Frances Barber: 'When I went to Peter Jackson’s house in New Zealand, we had dinner in Bag End’

Frances Barber - Mark Bourdillon/AcornTV/Television Stills
Frances Barber - Mark Bourdillon/AcornTV/Television Stills

Last year, we filmed in Whitstable

... and the villages around there. It’s gorgeous. I’d only ever been there once before to have oysters on a day trip, but I fell in love with it. We started in October and finished at the end of January this year.

I've travelled a lot for work

...for which I’m very grateful, but I also love travelling. I love both going to the beach and relaxing completely and also love going to places that I’ve never been before.

The only time I could travel last year

... was to visit two friends of mine, who have a house in the south of France. So we went over on the train, and then drove down from Calais, stopping halfway in Limoges, and then carried on down to their house. France was so strict in their lockdown, so we didn’t really go out. Even in the outdoor markets, they were incredibly strict about wearing masks and hand sanitising. So we mainly just sat by the pool and did a bit of yoga, cooked lovely meals and played cards for three months, which was lovely.

I did a world tour with Sir Ian McKellen about 10 years ago:

King Lear and The Seagull. We went to Singapore, Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, and we ended up in New York. Because I was travelling with Ian, we were mainly bumped up to first class so I loved that.

A lot of doors open

...whenever I am with Ian, let’s put it that way. He took me and a couple of others to Peter Jackson’s amazing house in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand. It is his hideaway. We went on a boat on a man-made lake, and all of a sudden King Kong leapt up from one of the bushes. We actually had dinner in Bag End. He moved the set into the grounds of his house, and of course, Bag End itself is gigantic to make the hobbits look small. The set was all dressed as if they had just finished filming with The Hobbit.

Because I've already bust both of my legs

– one from falling off a bike and one from falling off a horse, I am never going skiing, as I know that something awful would happen.

The medieval streets of Siena, where Barber filmed part of her series on the Medicis - KavalenkavaVolha/Istockphoto
The medieval streets of Siena, where Barber filmed part of her series on the Medicis - KavalenkavaVolha/Istockphoto

One of my favourite beach holidays in the Caribbean

Years ago I went to a little island called Bequia, which is close to Mustique. I think you have to fly to St Vincent, and then get a boat from there. It was basically just a beautiful, gorgeous island. We walked down to the beach to order lunch at 11 and it would probably arrive by about 3, as it was Caribbean time. We just read books, went for walks and it was just glorious. That is the kind of holiday that I am yearning for at the moment, to do nothing but to be by the sea and in the sunshine.

We never went abroad growing up

My father wanted to see all of the British Isles. We went to Rhyll in a caravan every single summer when, of course, it rained the entire time. My sisters and I would fight over the snakes and ladders board. But we also went to Scotland and all over England. He was mad about battlefields and so we would go and visit different ones.

In America Ian once hired a tour bus and we went from LA across towards Denver

...and stopped off at various places including a Navajo Indian reservation and it was absolutely fantastic. Then he did another trip where we went from Washington, all the way down to South Carolina. It’s a wonderful way to see the country.

New York is my favourite place

...because it is such a theatre-land similar to London. It was just really exciting to be in New York, in a big hit show. You’re treated very well. Big movie stars come and take you for dinner. One night, Lauren Bacall was waiting for Ian. We were going to his loft to have dinner. I accidentally banged her on the head with my bag. And she went, “My God, who are you? What is happening?” She made bacon sandwiches for everyone, and was such a hoot. At the end of the evening, she picked up my handbag and she hit me on top of my head with it and she said: “Now we are even.”

You can’t overrate Paris

...where I have filmed a lot. It is one of the most fantastic cities in the world. But I also love Rome. I did a series called Medici: Masters of Florence and so we rehearsed in Rome, and then we went all over
Tuscany to Montepulciano and Siena and Pisa, and we filmed at all these old medieval castles all over the place. So I do think it’s a toss up between Paris and Rome for a favourite city.

I’d love to go to Sri Lanka for a week at a health resort

...and then a week of just lying about on the beach. I haven’t been to South America or Japan. I got a hankering for both of those maybe next year. I think this last year has made me think: go somewhere you’ve never been. Reykjavik in Iceland is also on my bucket list.

Interview by Roz Lewis

Whitstable Pearl is streaming now on Acorn TV