Keeley Hawes: Modelling in the 90s was traumatic for women

Keeley Hawes
Keeley Hawes
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keeley hawes
Hawes stars in Scoop, a retelling of the Duke of York's 2019 Newsnight interview - Charlotte Hadden

Keeley Hawes is running on adrenalin. We meet in a café on London’s Drury Lane at the start of her nine-week theatre stint – she’s performing in The Human Body at the Donmar Warehouse six nights a week, with rehearsals by day. She takes off her coat (it’s from The Row) and we order tea; she can’t stomach much else.

Hawes is “superb”, the papers will say in the coming days. But she doesn’t know that yet. As we talk she nervously twists her charm necklaces, a horseshoe and a dice, angled six-up.

“Theatre feels like a marathon, especially when you haven’t done it for 10 years,” she says. “We were all over there in that building last night at one o’clock in the morning after the show, reworking a scene for today. It’s certainly keeping me on my toes.”

With roles on stage, television and film all currently in play, Hawes has achieved the trifecta actors dream of – even if she’s a bit too tired to appreciate it at this very moment. At 48 she is one of Britain’s best-loved talents, her hits spanning Tipping the Velvet and The Durrells, via Line of Duty and Bodyguard.

Keeley Hawes
The trifecta: Hawes, 48, currently has roles on stage, television and film - Charlotte Hadden

Wool jacket, £940, and matching trousers, £655, both Ami; leather brogues, £980, Church’s; gold and diamond choker, £30,720, Tabayer; gold and diamond ring, £14,400, Messika

Her husband of 20 years, Matthew Macfadyen, is also quite busy. Hawes missed watching him win a SAG Award due to her own show dates, but was in Hollywood weeks before to see him take an Emmy for his defining role as Tom Wambsgans in Succession. Together they have become the power couple to watch (on every stage, channel and streaming service) in the entertainment world. And yet at home in west London, they manage to lead a life that’s really quite normal.

Hawes and Matthew Macfadyen at the Emmy Awards in January
Hawes and husband Matthew Macfadyen at the Emmy Awards in January. The couple will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this year - Getty

“It can be a bit tricky for us to go out for dinner without being interrupted,” she confirms. “It’s more tricky when it’s the end of Succession, or something’s out on a Sunday night, or when Line of Duty was on. Then we just don’t go out, there’s no point trying. But that’s OK, we get that it’s part of celebrating that something has been successful, and usually people just say lovely things. It makes us laugh when they tell us we’re taller than they thought we’d be, or fatter, or they preferred me blonde. It’s something you do get used to. Sort of.”

Her next role is a Netflix film coup. Scoop retells the story of the Duke of York’s car-crash 2019 Newsnight interview, in which he faced hardline questioning from Emily Maitlis over his relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In the aftermath, the Duke stepped down from royal duties and paid an estimated £12 million settlement, without admitting liability, to Virginia Giuffre, who had accused him of having sex with her when she was 17 and had been trafficked by Epstein.

Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew in new Netflix film Scoop - Netflix

Rufus Sewell makes for a surprising, prosthetically portly Prince Andrew, and Gillian Anderson is a sharp Maitlis. Hawes plays Amanda Thirsk, the Prince’s private secretary. She’s in the background but instrumental: according to Scoop, the interview was arranged on Thirsk’s go-ahead.

“She wanted everyone to see him through her eyes, and through her eyes, he’s a great guy,” says Hawes, smiling through gritted teeth.

Directed by Philip Martin, who oversaw early episodes of The Crown, Scoop is similarly gripping in that it takes us inside the palace walls. We follow the mechanics of setting up the interview, based on the diary kept by Sam McAlister (played on screen by Billie Piper), the BBC booker who secured it via negotiations with Thirsk. You know what’s going to happen – you watched it the first time – but it won’t stop you from cringing all over again at the sight of Sewell scratching his plump chin while searching for excuses.

“And Prince Andrew’s team all thought it had gone really well,” says Hawes. “They were high-fiving each other. It was only when it aired and Twitter started coming through that they realised the impact it was having. No one knew that he was going to start talking about Pizza Express. No one knew that he was going to throw those grenades into that interview. Yet out it came.”

