45 year old Cathy Shipton first foray into the world of performance was at the age of seven when her Mum sent her for elocution lessons. ‘I was affecting a slight lisp so my mum thought the lessons would help. It’s all her fault I’m in the acting business! During her school years, though she was quite academic, she also found time to enjoy the extra curricular activities involving drama and theatre work. ‘I was quite a shy child but I loved that world. I sparked off in it, but never envisaged it being a career for me.’Just as she was starting her language degree, Cathy also got the part of Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the end of the play’s run she decided to give the acting world a chance, though her parents had their reservations. ‘They were flabbergasted at my decision, it seemed to them that I was wasting my education but the course I subsequently did at drama school had a degree element. I also trained as an aerobics teacher and this was around the time of the Jane Fonda craze. I did well financially.’ Cathy then worked a lot in fringe theatre which lead to her joining a co-op actors agency which taught her the business very well. ‘I was quite good as an agent and negotiated parts from things like Eastenders to commercials.’ The CASUALTY audition came at what she considered to be crunch time, five years after finishing drama school. ‘My dad died that year and it made me have a good old think about things. I thought about going back to university and then CASUALTY auditioned me for a receptionist part. I asked if they were casting for any nurses as I kept getting asked if I was a nurse by people at that time. I had to borrow some clothes for the audition as I’d come straight from an aerobics class. I got a call the next day and was offered the part. I was delighted and terrified!’
Since then CASUALTY’s 2nd longest serving member, Cathy hasn’t looked back, with only a five year break between Series 8 and 12, she has graced the wards as Lisa ‘Duffy’ Duffin and her character has developed from a fun-loving, na?ve, young nurse to a strong, capable mother of three. And this series sees some great storylines and character development for Duffy. Since the death of her husband Andrew at the end of series 15, Duffy has coped with bringing up three children on her own – episode 1 of the new series sees Duffy receive a ?300,000 life policy cheque – but at the beginning she doesn’t want it.
‘I thought when is this women ever going to lighten up and something good happen to her,’ says Cathy. ‘I think it’s the fact that she’s just got back on her feet and managed and then the cheque comes through, reminding her of all the grief and all the pain’. With this in the back of her mind, Duffy receives more bad news, while she is in court testifying for Lara, her elderly mother, Kate, is brought into A&E. She is suffering the later stages of breast cancer and her condition worsens. Kate makes it clear to Charlie, that despite Duffy’s wishes, she doesn’t want to be resuscitated. This angers Duffy when she sees how weak her mother is. ‘We all love and need you’ Duffy says and when Kate asks for her to be strong, Duffy pleads ‘Who’s going to be strong for me?’ As Kate slips away, Charlie tries to console Duffy. ‘Its what she wanted..she didn’t want to be a burden to you and the boys.’ ‘Do you know how trite you can sound sometimes?’ is Duffy’s response. Cathy enjoyed getting her teeth round the emotional storylines, ‘These few episodes are really quite powerful’ she admits. ‘In the 3rd episode her mum’s at home, accepting she’s dying and Duffy brings her home to try and get her though that, but she’s still got a kind of ‘Mums not going to die’ feeling.’ Cathy drew on her experiences of when her own father died ‘You kind of get an amalgam of feelings, it was very well conceived as it was written. You do draw from experience though and put yourself in their place,’ she said. ‘I find it quite exorcising because you do act out your fears,’ but admits she hasn’t got round to telling her own mum, who’s in her 80’s and lives in South London, of the upcoming storyline, ‘I will get round to telling my mum, I haven’t actually told her yet, but I will tell her before it’s shown,’ she said.
It promises to be an emotional few episodes Cathy says. ‘It was a very well written storyline. It was really strange because we were doing a couple of scenes and the crew were watching the clips back and it all went very quiet – people were very moved and they all went off to phone their mums!’ With the death of Duffy’s mother, instead of falling apart she embraces life and the doors open for a relationship ‘The great thing that’s happened in the conception of the character is that instead of deciding to make her roll over she is going to embrace her life, it’s great for me to be playing a long running character but to finally see another take on her,’ she says. ‘I like this new found confidence and lease of life that she’s been given in the new series, also her sense of humour. As we’re seeing a new side to her I find I can bring more of myself to her.’ Cathy agreed the new series brings out her best traits ‘Her best is seen in the new series – her ability to pick herself up and her quality of survival. She seems to live on the motto of ‘Hope springs eternal.’ But admits ‘Equally Duffy can be defensive in order to conceal her vulnerability. She also can make snap decisions.’
