Meet the Dales stuntwoman who took on the film industry

Carolyn Dean is a familiar sight around Grassington. The 40-year-old grew up there and even worked in the local Spar, but what many people don't realise is that she has another life outside of the Yorkshire Dales.

Carolyn Dean back home in the Dales
Carolyn Dean back home in the Dales

Carolyn loves nothing more than jumping from high buildings, being set on fire and sword fighting. Carolyn is a professional stuntwoman, doubling for film stars when the going gets tough and starring in adrenalin-fuelled stunt shows across the world. But, Carolyn who also has a huge IQ and is a member of Mensa, always returns to the picturesque Grassington home where she still lives with her parents and goes about her normal business.

High points of her career so far include joining Linda Hamilton in the Terminator 2 film; working with the late Bob Hoskins and Rhona Mitra in the movie Doomsday, shot in South Africa; and appearing with Emile de Ravin in Air Force One is Down – and being rescued by Tom Hardy.

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She has recently returned from Australia where her latest movie, The Hunters’ Club, premiered at the Gold Coast International Film Festival. It was an emotional trip for Carolyn as Australia is really where she learnt her trade.

Stuntwoman Carolyn Dean appeared in the movie Doomsday.

“I always wanted to be a dancer growing up,” she says. “But then I got into martial arts which surprised a lot of people as I am naturally quite shy and I really don’t like people watching me. But I always knew I wanted to travel and do something a bit different. It started when I first went to East Barnby on a school residential for a week when I was 11. I then went on an exchange trip to France.”

Rather than take up the university places she was offered, Carolyn spent 10 months in America before training to be an accountant, although she still pursued her love of martial arts in her spare time.

“It was a hobby but then I saw something on the television about this school in Australia which taught stunts and I thought, ‘Why not? It’s on the other side of the world, no-one will know me there. I’ll go and do the training and see what happens.’ It was a renowned course and in those days one of the only places teaching stunts.”

With that, Carolyn packed her bags and travelled to Australia where she spent three weeks learning how to fall off high buildings, crash cars and be set on fire safely.

Stuntwoman Carolyn Dean appeared in the movie Doomsday.

“It isn’t just about learning how to do the stunts, it’s learning how to them safely so you don’t hurt yourself,” adds Carolyn, who has never had a serious injury, although she says she once suffered a “slight burn” on her neck.

After the course she decided to stay in Australia for a year. “There was a group of us, wannabe stuntmen, who all lived in this two-storey house and we’d spend the entire time doing falls off the roof. It was great fun and I met some amazing people and good contacts.”

After a year it was back to Grassington and working in the local Spar to earn some money before she heard about an audition in London for a live stunt show in India. “The 9/11 attacks had just happened and I was travelling on the Tube with a 6ft long staff and a sword. They were both wrapped in brown paper but it was pretty clear what they were, but no-one batted an eyelid,” says Carolyn.

She got the job and once again left picturesque Grassington and the Spar behind for a life of stunts aboard a pirate ship. “It was fantastic fun. We had four shows a day and I met some amazing people who really helped me get on in the industry and learn new skills.”

Carolyn has also spent time in Alaska learning kung fu; in the Philippines where she was taught the art of stick fighting; in Germany learning how to dance while on fire; and in China where she lived with a group of shaolin monks who she had met in India.

“Where I was living in China no-one spoke a word of English so if I was going to make myself understood I had to learn how to speak the language,” she says.

“I can’t read Chinese but I can speak and understand it.” This resulted in Carolyn also working as a translator which meant she was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Then there was the fire dancing. “Normally when you are doing fire stunts you are taught not to stand still and to keep moving forward and never to turn around as you don’t want to get the flames anywhere near your face,” she adds.

“But in Germany they wanted me to do a dance while on fire. The longest I’d ever been on fire before was about 15 seconds, but I thought let’s give it a go. My mantra is ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’”

Carolyn choreographed a dance that involved pirouettes and meant she was on fire for 23 seconds – four times a night. She worked out that she did 140 dances on fire.

But that wasn’t the end of her wanderlust. Carolyn found herself filming Flood, a disaster movie in South Africa with actors Robert Carlyle and Tom Hardy.

“The film was set in Scotland but we filmed it in South Africa,” she says. “There was one stunt where I was doubling for the actress and I had to be in a room which they flooded with ten thousands litres of water. It’s all very safe but I had planned what to do when the water came gushing through the door, but in reality I just end up going with it.”

As with a number of films that she has done stunts in Carolyn also ended up playing a role in Flood. “In a lot of cases they have already paid the stuntmen and women so rather than paying extras as well they use us in other parts of the film.”

This is how she ended up being rescued by Tom Hardy. “It was before Tom Hardy became a megastar and the character I played in Flood had to be rescued by his character. I really enjoyed that moment.,

Her latest film saw her not only perform stunts but also act as stunt safety adviser alongside renowned Australian stuntman Don Vaughn, who has worked on a range of big screen blockbusters including Mission: Impossible II and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

As safety adviser, Carolyn worked with the artists on set, including the film’s leading man – actor and writer Ty Hungerford, who starred in Absolute Deception alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. In addition to her involvement in the many fight scenes involving fists, falls and guns, Carolyn worked on car chase scenes with BMWs and fast-paced skateboarding through the busy streets of Brisbane.

Next up, she will be auditioning for a Universal Studios show based in Singapore. While away from the cameras, she uses her expertise to deliver training in aspects of health and safety to businesses of all size and sectors in the Yorkshire region as well as teaching first aid courses at Craven College in Skipton.

“I had to have a fairly major operation which has set me back a bit recently, but I am now back in training and can’t wait to get back doing stunts and trapeze work.”

So what do family and friends think of her death-defying exploits? “They’ve always thought I was a bit different. My brother is quite normal. I am a member of Mensa but my family always laugh about it as I have a very high IQ but absolutely no common sense.”

In October Carolyn will combine her two talents when she gives a talk about her life as a professional stuntwoman at the 70th anniversary celebrations of Mensa. “Talking in front of people is far scarier than doing stunts as far as I’m concerned.”