How We Met: Simon Paisley Day & Jenna Russell

'Jenna's to blame for my daughter running round pretending to be an "X Factor" contestant'


Simon Paisley Day, 43, is an acclaimed stage actor, whose recent credits include the role of Victor in Noël Coward's 'Private Lives' opposite Kim Cattrall, which he will reprise on Broadway in 2011. He is about to be seen playing Malvolio in Peter Hall's 80th-birthday production of 'Twelfth Night'. He lives in Whitstable with his wife and two children.

I met Jenna through her partner Raymond; I've been friends with him for about 20 years because we were in drama school at the Bristol Old Vic together. But I really got to know her through moving to Whitstable. Around the turn of the millennium, Raymond and I shared a dressing-room during Trevor Nunn's ensemble season at the National. We were both looking for somewhere to live, so he and I hatched a plan to move there. North Kent was uncharted territory for us, so it was a case of "If you go, we'll go", and we bought houses around the same time.

Jenna's a famously lovely person, like Judi Dench; everyone wants a bit of her. I remember going to a first night with her at the Menier Chocolate Factory [arts venue] a couple of years ago: I was thinking, "Let's get out of here and get back home," but I couldn't pull her away– she was too busy being nice to people.

I see Jenna about once a week to once a fortnight. She, Raymond, my wife Susy and I have had a lot of fun times together, taking walks and eating out or just sitting on the beach and having a beer at a pub. We also had a particularly lovely Christmas in North Carolina together. My father-in-law lives there and Ray and Jenna flew out to join us and stayed in the neighbours' stables, which were in fact nicer than any house you've ever stayed in.

We've been there for each other through good times and bad, and having kids is something that really binds you together; we'll talk to each other about troublesome things, like what to do with a kid who doesn't sleep. Jenna is also a fantastic godmother to my daughter Beatrice. The only bad thing about it is that Jenna is a splendid singer with these wonderful "money notes" – full-on, musical theatre vibrato expressions – which she'll launch into at some completely banal moment, like when she's asking you to pass the mayonnaise. And Bea has followed her example; so she's partly to blame for the fact my daughter runs around the house pretending to be an X Factor wannabe.

Jenna Russell, 43, is an actress and singer best known for her stage work, including her Olivier-winning performance in the 2008 Menier Chocolate Factory production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Sunday in the Park with George'. She lives in Whitstable with her partner and daughter

I think I first met Simon 14 or 15 years ago. Simon and my partner Ray were part of a group of friends at Bristol Old Vic. The gang all came up to Birmingham Rep when Ray and I were acting in a play together, and we were introduced. Then, a few years later, Ray and I and Simon and his wife all decamped from London to Whitstable at the same time.

Whitstable is a tight-knit community and we've all become very close. Both Simon and Susy have this extraordinary energy: Susy's a conservation biologist, and she'll be writing articles and looking after two children, and Simon will be acting in a play and writing another in the intervals. I do wonder how they do it.

Ray and I are also proud godparents to Beatrice, Simon's oldest, who's just super-intelligent and gorgeous. There's this joke that I sing everything, and now Beatrice has taken up that habit; apparently she's getting on the old piano, making up songs. I'm all up for her being a little musical star.

Simon is extremely funny, and quite famous for his gags. There was this one occasion, about 10 years ago, involving Jeffrey Archer: we'd met him briefly at a party and I got this phone call from a person I thought was Archer saying, "So lovely to meet you both, I'd love to invite you to the country for the weekend." I totally fell for it, and rang up the host of the party we'd met Archer at, who was upset she hadn't been invited. Only a week later did I discover it had been Simon impersonating him. He's a naughty bugger: a normal person would ring up a day later and [reveal all] but he let it stew.

Simon will be perfect as Malvolio: wonderfully arch and wry. Susy and I also think it's quite funny because he has these beautifully slender legs, but he never gets them out as he thinks they're feminine. And now here he is in a play that will draw attention to them in yellow stockings.

There's a gang of us friends who have this fantasy of buying a piece of land together and building our little houses on it, and our kids would have space to run around and we could all see each other all the time. That kind of community would be bliss, so now we just need to make lots of money to make that happen!

My favourite memory of Simon is from when Beatrice was born. She was this tiny little thing, like a little pea, and I've never seen anyone so happy: for the next six months, his whole face would redden and his eyes would fill with tears whenever he talked about her. It was a beautiful thing.

Jenna Russell is in 'Season's Greetings' at the National Theatre Olivier to 13 March, while Simon Paisley Day is in 'Twelfth Night' at the NT Cottesloe from 11 January to 2 March. For tickets, tel: 020 7452 3000

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