How we met: Julie MacDonald & Laura Main

'I imagine it tickles her to watch me host the news. Last time we met, we just gossiped about "The Hills" and had our nails done'

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The Independent Online

Julie MacDonald, 38

A TV news journalist, MacDonald (left in picture) has appeared on the BBC, ITV and Channel 5. Since 2006, she has presented the news on Al Jazeera. She also runs a working mother's website, the Daily Juggle. She lives in Surrey with her husband and two daughters

I met Laura at university in Aberdeen, at the extracurricular theatre group there. I always had the acting bug, I think. You look at people who read the news and think they must be terribly serious all the time, even when they're making dinner. But I never was that type. I'm quite gregarious, really, and I love to sing. In fact, I wanted to be a singer originally.

I heard about Laura before I met her. She was very popular in the theatre group, and very talented. I'm not massively competitive, but when you go for auditions, you can't help but look out for the people you'll be up against. I remember being in the hallway and hearing her sing. The moment I heard her, I thought, "Might as well pack my bag…" Then she came out, this quite petite girl, and flashed this big smile at me. She seemed really nice. We clicked, and we've been friends ever since.

After university, we both came down to London. Although we grew apart – I lived in New York for a while, then was based in Doha – we always emailed, and it's always lovely to be able to turn the TV on, and see her there.

The phrase "star quality" is bandied about a lot, but Laura always did have it. She is what they call a "triple threat": she can dance, sing, act. I'm thrilled she's doing so well on Call the Midwife now. It's so lovely to see all those early hopes and ambitions realised.

I imagine it tickles her to watch me host the news, because obviously on screen I'm showing only one side of my personality. She sees this incredibly polished, professional and necessarily serious individual, while knowing full well the last time we met we were gossiping about how much we both loved The Hills, and having our nails done.

Our lives have gone down different paths for now. I'm married with children, she is still young and fancy-free. I envy that slightly, because when you have children, all that stops, and of course you miss it. But at the same time it's nice to live vicariously through her. When we meet these days, I purposely don't involve my children. I have lots of mum friends, and surrogate aunties, but with Laura, I love to talk about the old days, the industry we're in, our ambitions; I like it to be just us, a proper refresh, a cup of tea and a good gossip.

If we take anything from one another, it's a shared strength to keep going in an often difficult, and competitive, world. When I started out, being a cheerful blonde from Scotland didn't necessarily suggest I'd end up in serious news. You have to work hard at it. I have, and so has Laura. So when I watch her on Call the Midwife, I can see that she has absolutely nailed it. I'm proud of her.

Laura Main, 34

A stage and screen actress of 10 years' standing, Main can currently be seen as Sister Bernadette in the BBC's 'Call the Midwife'. Originally from Aberdeen, she now lives in London

Our university theatre group, Treading the Boards, was a lot of fun. We'd put on shows written by the students that were full of local humour, and they'd always sell out, sometimes weeks in advance. They were a wonderful introduction to university life in general, because they were very intensive experiences; they threw people together, and we bonded quickly. The friends I made then are the friends I still have, Julie among them.

You couldn't really miss Julie at university. She was so beautiful, radiant and popular: all the boys fancied her. She was the social organiser – in an official capacity, I think – and was responsible for our charity pub crawls. She did them very well indeed. But there was always more to her than meets the eye. When I first joined the group, I was very nervous, but she was so welcoming and inclusive.

She had this natural enthusiasm about her. I was looking at old photographs recently, and there she is in every picture, singing and dancing away with absolute gusto and joy.

She's a proper grown-up now, of course, with a very serious job. But while on the one hand she isn't the same girl she was at university at all, on the other hand, she is. She is still someone I can have such a laugh with.

We've drifted in and out of one another's lives over the years. But I remember one time, in particular, very well. We hadn't seen each other in perhaps two years, and I was doing a temp job at Millbank, on reception at the newsroom there, and she came in, this important TV news journalist. Looking back, it could have been embarrassing for me, the out-of-work actress caught red-handed in the humbling day job. But there was none of that from her. She was just as she always has been: so encouraging, so understanding. So we very quickly picked up from where we'd left off.

I would never put her under the kind of pressure that required her to give me any professional encouragement, though. You know, I would never say to her, "Here's my work, watch it, and let me know what you think." But then, you know what? I don't really need to, because she is always so full of encouragement anyway. When I recorded a single with [Midwife co-star] Stephen McGann for Children in Need last year, our version of "When I Fall in Love", Julie immediately went out and bought copies for all her family. That's very much a typical thing she'd do.

A few years ago, she trained as a life coach, which didn't surprise me at all. That sense of support is part of her personality. She is so bubbly, so full of life and has an infectiousness which means you cannot help but feel lifted simply by being in her company.

The new series of 'Call the Midwife' starts at 8pm tonight on BBC1