The Gold Edition Meets… Fay Ripley
The Gold Edition Meets… Fay Ripley

The Gold Edition Meets… Fay Ripley

Actress Fay Ripley is best known for her career-defining part in the TV drama, Cold Feet. As housewife Jenny Gifford, she won the heart of the nation – which explains why so many people were pleased to see her revive the role in the show’s reunion, which ran between 2016 and 2020. Here, we ask Fay to talk about where her love of acting came from, how Cold Feet changed her life and the advice she’d give aspiring actors today.

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So much of what you end up doing in life comes down to somebody believing in you. I went to an all-girls Catholic school and I did not excel in many subjects, which I think is often the way with actors. People who are very creative don't fit into boxes and I didn't fit into the nuns’ box. In fact, Sister Regis threw me out of geography for wearing mascara and I wasn’t allowed to take my geography exam, which felt particularly harsh. I don’t think it’s surprising then that the one teacher who told me I wasn’t bad at something turned out to be the drama teacher. 

I was never someone who cared about seeing my name in lights. It really was about someone championing me. I had quite an eccentric family – my stepdad was in a band and my auntie was a famous pop star – so on that level I think I was allowed to think outside the box. But my father was very against me being an actress. I mainly lived with him after my parents’ divorce, so his influence was quite strong. His main goal for me was to marry rich! But I forged ahead, went to college and studied drama as one of my three A Levels. Again, I had an incredible teacher – a guy called Jonathan Holloway – so what was happening at home was slightly irrelevant.  

My story was definitely shaped by the fact that I didn't get into drama school right away. It took me three years, which feels like no time now, but when you're 18 and all you want to do is leave Surrey and go to the big city and be an actress, I thought my only option was to go to drama school. Nowadays, there are so many ways to break into the industry, but back then there really was only the one. So I moved to London anyway and worked some of the worst jobs so I could just keep trying. It was agony but it did give me a resilient mindset for the rest of my life – and definitely my life as an actor. There's a lot of rejection in this business and a lot of it feels personal. 

Once I got into drama school, I made the three years I had there the greatest three years of my life. I was just so grateful to be there. At the time I had very short hair and used to wear boxy suits and big men's shoes – very Eurythmics! Anyway, when I got into Guildhall, I met with the head, Tony Church, who told me he’d really championed me getting into the school. The funny part was he’d thought I was a bloke because of the way I dressed – even though my audition piece was one of Juliet’s monologues from Romeo & Juliet. I’d finally got into drama school, only to find out they thought I was a fella!

One of the most useful things actors can know is that IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. When you get a ‘no’, it’s often JUST ADMIN.

The end of drama school is like rats leaving a sinking ship. You have this amazing time and then everybody looks at each other and goes, “Oh, now I've got to get a job.” It isn’t true, but it feels like if someone else gets a part, they’re taking something away from you. True to form, though, I was a late bloomer; I signed with an agent late and so it was a struggle to get going. People were going off to big filming jobs and my first job was at Liverpool Playhouse where I was playing a Japanese character with ten lines. It would never happen now – and people will probably be glad to hear it was so bad we actually closed the Liverpool Playhouse! 

When I left drama school one of the teachers warned me I wasn’t going to work until I was 45. Being only 22 at the time, that felt like a long time to wait. But that was 1990 and, in 1996, I got the part of Jenny Gifford in Cold Feet. There was no really pivotal role in those intervening six years that made me a good fit for Cold Feet, but I had paid my dues. If I’m honest, Cold Feet completely changed my life and my career. I don't downplay that because it was something very unusual at the time. It was a massive show, reaching millions and, to this day, people still come up to me to talk about it. Admittedly, we then brought it back and so it became more mainstream again but really it was just one of those breakthrough moments for any actress. 


None of us knew what it was going to become. It was a brilliantly written pilot and the six of us really had high hopes for it, but it went out ahead of the launch of Channel 4 and it flopped. Luckily, they decided to give it another go and it won a big TV award, so they showed it again and it did pretty well. Then they commissioned a series, but each series never felt like a fait accompli. None of us really realised we were having any kind of runaway success until very late in the process.

