What's your first Yorkshire memory?
For some reason, an image has just popped into my mind of me and my brother and my mum and dad, up in Roundhay Park, by the lake, sailing a toy boat. I can only have been a few years old. My friends and I, in later years, would hop on our bicycles and pedal off to some open space in Arlington, and have a picnic – dandelion and burdock, squishy tomato sandwiches and a bag of crisps – as we sat on our coats on the grass. My world at that time was so very small and limited. I don't know if I was even aware of the fact that, had we cycled a bit further, we might have got to Otley or Ilkley.
What's your favourite part of the county – and why?
This is such a hard one to answer, because there is so much of it that I adore. I'm particularly fond of Whitby, and the area up at the Abbey, where you can look down over all the little tiled roofs and then out to sea. Leyburn is another special place for me, and the Dales are wonderful. Whenever I've worked in London, I've felt so deprived at not
seeing trees and open spaces. On a sunny day, St Anne's Square and Soho Square – just off Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street – are crammed with people at lunchtime, just wanting to see a blade of grass or a tree. I couldn't live like that, day after day, it would drive me crackers.
What's your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?
We'd drive up to The Beehive, a really nice little hotel at Newholm, near Whitby, and we'd check in. It's listed as being "a gem of a country pub, on a road to nowhere", and that says it all in a nutshell. It's an extended 15th century drover's cottage. We'd have at least one meal in Green's Restaurant in the town, and then we'd have a quiet walk to Sandsend. Perfection, and Yorkshire at its very best.
Do you have a favourite walk – or view?
When I'm at home in Leeds, I always take a morning walk of about 40 minutes, a circular route around The Hollies, and there's something new to see every day, as the seasons slowly change. You see the leaves and flowers coming into bud, and then falling, and the rhododendrons in their turn. I usually take some bread with me to feed the ducks – there's a time of year when only the males come to me, and then, a little while later, all the females come back as well, this time proudly leading their chicks. People nod and smile and say "Good morning", which is lovely.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
I am not a sportswoman at all. But I'd love to meet Harvey Smith, who always seems to me to be a very straight-talking type of chap, and that's probably putting it mildly. He's got a brusque male-ness that I rather like, a no-nonsense sort of man, and I bet he's got a fund of
hair-raising stories as well. A proper Yorkshire character.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
This would have to be the lovely Sir Tom Courtenay, who is the antithesis to Harvey Smith. I love his quiet method of acting, and his dedication to his craft. He's a Hull lad, of course. I'd love to ask him about doing The Dresser on stage, and then on film, what it was like to work with Albert Finney, and how they got on when they did Art together in the West End. In fact, I have a million things that I want to know.
If you had to name your Yorkshire "hidden gem", what would it be?
I'm back to Sandsend again, and there's a marvellous walk around the district there that just teems with wildlife.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
The fact that it is both masculine and feminine in its own ways. The stones are very hard and bold and male, the land surrounding them is softer, and female. Look at the Abbey at Whitby – it's a great big solid magnificent lump, but the grounds are gentle. It's a Ying and Yang thing, I think. It's a consistently beautiful county, and the people are second to none. I remember filming Fanny and Elvis a few years ago, at Hebden Bridge, and our props man, Dave, a southerner, came up to me one day and said: "Is the woman in the house over there barking mad, or what? She's just offered me a cup of tea, and I haven't a clue who she is!" I had to tell him that that was what happens up here all the time, and that it was a genuine act of spontaneous kindness. He was flabbergasted. I later found that he'd loved working up here so much that he'd uprooted and sold up in London, and that he'd moved north – to Hebden Bridge.
Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?
I can be occasionally heard asking, "How are they doing?" and then frequently regretting having to listen to a tale of woe. I'm happy when the local teams do well, but that's about it.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?
I love Anthony's on Boar Lane in Leeds, which is where I take people who visit, and when I want to show off, and to prove that we do have some good places to eat out, and that it isn't all fish and chips and flat caps. And I like The Olive Tree, as well, at Rodley – the music they play is every bit as nice as the food that they serve.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
I do try to eat organically as much as I can, and I love Weeton's in Harrogate, who seem to stock everything. The Natural Food Shop at Headingley is another firm favourite. When you get to "a certain age", you have to make sure that you eat sensibly – and well.
How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you've known it?
For the better, I think. We seem to have – finally – shrugged off that "racing pigeons" image. More people know about us now – when I first started out, I'd say "I come from Leeds" and the southerners would all look bewildered, and ask "Where's that, then?" We've got Screen Yorkshire, which is a great organisation working for us, and I think that today in 2010, we are a pretty forward-thinking and modern bunch. We're certainly more tolerant than most, I believe.
Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?
I was researching a new piece that I'm involved with, and it meant ringing round a lot of politicians. The only one who returned my call – and on a Sunday – was David Blunkett, who chatted for ages and who was kind, interested and informative. I've always liked him, for his hard work, his dedication, his integrity and the fact that he has never ever let his disability get the better of him. He's clearly a fighter, and I like that.
Has Yorkshire influenced your work?
Let me put it like this. Had I not been born in Leeds, in Yorkshire, I do not think that I would have become an actress or a writer. Being a Yorkshirewoman has been as important as that.
Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.
This would have to be Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bront, which is a simply magnificent piece of prose writing, first published in 1847. Charlotte was a hugely creative woman at a terribly sexist time when women had to hide behind a man's name if they wanted something published. Charlotte was brought up in that bleak little community, and achieved lasting international greatness. I think that it is fair to say that the greatest love story that she never wrote was her own real-life one. I empathise a great deal with her struggle. By the way, if you haven't read Jean Rhys's "prequel" to Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, it is a thrilling account of what brought the characters to the point we find them in Jane Eyre. Simply terrific story-telling.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?
It has to be Whitby, doesn't it? The history of the place, the people associated with it, like Captain Cook and Bram Stoker, the cobbles, the sea air, the moorland behind the town, the sea views which are always changing with the light and the winds. It's dramatic, quaint, gothic, all at the same time. Unmissable.
Kay Mellor is starring in her own autobiographical play A Passionate Woman at Hull Truck Theatre until October 2. Box office: 01482 323638.
YP MAG 18/9/10