Her face might be familiar from the leafy village settings of Midsomer. But actress Kirsty Dillon likes people to know that she’s very much a Pompey girl.
TV viewers are used to seeing Kirsty as Midsomer Murders’ DC Gail Stephens, helping to solve grisly crimes among the pretty gardens and village halls of the countryside.
But off duty, Kirsty is a city girl and will proudly fly the flag of her home town at any opportunity.
The 36-year-old actress lives in Brighton and spends a lot of time working in London, but she says her heart still lies in Portsmouth.
‘I’m a Pompey girl and I don’t think of myself as anything else. I fly a Portsmouth flag from my balcony in the summer so people know,’ she says. ‘One neighbour asked me to take it down and I just said no. Well I don’t want people to think I’m a Brighton and Hove Albion fan, do I?’
Not surprisingly, Kirsty is back in Portsmouth a lot, visiting her family and helping to organise events with campaign group White Ribbon.
Kirsty is the vice-chair of the Portsmouth group, which is part of a global campaign raising awareness of violence against women.
The actress was in the city earlier this month to support her fellow White Ribbon volunteers in the Join Me On The Bridge event.
Campaigners and activists from across Portsmouth gathered on the bridge at City Quay, Gunwharf Quays, where they tied ribbons bearing the names of women they wanted to honour
Kirsty decided to help the cause after being inspired by her sister Shonagh’s work with women facing domestic violence.
Shonagh is the manager of Portsmouth’s Early Intervention Project, which offers housing, health and social support.
Kirsty says: ‘Seeing what my sister and the whole team do was utterly inspiring. I really don’t think they get enough credit. They’re so passionate about their work and committed to providing a good service in Portsmouth.’
Kirsty is very close to her family and also regularly comes to Portsmouth to see mum, Val Worthington. Her other sister Jo lives in London with her family.
And of course they have plenty of opportunity to see her on the telly, but Kirsty says it isn’t a big deal in the family.
‘They’re so used to it, and they know the down-side of the industry too much – having to change things so quickly when something comes up and the fact that there isn’t the protection of a regular, full-time job,’ she says.
‘I just see it as my job and I think they do too. I don’t think they’re impressed, but they are proud of course.’
But it may have been Shonagh who inspired her to try her luck with Midsomer Murders. The two girls would watch the murder mystery series when they were younger and living at home.
‘She would always say, you should be in this or that. And one of those things was Midsomer Murders. We loved it, it’s light-hearted and the performances are a bit tongue-in-cheek. And it’s quite a traditional murder mystery, it’s very comforting to watch,’ says Kirsty.
Her career path to a regular telly slot has been a long and determined one. While growing up in Southsea, she had lessons at Southsea School of Dance and joined amateur theatrical group the Portsmouth Players.
The former Portsmouth High School pupil went on to Havant College for her A-levels, which included theatre studies. She then did a degree in dramatic and theatre arts at London’s Goldsmiths College and went on to Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, which also trained Hugh Bonneville, Anita Dobson, Minnie Driver, Jill Halfpenny, Sue Johnston and Terence Stamp.
As a fan of Midsomer Murders, Kirsty was thrilled to spend three years playing Gail Stephens, who started out as a WPC and became a detective.
In preparation for her role she talked to a cousin, who works in CID in Wales, and one of his colleagues.
She says: ‘It was really interesting but of course it’s not like playing an officer in something hard and gritty. It’s not The Bill.’
For Kirsty, one of the most valuable things about the role was working with Midsomer star John Nettles.
She says: ‘He has great integrity and a really good sense of humour, he’s also super bright. He just has this wonderful energy. I was always impressed how he managed to keep it so fresh even after doing the job for 10 or 11 years.
‘He’s very unselfish too and that makes things easy for other actors. You don’t always get that, so many are out to make their performance bigger and better than yours. But he’s a real gentleman.’
Nettles’ last episode as Midsomer’s DCI Tom Barnaby was screened last month and the countryside crimes will now be solved by Neil Dudgeon, as DCI John Barnaby (Tom’s cousin). Kirsty thinks he’ll be great as the new rural sleuth.
The actress has also worked on other series including Holby City, Doctors and London’s Burning, BBC drama The Man The Broke Britain, several films and many theatre productions.
She decided to leave Midsomer Murders after filming the last series. Current work includes an episode of Doctors and a theatre production with a contemporary dance group.
And as for the future, Kirsty – like any performer – is unsure. But no matter what she does and where she goes, she’s sure to take a bit of Portsmouth with her.
‘I love talking about it because I think it sometimes gets a bad press and doesn’t deserve it. I tell people how it’s on an island and sometimes when I’ve had a few drinks, I tell people if it wasn’t for Portsmouth they’d be speaking French because so many of Nelson’s sailors were from there, that’s where the press gangs were. It doesn’t always go down well, I have to say,’ she laughs.
PRODUCER’S COMMENTS SPARK RACE ROW
The producer of the hit show, Brian True-May, has been suspended after claiming part of the show’s appeal was an absence of ethnic minorities.
There will now be an internal investigation by production company All3Media after he told Radio Times that Midsomer Murders ‘wouldn’t work’ if there was any racial diversity in the village life.
True-May, the drama’s co-creator who has been with it since day one, said: ‘We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.’
An ITV spokesman said it was ‘shocked and appalled’ by his comments.
White Ribbon is a group of organisations that involve both men and women campaigning against the level of violence against women.
The focus is on men taking responsibility for highlighting the problem and those that are members make a pledge never to ‘commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.
In Portsmouth, the White Ribbon Group is run by chair Kirsty Mellor, vice chair Kirsty Dillon and a group of volunteers. They work on events with local organisations like the Portsmouth’s Early Intervention Project, managed by Kirsty Dillon’s sister Shonagh.
Campaigning events include the annual Reclaim the Night march, which takes place in city’s across the UK and Blow the Whistle, which involves support from Portsmouth Football Club.
Kirsty says: ‘Pompey have been amazing, wearing ribbons and getting behind the campaign. To have someone like Linvoy Primus backing us is really valuable because he’s a fantastic role model. He’s a family man and everyone knows who he is.’
Kirsty was inspired to help after working with women using the services of the Early Intervention Project, which offers housing, health and social support.
A trained yoga instructor, she worked on exercise and relaxation techniques.
She says: ‘What struck me was that the women were still able to laugh and they still had spirit, even after what they’d been through.’
Another aspect of the campaign is to focus on the violent behaviour rather then the actions of the victim.
‘We actually use the word survivor because we feel victim isn’t quite right. We think that too often people ask, why doesn’t she just leave? But the question should be why is her husband or partner being violent in the first place. He can control it, he doesn’t go into work and punch his boss,’ says Kirsty.
‘People facing domestic violence often have families to think about and you also have to consider what we call dripping tap syndrome. Nobody goes on a first date and says ‘by the way I’m going to be hitting you in six months.’ It happens gradually, eroding self confidence.’
Early Intervention Project — (023) 9238 9831 or 0800 2000 247
For details on Portsmouth White Ribbon, visit its Facebook site