Hawes plays Amanda Thirsk, private secretary to Prince Andrew - Netflix

Unlike the other characters in this real-life melodrama, there was very little of Amanda Thirsk in the public domain for Hawes to research. A Cambridge graduate, Thirsk led the Prince’s Pitch@Palace initiative for entrepreneurs, and accompanied him to all of his formal engagements.

“She’s in the background, that’s her role,” explains Hawes of how she studied Thirsk’s mannerisms. “She’s behind him in so many photographs, but she hasn’t given interviews. I think all in all she comes out of it quite well – you don’t want to demonise someone [who themselves did nothing wrong]. I think she truly had his best interests at heart.”

While Sewell’s Prince Andrew is the talking point of the piece, Hawes points out that Scoop is “actually all about the women. It’s those four women who made it happen and who caused the downfall of a major member of the Royal family; that’s no small feat.”

The four are Thirsk, McAlister, Maitlis and Princess Beatrice (played by Charity Wakefield). The Princess, according to Scoop, was influential in her father’s decision to do the interview – she reportedly attended a negotiation with the Newsnight team at Buckingham Palace – in an attempt to rehabilitate his public image. “It was a pivotal moment where he decided, and Beatrice was there,” says Hawes.

Thirsk’s misplaced admiration for her employer is perhaps understandable, says Hawes, when you consider the historic press adoration poured on to the late Queen’s favourite son. “The people that I’ve spoken to who know Prince Andrew are full of love for him,” she says. “Because he is a great guy. Of course he is. It’s easy to forget – and I was growing up during that period – but we celebrated those men. Bill Wyman and his teenage bride, Randy Andy in his military suit. They were sexy – it sounds disgusting now to say it, but it was heroic.”

Re-examining events that she had seen in the media at the time was uncomfortable: “It’s very difficult now to take yourself back to that and imagine through a totally different lens how that behaviour was viewed,” she says. “I’m not sure those men did think they were doing anything wrong at that time. They were quite open about it, and of course the tide turns and we all go, ‘Actually, that’s really not on.’”

The Royal family is aware of Scoop, but, as with The Crown, it is unlikely to comment on it publicly. “And nor should they,” Hawes says.

“I suppose it’s part and parcel of being in that family. I don’t envy any of them, but I’m sure they see it as just another thing to move on from. We’re truthful; it’s nothing that we don’t already know.”

'She's in the background, that's her role,' explains Hawes of how she studied Thirsk's mannerisms - Netflix

Still, I say, it’s more likely that she might expect a Golden Globe next year than an OBE. “Well, yes, I don’t think there’s much chance of any of that for us,” she says, laughing.

Working on Scoop was a salve for Hawes after a few difficult roles. “I’d done a couple of jobs which were a bit tricky for one reason or another, and I thought I’d have some time off,” she explains. “I was sent this and I thought, ‘Even if it’s an awful experience, it’s not for long.’ But actually it was wonderful, it gave me my faith back.”

Hawes had last worked on Stonehouse, about the Labour politician John Stonehouse, who unsuccessfully faked his own death in 1974, in which she co-starred with her husband, and on the Canadian thriller Orphan Black: Echoes. She leaves us to guess which was the more uncomfortable experience.

After almost a year off, Hawes says she felt “quite clear-eyed about everything” and said yes to the trio of Scoop, The Human Body, and Miss Austen, the story of Cassandra Austen, elder sister of Jane, which airs on the BBC later this year. They all passed the two tests she now conducts before accepting any job: a bathtub read, and the approval of her husband. “We always read scripts for each other,” she says. “He’s got great taste. If he had questionable taste, I think that would be a real issue for us.”

The confidence to be selective about what roles she’ll take has come from a 36-year career. Hawes shows me pictures that she recently found from when she first started acting professionally, aged 12. “You can see I’m a very serious actor here, I’m all about the work,” she says, laughing. The black-and-white shot shows a harshly lit child with a triangular face – totally unrecognisable as Hawes. “It’s so funny – I look like Helena Bonham Carter when she played the Red Queen.”