I knew Jimmy and John anyway, but none of us was particularly famous. Helen [Baxendale] was doing Friends, but that happened at the beginning of the first series and we just thought it was really cool. We were young and it was exciting, and everything seemed to be going in the right direction.

In terms of approaching Jenny as a character, I think I was lucky to still be relatively fresh out of drama school. You are primed at that point to think you can play any role at any time. As the years roll on, you start to doubt that but, at that point in your life, you are slightly invincible. What do you want me to do? What wig do you want me to wear? How naked? Fine. That naked? Sure. There's not a lot that you're going say no to when you're young and have an open heart and open mind. 

Originally, the part of Jenny was a lot smaller. John and I were the more down to earth couple but, over the years, Jenny became incredibly personal to me. There's a lot of me in that character. I started playing her in my 20s and I've only just finished really. You never close the door on it. That said, we were all really stressed about coming back for the reunion because we didn't know if there was going to be an audience for it. Once something’s been a success, there’s a lot further to fall with it. So, the best part was realising what the show meant to so many people – of all ages.


My time on Cold Feet has definitely coloured my career. A lot of actors have that, I think. Personally, I believe it’s been a good thing because I’ve been constantly employed as Jenny, but I’ve also been offered lots of things off the back of it. I left Cold Feet to do a show written by David Nicholls – who had been writing on Cold Feet but was moving onto his next project called I Saw You. That was probably the show I most enjoyed doing throughout my whole career. I did it with my now-husband and, after filming, we got engaged. It was a really happy, sweet time.

If there was a project that was the most challenging, I’d probably say Cold Feet. Although it was so life changing and had some of my favourite working and personal moments, it spanned so many years, when all of our lives were going up and down. For example, my father died while I was filming. It’s monumental things like that – we all gave birth to our children, we met our partners, so it had in-built highs and lows. That said, I wouldn’t change any of it. 

I’ve been very lucky to work with some real friends over the years. Another favourite project was Dead Gorgeous with Helen McCrory, who really was one of my best friends. I’m godmother to her kids and, as you know, she passed away in 2021 and that was one of the most devastating moments of my life in terms of loss. We had so much fun on that show – even though I do feel a bit sorry for the producers and the director. We basically marched onto that set saying, “We’re in charge now!” 

Now that my 21-year-old daughter is an actress, I find myself giving her advice on an almost daily basis. One of the most useful things actors can know is that it’s not about you. When you get a ‘no’, it’s often just admin. It's not because of how you look. It's not because of how you've played that role. Sometimes in the creative world, it's not at all that creative. People are ticking boxes. Sometimes it’s just logistics. The same thing goes for when you get a ‘yes’ – it’s important not to get too carried away. Don't take anything personally, either negatively or positively. And, finally, learn your lines.

When a part comes across my desk now, it’s really a question of whether or not it will make me happy. There are different reasons why it might make me happy. Maybe I love the role, maybe I love the director, maybe I love the paycheck, maybe I love where they're filming it. There’s just got to be a reason to do something. Sometimes I turn things down because of my family or my own wellbeing. There’s a lot of stuff to take into consideration.  

Swede Caroline was something that came along because they just asked me to do it. What I really loved about it is that it's very hard to get a small independent film made, to get it into a cinema and so one does anything one can do to help. Plus, it was a nice bunch of people and a great script. I like being able to pitch in on things like that because it feels so creative. 

It was quite recently that I went back to the theatre. I was offered a lot of theatre in the last 25 years but, essentially, I avoided it. I put my head in the sand and I was scared. Then I made a decision to go for it, and it was probably because of my age and where I'm at. I really loved the play and the director – plus, it was a title role at the National Theatre. I felt the fear and did it anyway. To be Kerry Jackson, in Kerry Jackson at the National… Well, let’s just say I still cry every time I go anywhere near the Southbank. It was such a sort of personal mountain to climb, so I can’t say I’ll be rushing back to theatre work any time soon. But really, I’m kind of open to everything.

‘Swede Caroline’ will be in UK Cinemas from 19th April 2024.


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