Arts

Julie's just the ticket for Cinemagic Belfast

Having starred as uber brat Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, actress turned children's counsellor Julie Dawn Cole is now on a mission to 'give something back'. Gail Bell spoke to her about visiting Cinemagic in Belfast next month for a special screening of her most famous film

Julie Dawn Cole (right) will be in Belfast for a special Cinemagic screening of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory next month

SHE is best known for playing brattish Veruca Salt in the original Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory film, but it's not a particularly hard cross to bear for former actress Julie Dawn Cole.

"It's definitely the role I'm most known for and I decided long ago that the continual reference could either be something to annoy me or else I could wear it as a sort of badge of pride," she says.

"Gene Wilder was great to work with; very patient and kind. I view it as a lovely thing to have done as a 12 year-old. Working on that film was literally a golden ticket which has taken me all over the world."

Speaking ahead of her visit to Belfast next month for a special Willy Wonka screening and Q&A session as part of a Cinemagic event for Roald Dahl 100 – a celebration of the centenary of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl's birth – Julie says she is keen to 'give back' to the film industry.

"It's absolutely vital to give something back," she says.

"I remember meeting some childhood heroes of my own – I'm not going to name names – who were a distinct disappointment and, quite frankly, not very nice.

"I hope I am never that person."

Now aged 59 and after decades spent working in film and television - she has popped up in Emmerdale, Poldark, Tales of The Unexpected and Bergerac among others – Julie has left acting behind to work in child counselling with the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

It is as far removed from the glitz of films as you can get, but the down-to-earth mother-of-two could not be happier.

"It definitely gives you a different perspective," she says. "When I worked at an adult hospice and the patients there wanted support around managing the time left with their families, it made me realise the importance of living each day as it comes.

"It is a bit of a cliche and something we all say quite often, but I think I really know what that means."

Ironically, she became involved in her new role through her work on television:

"I was working as a fitness presenter on ITV's This Morning with very overweight people and that started me on the counselling route," she explains.

"I thought if I could look at weight loss holistically, then it would be a beneficial new approach. I began to be interested in palliative care and went down that route. I love being able to do something so important and so needed."

Having started drama school aged 11, Julie says she always regretted not having gone to university as a teenager, so decided in her "later years" to embark on a degree – Counselling and Psychotherapy, followed by a post-grad in Childhood Bereavement.

And, to her great joy, her two children both chose careers away from the spotlight – her daughter, India, works as a doctor in a hospital intensive care unit, while her son, Barney, is studying for a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering.

"I am extremely proud of them both," she gushes, "and my advice to all young people thinking about going into acting is to get a good education first.

"I am really boring when I take this stance, but I think it is sound advice.

"I can't really remember when the idea first came to me, but it took six years of hard study for to get all my qualifications as a 'mature' student.

"And, while acting has been kind to me – I have travelled the world, 33 countries at the last count – it has also been a life full of uncertainties.

"Overall, my advice would have to be, 'do what makes you happy'. So many people spend so much of their lives doing things that other people expected of them. If acting, sport or even being an astronaut is your dream, then you should go for it."

And, although a chocolate factory might seem like every child's dream, as a young child on set, she wasn't that impressed.

"I didn't like chocolate," Cole laughs. "My candy of choice would have been jelly beans and wine gums... and fudge, and caramels and soft licorice.

"Now when I get to relax, I love to binge on TV box sets with a glass of red wine and salted peanuts while cuddled up to my one-year-old rescue dog, Hudson."

Her days as Veruca Salt may be (almost) a distant memory - apart from her "quite something" 13th birthday, which was spent filming the 'I Want It Now' Golden Goose scene – but she has one treasured keepsake hidden away at home.

"Yes," Cole confesses, "I still have my Golden Ticket and I also kept the script.

"I don't keep the ticket on display and I have been offered a lot of money for it – but it's definitely not for sale."

:: Julie Dawn Cole will take part in a Q&A following Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory at Strand Arts Centre on September 3, 4.20pm to 6.20pm. Sees Cinemagic.org.uk for tickets and full event information.

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