Duffy’s new relationship comes in the form of Security Guard Ryan Johnson (played by Russell Boulter) ‘Duffy is in for a real treat this series when she surprises herself by starting a relationship with the department’s security guard. As a result she becomes quite glamorous and upbeat and it really is a new stage in her life.’ says Cathy. The pair meet, after the death of Duffy’s mother and Ryan offers her a shoulder to cry on – as his previous wife also died of cancer, ‘There’s a lovely scene at the end of episode 3 when I’m in my home clothes and Duffy’s out in the car park when Ryan approaches, and he sees what he thinks is just a relative upset and counsels her, in a very sensitive kind way. Something clicks between them. Then when he meets her back on duty he is quite embarrassed.’ she says ‘Their relationship is tested but Ryan is very genuine’
The scriptwriters kept everything under wraps, and before Cathy knew that her character was to go through this new stage they took her on a costume hunt, ‘I went out shopping with the designers, and I just thought right Marks and Spencers – a couple of t-shirts, a pair of bog standard jeans and that’s Duffy’s lot,’ she grins ‘But no! They suggested leather trousers, pointy shoes – saying Duffy was going to come into money and upgrade her life, not spend it recklessly but after her Mum dying, realising that life is for living.’
Duffy also plays a role in Lara’s court case episodes, ‘The David Collier storyline I think is excellent and Duffy has quite a key role in that, trying to bring Lara out of prison,’ says Cathy. ‘As Duffy was previously raped in series 1, she feels that she would have handled the situation with Melanie Collier differently than Lara -Melanie is the key to Lara’s release,’ she hints.
Cathy is glad that the new series has brought her challenging storylines, ‘It’s been great. I often feel like a guest in the episode, when often the guests get meatier storylines to do,’ and hopes that Duffy’s luck will also continue ‘I can’t see they’ll give Duffy a happy ending but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, as the writers haven’t told us anything yet!’
In real life, Cathy is enjoying being mum to her 16 month old daughter Tallulah. ‘She’s into everything, she’s very curious and at her baby groups they say she’s quite self contained, confident but not in precocious way.’ Cathy divides her time between filming in Bristol and her home in London, in which she lives with her partner Christopher Guard – who she met when they both worked on CASUALTY. (He played Ken Hodges in Series 8). ‘We have a nanny when I’m at work in Bristol but when I’m at home in London, I’m mum,’ she says ‘We work around her schedule without disturbing her too much. I feel it enriches her life. It can be tiring all the travelling, but she’s a great kid. I couldn’t have done it without her temperament really.’ And says her daughter has an obsession with cars through all the travelling she’s done, ‘Because she’s been in cars since she was a dot, everything to her is ‘boom bar’ which is a car to her! She’s got her own keys. She loves cars so much, I’m sure she’s going to end up designing cars much to our shame!’
Tallulah was with her, when Cathy witnessed her own real life casualty incident recently, ‘I was queuing with my daughter Tallulah in my local post office when a man had an epileptic fit. I was strangely calm and put my fleece under his head, put him into the recovery position and called an ambulance. I waited outside for the paramedics who were thinking ‘Why did it have to be her?’
With her busy schedule in CASUALTY and life as a mum, Cathy has little time to relax but enjoys gardening, watching films and reading, ‘I enjoy watching black and white movies on TCM. I also love Dad’s Army, Porridge and The Fast Show. I’m into reading too and enjoy working my way through author’s works. I’ve just finished Thomas Hardy, who I love because of his amazing human observation which still applies today,’ she adds ‘Working out is another good way to relax. I do about two-three workouts a week and a hundred sit ups everyday. Getting back into shape after having Tallulah was also very motivating, but I do really enjoy exercise.’ She also has a wide range of music taste ‘My music tastes are dictated a lot by Tallulah who recognises Stevie Wonder from when I was pregnant. We like to listen to a range of music from The Beatles to South American, Spanish guitar or classical music.’
Asked if she would always be Duffy she replied ‘She’s a national treasure’ and reminisced of her reasons for leaving back in Series 8 ’The five years out I had was interesting for me but it didn’t quite break that mould so when they asked me back I was thinking am I in for the duration, as Duffy was still quite remembered.’ And admits Derek Thompson plays a great part in the reason she’s still here ‘There were a few SOS calls in the five years I wasn’t here, when there were changes of management… I think whatever happens in the future, Duffy will always be there – who knows Duffy and Charlie may end up running a nursing home or I’ll be endorsing stair lifts.’ she joked.