'It's hard not to laugh, you almost have to stuff a sock in your mouth' | Vicki Pepperdine on The Windsors © Channel 4

'It's hard not to laugh, you almost have to stuff a sock in your mouth'

Vicki Pepperdine on The Windsors

Vicki Pepperdine plays Princess Anne in the two-part Christmas special of Channel 4’s The Windsors. Here she speaks about the programme:

Describe the show, for those who don’t know it.

It’s a very funny, light-hearted, softly-satirical look at the royal family, but not as they really are. It’s taking the royal family and putting on to them all the difficulties and interpersonal stuff that every family has, and making it into a sort of royal romp.

It’s not a political show, really, is it?

It’s not, no. It’s a really funny, light-hearted look at a family that we sort of know and sort of don’t. We have bits of information in the newspapers, but it’s not really that family that we’re watching, it’s a joke version of that family.

I don’t think it’s mean and I don’t think it’s having a go at them. I think it’s something that people can really enjoy and laugh at, and feel that it’s a light-hearted relief from other worries. It’s very well-written and well-constructed, it’s got great, funny characters.

Do you bother studying Princess Anne before playing her in this, or is the script so far removed from reality that you don’t need to?

It’s definitely not an impressions show, and I’m not an impressionist, so I knew when they offered me the role that they wouldn’t want me to be doing a fabulous, spot-on Princess Anne.

So I thought a bit about Princess Anne. Who is she in our world, and how do we all think of her? It seems to me that she is two things to everybody. Some people think that she’s very dour and rather aloof and rather alienated and old-fashioned and just obsessed by horses.

And then some people think she’s really great, and she does loads of charity work, and really does her duty. So there’s a strange schism between the two sides of her.

So I thought, well, somehow I’m just going to try and align those two sides of her together, and listen to her voice a bit – she has a very particular and quite deep voice. And the writers have given Princes Anne this additional Mrs Danvers quality, which is fabulous. That’s very funny. I re-watched Rebecca and took bits of that into what I was doing.

Do you help define how the character is portrayed, or is it all there on the page?

It’s very much there on the page. There’s no improvising or anything, it’s all as written. I think, because they’ve come up with this rather genius stroke of making her this cross-pollenation of two rather iconic characters, it just made it what it was, really.

What’s it like, going into something like this where you’re joining an already-established cast?

I know some of them anyway, and had watched the show and loved it. So it was a complete no-brainer when the offer came through. I wondered how difficult it might be because they were all so used to each other, but actually they were, to a woman and a man, delightful and charming and incredibly welcoming.

It was a really fun job. It’s an incredibly hard schedule, it’s very full-on – we had to be on camera for 7:30am. I mean, I’m not complaining, it’s a bloody lovely job to have, but it’s unusual to be on camera that early, and if you’ve got a couple of hours’ drive over and then make-up and hair and all that…

It was filmed in this incredible, beautiful house, with wonderful artworks. I think there was a real Stubbs on one of the walls. Really beautiful art. I kept thinking ‘God, what if we spill our tea?’ It was really beautiful, it was such a pleasure to be there.

What can we expect from the two Christmas episodes?

It’s the story of them all coming together at Christmas, and trying to make good some family rifts. It’s all about the difficulties and politics of Christmas between them all, really. And Kate undergoes a real baptism of fire, basically ending up having to ‘do Christmas’.

The expectations of that are, of course, enormous from everybody else. As usual Camilla is plotting her rise to power. And Anne rather throws a spanner in all their works.

It is so funny and so absurd – do you find it difficult not to collapse into giggles when filming?

Yes. Sometimes you just get in the zone and you don’t laugh. But everyone is genuinely so funny – the hardest bit is when you’re on the other side of the camera, and it’s them being filmed, and you’re doing the feed lines. That’s the bit where you’ve really got to try and be helpful to them. Because if you collapse laughing, you ruin their take.

Hugh [Skinner, who plays WiIls], doing his ridiculous pronunciation of some of the words that he says – it’s very hard to keep control, you almost have to stuff a sock in your mouth. And when people are tired and you’ve got to get the shots in, sometimes you just have to discipline yourself and go for it.

But I think that fun energy of laughter on camera, as long as it’s not messing up the entire schedule, is often a really nice thing, that you can almost smell through the screen a little bit.

Why is the Queen not in it? Is she the last sacred cow?

I’d hate to call her a sacred cow – that’s your words! But I think that she’s such a symbol, and holds a really individual place in everybody’s hearts or minds. I think, possibly, to see her on camera, and to see her as the sort of Spitting Image puppet version of her, I think is less interesting than having her as an external presence to which everyone refers. They’re all there because of that one figure, essentially, but that one figure isn’t in the room. It feels like a really sensible move on the writers’ part, and I don’t know what their original reasoning was.

What will you be watching over Christmas? Do you watch the Queen’s Speech?

No I don’t ever watch the Queen’s Speech. To be honest, it’s just that I’m too busy having a lovely day with my family. We don’t watch telly all day, really. Maybe we will in the evening. If there’s a cracking film on, we’ll watch that.

• The first Christmas episode of The Windsors is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Friday. Interview supplied by Channel 4 Press.

Published: 19 Dec 2016

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