Take A Break In Mauritius Before She Launches Her New Singing Career And He Prepares For A Starring Role In Hit Hospital Drama Casualty
Even the most assiduous actress needs rest and refreshment. But seven long years had passed without Susan George taking time out in the sun. “I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed holidays,” says the fine-boned blonde with the fierce work ethic and a long-ago romantic link with Prince Charles.
A recent sybaritic stay in Mauritius with husband Simon MacCorkindale has reminded her. The couple had a lot to celebrate on their two-week stay, seized between Susan finishing recording her first-ever album and Simon starting filming Casualty (to be broadcast in May), in which he plays head consultant Harry Harper.
“Simon and I were incredibly in need of time out,” she says. “Our present lifestyle is exhausting and has been for quite some time. Our production company (Amy International) has just completed an action adventure series called Relic Hunter and we’ll soon be shooting a made-for-TV series of Dick Frances novels.
“With life as it is today, you have to have your fingers in lots of pies and projects, because some come to fruition and some fall to pieces. You constantly keep juggling until the right ball comes down. In order to do so you have to switch your hats and cover many subjects, and this as much as anything wears you down. You handle it – in fact you love it, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t. But, long term, it tires you out. This was a much-needed break to recharge the batteries.”
Susan’s schedule sounds busy enough to make a workaholic crave retirement: at the end of last year she finished a memorable two-and-a-half month stint in EastEnders and, with only a weekend in between, she was singing her first track in the studio. Five weeks later, with just a weekend to catch up on paperwork, her equine aromatherapy business and the progress of her brood mares – “Luckily, all three managed to foal on EastEnders’ days off,” she notes – she flew off to Ischia, filming for the BBC.
Ironically, the programme in question was Holiday 2001, but even the sporting Susan concedes that being wrapped in cold-spa mud and talking to camera in 90-degree heat was not as restful as it looks. Arriving back at Heathrow she went straight to an airport hotel for a five-hour meeting about her music. With no time to drive home or turn around the packing, Susan and Simon immediately checked in for their flight to the Indian Ocean.
Neither Susan nor Simon are the least resistant to long-haul indulgence. In fact, as Susan explains, they have, in their 18 years together, set a gold standard for tropical adventures.
“Not long after we met, we had the most romantic hot holiday ever. We planned ten days away from LA where I was living but then extended it to St Martin in the Caribbean where we stayed five fabulous weeks.”
They later stole off to marry, away from the world, on Fiji where a converted Hindu priest officiated. “Fifty Fijians sang The Lord Is My Sheperd as I walked up the aisle of a tiny church with cracked windows,” says Susan. ‘The last time we heard from all those friends – the girls who did our cake and flowers, and Taito, the island guide who was also our wedding witness – was 12 years ago when they filmed my This Is Your Life. Taito was flown to England for the first time ever and the villagers were filmed waving and greeting us with a rhythmic, ‘Hello, Susan! Hello, Simon! We send you love!’ So Fiji is very special to us and we have a great desire to go back. We’ve promised ourselves to make it happen one day for an anniversary.”
As for Mauritius – about which Mark Twain once lyricised: “You gather that Mauritius was made first and then heaven” – Susan describes the resort Le Saint Geran as very palatial and in the most idyllic location.
“We had such a pretty suite with a marble bathroom and sunken tub surrounded by glass. You open the door straight out on to the most gorgeous white sandy beach and the ocean. And the sky at night was just sensational. It was total luxury living, with even our own butler who introduced himself and offered to unpack the cases and put our clothes away.”
This spoiling touch struck Susan as “divine decadence”, she says. “This may all sound pretentious, but it did take the sting out of arriving shattered with much to do before you actually begin your holiday. It made it all feel very much like arriving at one’s home. One of the lovely things was arriving at our room at night to find delicately placed petals on the crisp white duvet.”
Susan and Simon hired a jeep for a few days and went exploring: “The best thing about the island is its people. Mauritians really seem pleased to have you. We took a boat to some waterfalls and went on to what they call Robinson Crusoe’s Island. It was a bit kitsch as you’re welcomed by a shipwrecked character and all the staff wear hats with holes, but they’re so charming they get away with it.”
Counting holiday blessings and benefits, Susan adds: “It reminded us how important time alone together is – thinking time, laughing time… We do those things anyway in everyday life but a holiday gives you the intense version. It puts all the perspective back in the right places. Reminded of what it’s like to go on holiday, we shan’t let it go another seven years before doing it again – often.”
Susan now looks back, refreshed, on last year’s achievements, which included appearing back on our TV screens for the first time in six years in EastEnders. “I really enjoyed doing the show: the cast were special and I loved the work ethic,” she says.
“Margaret was a fun role to play, a light-hearted woman on the face of it but with a great deal of sadness in her life. People thought she would turn out to be a con woman but she was in feet absolutely genuine. She was the centre of a love triangle with Terry and Janine, who became insanely jealous, wanting him all to herself.
‘Janine played wicked games with Margaret but eventually got as good as she gave. But I think EastEnders may have missed a trick as everywhere I go the public asks why I didn’t slap her,” she laughs. “Perhaps in hindsight Margaret should have done that before leaving.”
At present there’s great expectation in the air as Susan looks forward to the launch of Norman’s Girl, her “late-night listening” album to be released in May. It’s named for her late, beloved father, a jazz saxophonist with whom she often sang as a child.
“Musically,” says Susan, “it’s hard to define; it doesn’t fit into any specific category. Inevitably there’s a jazz influence, romantic love songs – some you will have heard of, some you won’t, but they all have a very personal interpretation. I think it will cross over market-wise and appeal to different ages.
“It has a contemporary feel and was produced in collaboration with my long-time friend, singer-songwriter Gordon Haskell, who wrote and sang How Wonderful You Are, There are some seriously credible musicians in my band and a very sexy sax played by Paul Yeung, a guy I think will be a star in his own right.
“For me, it’s been a lifelong project that has finally come to fruition. Vocally I have found my identity and, although I have been singing for a lot of years, I feel I’m infinitely the best I’ve ever been. I don’t want to sound away with the pixies, but I absolutely believe that my dad was holding my hand on this one.”
A “monumental” cross-country house move is also behind Susan. “It was so necessary to have had this holiday first. Friends never stopped telling us how stressful it was going to be, but we thought, ‘Surely not, it will be just fine.’ I’m here to tell you that moving is indeed unbelievably stressful. And, with all the farm life we had to transport, including many horses, it was a lot like the circus leaving town.”
Several months on, she says: “We feel utterly at home, as if we’ve been in our new house for the longest time. We feel on the cusp of change and adventure, which I love. And, you know, the starry sky here in the West Country is every bit as thrilling as it was over the Indian Ocean.