I’ve been mistakenly called Sian Phillips for nearly fifty years.
So ingrained is the Welsh actress on the nation’s consciousness, that even though it seems a lifetime since the huge popularity of the BBC TV series “I, Claudius” (or “I Clavdivs” as we called it in our house), she’s still the first Sian everyone thinks of.
Even the great Sian Phillips has been called the wrong name, though. One occasion, when she turned up as the star act at a local theatre, she looked up and saw, in big stage lights, the name “Stan Phillips”. It remained there for the entire run.
Sian is my first guest for a new interview show for BBC Wales, where I sit with a famous name, in this case, women who’ve made an impact in the country and far beyond, to ask them about their lives. The right turns and the wrong ones, the career successes and the relationship failures, their regrets and their hopes for the future.
As well as Sian, I’ve spent time with one of our greatest athletes, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson and spoken to one of the longest serving stars in the hospital drama, Casualty, Suzanne Packer.
All three seem to reveal more than they have in the past. Sian talks of the guilt she feels having walked out on her first husband to take up an opportunity to go to RADA – she left him a note, divided their china and never spoke to, or saw him again. Tanni describes planning a wedding and a baby around race days, proudly shows off three of her eleven gold medals and yet breaks down as she admits she doesn’t feel she’s achieved enough to please her late father. Suzanne eulogises about acting, from Brookside, to musicals, to comedy – yet speaks of her heart being pulled towards teaching, the career she feels is really worthwhile.
We think we know these women – they are public figures who we invite into our living rooms, but really, we don’t. We don’t know what decisions they took to become the successes they are, what they sacrificed to get there and whether they’d make the same choices again. Usually, we see what they present to us – in the case of Suzanne and Sian, they give us the TV or stage roles and we invest in their characters. For Tanni, we see the determined parathlete and the resolute campaigner in the House of Lords. What we don’t often see, are the women with all their complexities – and that’s what they give us for this series.
Why? Maybe, because on most chat shows, guests are trying to plug or sell something. They’re on for five minutes, there are a few anecdotes, a mention of the product and that’s it. Here, there’s no book or film out. They’re speaking freely because it is a safe and non-judgemental place to just – talk. There may be a different dynamic with a woman talking to another woman, too. Perhaps it’s less antagonistic, more understanding and hopefully, for the viewer, more rewarding.
It’s been inspirational, challenging and most of all, a lot of fun. On each of the interviews, I said to the producer, right – I’ll only interview Sian/Tanni/Suzanne for just over thirty minutes. So we clapped the clapperboard and started the cameras rolling and only stopped after about two and a half hours. They were all fascinating women who I – and you – could probably spend all day with. We have to squeeze it in to half an hour but I hope you’ll find it one of the most interesting evenings, with some of the most fascinating women, you’ll have had in a long time.
The Sian Williams Interview. Wednesdays, BBC1 Wales,1035.
This blog was first published to coincide with the Sian Williams Interview on BBC Radio Wales on 9 April 2014.