Keeley Hawes
Hawes has been acting since the age of 12 - Charlotte Hadden

Hawes grew up in a council flat in London’s Marylebone, the daughter of Brenda, mother of four, and Tony, a taxi driver. She was seven when the Sylvia Young Theatre School opened a new site opposite her home: she took it as a sign. “It literally appeared in front of me,” she says.

“If it hadn’t, I don’t know how, as a working-class child at that time, I would have got into this job. I was offered a grant and I was able to go and I worked and I got the experience. It went on from there, and I couldn’t stop.”

Working with younger cast members on both Miss Austen and The Human Body has led her to reflect on her upbringing in the industry. “When I look at that picture, I’m not sure what I was thinking about what this job could be,” she considers. “Things have changed so dramatically – there are protections that just didn’t exist in the Nineties. These young actors have a press person, and it’s expensive for them, but it’s great because they won’t make those bad decisions. Or if you do, it’s not your fault.”

At the beginning of her career, Hawes worked as a fashion model, as well as regularly appearing in photoshoots to promote her acting projects. Looking back, she says, it was “horrific”. “You have guidance now in a way that I didn’t when I started out,” she explains. “The Nineties were traumatic for women. You’d go to a photoshoot and there would be a rail of underwear. You’d have no press person. The BBC or whoever would have sent a list of [promotional] things for you to do, and you would just go and be photographed at the age of 19 or whatever.

“That whole time was really… I don’t want to get into it,” she stops herself. “But watching the Russell Brand documentary [Dispatches – Russell Brand: In Plain Sight] just left me feeling quite traumatised personally. I’m recognising so much of that behaviour but with a totally different lens, and so much of what happened to us was in that vein and was so wrong, but we just accepted it. It was totally normal and it was what was expected.”

Hawes worked her way out of modelling jobs and music-video cameos (she was in Saturday Night by Suede, Marvellous by The Lightning Seeds, and several others) and into the roles that she really wanted – in Dennis Potter’s Karaoke and as Tamara in The Avengers.

keeley hawes
'We have been on different sides of the planet and we have brought up three children, and that's not easy,' says Hawes of her marriage with Macfadyen - Charlotte Hadden

Wool jacket, £2,395, Huishan Zhang; white gold and diamond ring, £5,180, Tabayer

By the time she starred in Spooks, in 2002, with Macfadyen, she was a 26-year-old veteran with 26 acting credits under her belt. She was also married to the cartoonist Spencer McCallum and had a baby son, Myles.

Macfadyen has described the moment he met Hawes as “awful, because I realised I’d fallen for her”. She split with McCallum (they remain good friends), married Macfadyen and had two more children, Maggie and Ralph. It’s their 20th wedding anniversary this year and there’s no great party planned; perhaps an undisturbed dinner date would be nice.

“Is it 20 this year?” she jokes. “I think the secret is to keep going. I mean, obviously don’t keep going if it’s truly awful. But we’ve kept going. We have been on different sides of the planet a lot of the time and we have brought up three children, and that’s not easy. It’s hard, it takes its toll on you. You go through all those things – working and trying to have a life.”

The children are now in their late teens and early 20s. She and Macfadyen have done it: cheers to them. “You can’t imagine them ever growing up, and then all of a sudden you’re coming out of the trenches,” she says, beaming. “My eldest son is a primary school teacher now. I’m so ridiculously proud. He’s really awesome and he’s doing something important in the world. They’re all flying off and doing their own stuff, and the best thing is that they’re really nice people. We can look at them and go, ‘Phew.’”

