Derry Girls' Kathy Kiera Clarke recalls 'exotic' pomegranates on Falls Road in the 70s

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: west Belfast-born Kathy Kiera Clarke, aka 'Aunt Sarah' in Channel 4's hit comedy Derry Girls

West Belfast-born actress Kathy Kiera Clarke
West Belfast-born actress Kathy Kiera Clarke

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

That changes with the job. If I'm in theatre, it’s a matter of getting up and running an Epsom Salts bath. Theatre is physically very demanding and the salts draw out the tension. After that, I'll make coffee – a flat white with full cream milk – check emails and start to think about the scenes for the day ahead. If I'm filming, I could be up as early as 4.15am for a shower and then out the door. Aunt Sarah (Derry Girls character) is first into make-up. Obviously! Part of my routine also involves lighting a candle first thing, every morning, and sending a thought out to family and friends, with us and passed.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Maybe scrambled or poached eggs. When filming, by 6.30am – I've already been up for a couple of hours, so I'll hear myself say, 'bacon and egg roll, please' to the caterers, when my intention at 4am was to have porridge.

Lunch? Something light such as soup or a toastie and salad. On set, it will be the full works, with dessert, even if I have to squeeze into another unforgiving, skin-tight number favoured by Aunt Sarah...

Evening meal? Sushi and Thai are my local go-to favourites. I'm not a vegetarian, but I use a lot of Quorn if I'm cooking a meal at home.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, it is – we were brought up on home-made chicken vegetable soup, stews, fish, potatoes. Our daddy’s friend, Patsy Ferris, had a fruit and veg shop on the Falls Road and we had exotic things like pomegranates in the late 1970s early 1980s. Swanky! I loved going into his shop after school to get the peas in pods and also dulse. My family and friends keep my supply of dulse coming in the post –when it’s in season.

4 Best meal ever?

Siobhan McSweeney (Sister Michael in Derry Girls) and I went to Venice recently and had a fantastic meal in the gorgeous 14th century Hotel Danieli, on St Mark’s Square. We had chateaubriand carved at the table and a bit of a taster menu. A vivid childhood memory is of a holiday in Donegal and our mammy cooking rainbow trout daddy had just caught. That remains a favourite comfort food.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I have no truck with guilt – I love a sausage roll.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I have a high metabolism. I’ve never been on a diet.

7 Do you take health supplements?

When life gets hectic and stressful, I take vitamin C and echinacea for the immune system. I believe in natural remedies, especially manuka honey and root ginger. I juice most days and use cucumber, celery or iceberg lettuce as a base, basically as vehicle to get as much ginger as possible into my system, along with red peppers for the circulation. I also start the day with a shot of kefir every so often, to reboot the digestive system.

8 How do you relax?

Dinner, candles, music, conversation...

9 Teetotal or tipple?

I love a glass of Sancerre.

10 Stairs or lift?

Stairs – except in Waterloo or Covent Garden stations in London – that would just be lunacy; there are hundreds of them.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I rarely sit still and I live central to Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and Regent's Park, so I walk a lot.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Take the stairs. Drink water. Talk through the contents of your head. Communicate.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

No idea – seven, if I’m lucky.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I’m in favour of anything that helps a person feel better.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

There's not even a flicker of a memory. I was probably in the drama room.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

No, not directly. I've had scary, unexpected developments in the lives of loved ones, though.

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

I was never given this advice, I just made it up: listen to music and sing – every day.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

In our image-obsessed culture, I think we need to pay attention to what is truly important – mental health. We see images on social media of young men and women, posting what will be the last image of themselves, from a gym, looking like the perceived physical ideal. Then they take their own life that same day. Neil Lennon and Gary Lightbody are admirably using their position to further raise this issue. We need to stop revering people who have built empires based purely on vanity and give the next generation a fair chance to understand the basis of true wellbeing. Katie Piper is an inspirational person.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I try to get eight hours, but can't with the 4.15am alarm call. I listen to a brilliant woman, Tara Brach, for her talks and meditations. She’s also great to listen to on a long journey, just to quieten the noise in the head sometimes.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Hmmm... I think I’ve learned how to keep a lid on existential crisis when it rears it’s head, then something happens to throw a spanner in the works. It’s what it is to be human, I suppose, and we need answers, so we constantly ask the unanswerable questions. The one certainty is we are going to die, yet we spend our lives keeping the surety of that on the long finger. As the Dalai Lama would say, resistance is futile.

:: Kathy Kiera Clarke is currently filming a new BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse – the series is expected to air Christmas 2020 – and will play one of a trio of witches.