If I had a quid from everyone who asked if Nikki lived….’ jokes bubbly actress Kelly Harrison.
It’s been a fantastic year for 22 year old Kelly. For someone with no previous acting training – Kelly has become a rising name due to her portrayal of Ambulance Technician Nikki Marshall and has proved her abilities throughout the series, which included the gripping cliffhanger of Nikki’s stabbing at the end of Series 16, which left fans wondering if she was going to pull through. ‘I’ve been handed my career on a plate and I’m going to run with it as far and as fast as I can,’ says Kelly. ‘But if it does end – please touch wood it doesn’t – I won’t be sorry. I’ll be upset, but I’ll remember all the happy years I’ve had on CASUALTY. It’s totally changed my life.’
Originally wanting to be a dancer, Kelly fell into modelling when she was spotted on the streets of San Francisco. ‘My parents couldn’t afford the fees for me to go to stage school, so I planned to use modelling to enable me to dance.’ Modelling, however, took over and Kelly worked on a number of major campaigns spanning beauty and fashion projects as well as commercials and pop videos. Based in London, her work took her to places ranging from Japan to Paris.
Four years later missing home and disillusioned with modelling, Kelly left London and found herself a job near home in Doncaster. Out of the blue, she was contacted by her old modelling agency in Sheffield who sent her for an audition for the film Dream, the day after her 21st birthday. With no acting experience whatsoever, Kelly was picked from 2,000 girls to play the part of Emma in the film.
It was actually thanks to her co-stars Sinead Cusack and Brian Conley that she landed herself an agent. ‘Brian told his agent about me and bullied me into arranging a meeting. Not expecting to be taken on, I went along for some advice and was sent for an audition the next day.’ The audition, her first, was for Casualty.
Kelly loves playing her role of young technician Nikki, it’s been a rollercoaster for her, but she is pleased how her character has developed and admits she ‘loves her to bits.’
‘Nikki is a real team player and very loveable,’ she says, and found similarities with herself, ‘We’re both young, vibrant, happy and always up for a laugh. We also both have a flair for life. However she’s much more headstrong than me though and loves confrontation which I hate.’ Last series also saw Nikki’s warm personality in her relationship with Jack, ‘She showed her kind side when Jack was diagnosed with cancer and was hurt by his rejection,’ but said ‘On the flip side, she is renowned for putting her foot in it and can be extremely tactless!’
Nikki and Jack’s relationship has gone through its ups and downs over the course of the last series, ‘Despite a more ‘off’ than ‘on’ relationship with Jack, there is still a real spark between them and they only really have eyes for eachother,’ says Kelly. Jack showed his true emotions for Nikki in the finale of last series, when she was stabbed – he made an emotional proposal by her bedside. The episode received praise for the excellent acting of both Kelly and Will Mellor, who plays Jack. ‘There was a fantastic response,’ exclaimed Kelly. ‘My boyfriend sobbed when he watched it whereas my mum just said well done!’
However the new series still sees the turbulent love life of Nikki and Jack – when she returns to work 3 months later, having no idea that Jack made a spontaneous proposal to her. When she finds out from her colleagues she plays a trick on him, although they both realise they’re not ready to get hitched ‘Nikki is too young to get married especially Jack!’ laughs Kelly. Jack becomes more protective of Nikki, and Nikki has her own personal traumas to go through as she tries to block out the memories of her stabbing. ‘The scars are still there,’ she says ‘especially the mental ones’. Her experience still haunts her on her first shift when she is called to a stabbing victim at the same run down housing estate that she was attacked at previously. On the shout with Josh, Nikki refuses to go inside the flat until police back-up has arrived – which has tragic consequences when Nikki realises the patient could have survived if she had gone in straight away – it remains to be seen if she can overcome her fear and the opening episode shows how close she is to losing her nerve.
In Episode 4, Nikki receives recognition for her stabbing ordeal, ‘She gets a bravery award and the national papers get hold of it and so she gets to do a bit of modelling,’ reveals Kelly. ‘She buys herself an stab vest because the ambulance service won’t provide her with one – she just wants to buy herself some confidence and security’. Nikki, however, refuses to be seen as a hero and declares ‘Dr Stone is the real hero’ to the press and doesn’t miss the opportunity to say that if their ambulance bosses supplied the paramedics with stab vests then she wouldn’t have been put in that situation. Her boss, though keen for Nikki to raise the profile of the ambulance service, hurriedly blames a lack of resources. Kelly also got to go return to her modelling roots when Nikki poses in her new stab vest – and very little else – for the local paper. But Kelly doesn’t miss the modelling in real life, ‘You can make an awful lot of money especially in places like Japan, where they love European western faces but I pretty soon realised I was getting sick of it and that it wasn’t going to lead me anywhere I wanted to be,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t see myself in my middle to late 20’s doing the same thing and trying to keep my weight down or having things tucked and nipped here and there’
Kelly keeps her trim figure with regular exercise ‘I don’t do as much as I should, but try to go to aerobics classes once or twice a week. I also walk wherever possible instead of taking the car,’ and loves her food, ‘I eat too much cheese and crisps, I crave them all day, they’re my favourite snack!’
Her role as Nikki, has seen Kelly spend time learning from the real-life paramedics and revealed how only a few months ago she went on the road with a crew and for the first time she helped to save a man’s life after he had fallen 20ft, which she found an amazing experience. Kelly has also had her own casualty incidents as a child, ‘I was a complete tomboy and rogue when I was a kid and broke my arm when I fell off the top bunk bed. But I went out on my bike afterwards and jarred it and made it even worse. I can’t remember much about going to hospital.’
Kelly works a busy schedule on CASUALTY but finds things that help her relax, ‘By watching a girly DVD, washing my car or listening to the radio’ she says. She also admits to catching herself looking at children’s hairstyles in the street, while researching fashion trends for her character, ‘Most parents think I’m mad as I stare at their kids to pick up on the latest trends. I go into work and suggest things I’ve seen,’ she laughs.
The schedule has also left her less time to go back to her home in Doncaster to see her family and also her boyfriend, Gavin of six years. ‘We speak on the phone every day, but it’s natural for us to be apart at the moment. I think we would have split up if we lived in eachother’s pockets, because we’re both so young and we’ve got such outgoing lives. But we give and take.’ and she also remains friendly with all the CASUALTY cast ‘It’s a close family unit and we all go out together.’
Kelly has built up an army of fans since she began on CASUALTY, so we’ll all be glad to see Nikki back on our screens for Series 17, as she declares in Episode 1, ‘Nikki Marshall is back! And I’m so up for it!’