Hawes is forthcoming with the proud phone photos. Next up she shows me her poodles wearing emerald bow ties, fresh from the groomers. When she and Macfadyen adopted their latest addition, Lula, from Battersea in December, the picture she posted on Instagram went viral. “Keeley Hawes reveals HUGE teddy bear-like dog” read one tabloid headline. “It was just the angle of the photograph,” she explains, laughing. Buster, the excitable “big” brother loomed large in the frame. “He’s not a 6ft dog! He’s a miniature. But that’s how these things take off…”

Keeley Hawes
Hawes says she likes 'quite classic clothes', and was on the front row at London Fashion Week in February - Charlotte Hadden

Wool coat, £2,995, Roksanda; gold hoops, £1,425, 886 by The Royal Mint; gold and diamond rings, from £2,200, both Tabayer

As the children slowly move out, Hawes seems happy to fill the space with furry replacements. “I’m just obsessed,” she says. “Matthew has become a massive dog lover. He always said he didn’t want any; now he’s covered in dogs. They adore him, as dogs tend to do when they think you might not be 100 per cent about them.”

Hawes is easy to talk to, and gives good fashion chat. She looks easily stylish in her Khaite high-waist black trousers and a cardigan from Raey – the cashmere drops nonchalantly, just so, to reveal her bare shoulder.

“I like quite classic clothes,” she says. “It’s taken me a long time, actually, just to be happy and comfortable and settled, but that’s what I like. I don’t worry about getting dressed anymore. I can put clothes on and leave, which is a revelation, really.”

Hawes has been working with the stylist Anna Hughes-Chamberlain since 2022, and says that the collaboration has given her a confidence boost. “We didn’t used to have stylists – you only need to google pictures of anyone from 1990 to 2002 to see that. But actually, much more recently, I’ve found the pressure of not having a stylist is just too much. I really enjoy clothes, but a stylist will know what works well on someone, they’ll know what colour the carpet is at the event so that you don’t look like a floating head. It’s all of those sorts of things.”

On the front row at JW Anderson’s latest show during London Fashion Week, Hawes sat next to the novelist Zadie Smith, an old friend from her college days. Fashion is a circle that she could dominate in – if only she had time to go to the shows. “It was heaven, I loved it,” she says. On the other hand, the red carpet of premieres and awards ceremonies isn’t her natural habitat, and she admits that she can feel “vulnerable”.

“It’s hard to imagine people when they are standing smiling on the red carpet feeling vulnerable, but yeah, it’s a very odd, unnatural thing to be doing. I’m just glad that the days of putting crosses next to people’s outfits are over.”

In an industry full of fillers and facelifts, Hawes’s natural beauty stands out. “HD is no one’s friend,” she says, “but I would much rather keep my face really clean. I see a wonderful facialist, Dr David Jack, I do microneedling, laser for pigmentation, you name it, and I really see results from that.”

She does reformer Pilates – she goes to a public class alongside 19-year-olds and an 80-year-old. “I absolutely love it,” she says. “I tried so many other things; because I’m 48, I want to feel better and get the endorphins going, and it’s good for mental health. But before this I hadn’t found ‘the thing’.”

Her career versatility and longevity, she thinks, rely on her ageing naturally. She could never have played Mrs Durrell, she has said, if she’d had her lips done. You wouldn’t see DI Lindsay Denton with a duck pout.

“What’s the worst that can happen if you go out with no make-up on?” she asks. “Women are gorgeous.” She’ll go out make-up free, “and if you get papped you do get savaged in the comments. But you can’t live your life worrying about the comments, can you?”

Her tea has gone cold and she’s only had a few sips, but it’s time to go back to rehearsal. “This has totally taken my mind off the play tonight,” she says. “My heart has stopped racing for once.”

She reaches for the cashmere coat, and heads for the stage door.

CORRECTION: The original headline of this article may have given the incorrect impression that Keeley Hawes considered Prince Andrew ‘heroic’. In fact, she was commenting on the historical view of him, not her personal view.  We are happy to correct the record.

Scoop is on Netflix now

Lead image outfit details: Wool-mohair blazer, £3,400, cotton blouse, £1,100, and wool-silk trousers, £2,000, all Dior. Calfskin loafers, £850, Church’s. Gold and diamond earrings, £7,200, and gold and diamond ring, £5,180, both Tabayer.

Styling by: Tona Stell. Stylist’s assistant: Alice Dench. Hair: Louis Byrne at Premier Hair and Make-up, using L’Oréal Pro. Make-up: Kenneth Soh at The Wall Group, using Ipsum and Merit Beauty. With thanks to JJ Studios

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