted)

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