Laura Whitmore: ‘I’m not confident at all. You just pretend’
The Wicklow TV star is taking to the stage – and says she’s faking it till she makes it
Laura Whitmore: “I’m very much of the mind that you’ve got one life so live it, do everything you can possibly do.” Photograph: Alan Betson
“Fake it til you make it,” says Laura Whitmore repeatedly as she talks about a career which has taken her from a Newstalk internship to MTV, to ITV, to Strictly, and soon to a theatre near you.
It’s almost as if – despite more than a decade at the top of her game across multiple platforms in the UK – the 31-year-old still can’t believe she is the success she so clearly is.
Dressed in a luminous yellow frock which could have come from the wardrobe of a 1950s movie star, Whitmore looks both radiant and anxious when we meet ahead of an interview to promote her new role on the big stage as a pathologist in Not Dead Enough, a play based on bestselling author Peter James’s novel.
It quickly becomes clear that the Irish Times photographer is the cause of her anxiety. She doesn’t mind if he takes some pictures, she says, smiling – with her mouth if not, necessarily, her eyes – but she will need to approve the shots before publication. That is not going to happen. The Irish Times never gives interviewees copy or picture approval.
There is a pause. Whitmore explains that she has had bad experiences of the press across the water using deliberately unflattering photographs of her to create negative impressions. There are sympathetic nods and the briefest of stand-offs before we agree to proceed with the request for picture approval shelved.
While asking for such a thing might hint at a certain diva-like streak, it quickly becomes clear that Whitmore is anything but precious, and from the get-go she is down to earth and self-deprecating.
I realised years ago that no one really knows what they’re doing and you kind of just learn by observing
She is best known as a TV presenter – and more recently a Strictly Come Dancing contestant – but her reincarnation as a stage star is not entirely surprising given that she studied at the Leinster School of Music and Drama as a teenager.
Her return to the stage, and in the big leagues this time, is “scary” she admits, but she is used to scary having been in “a bit of a whirlwind” since 2008 when she won a televised competition to become the face of MTV News in Europe.
“My job in MTV was my first real presenting job and I had no real idea what I was doing, but you kind of learn just by doing. I always say you kind of fake it till you make it; you pretend. I realised years ago that no one really knows what they’re doing and you kind of just learn by observing.”
She is unsure how the career shift is going to go and if she will ultimately end up pursuing a career in acting, perhaps in front of a camera. “I kind of need to prove to myself I can do it first,” she says. “I think I need to kind of get out there and learn the craft to get back into it.”
When she was interning in Newstalk did she imagine her career would follow this trajectory? “Do you know, it’s mad. I never had a chance to think about it and I think that was the best thing. I won a competition and on my first day in the job I’m interviewing Coldplay and I’m in LA and I was just like ‘F**k, I’m so out of my depth’. But for me it was the best way of learning. I wasn’t ready at all, I just acted my way through it. I’ve been acting for years I tell you,” she laughs.
Does she think her confidence has seen her through? “I’m not confident at all,” she responds. “You just pretend you are. You go back to wherever you’re staying, and kind of have to talk yourself up. You just pretend you know what you’re doing. I think my mum was always telling me you fake it until you make it. No one knows what they’re doing. I remember going into an interview with a big star and I was nervous. Then I realised they were more nervous. I realised I was the one with the power because I was the one asking the questions.”
She says when Strictly came calling last year she didn’t hesitate. “I’m very much of the mind that you’ve got one life so live it, do everything you can possibly do. Strictly was mad. I love the show and I love dancing. I didn’t go to win, I went in for the experience. I loved the process and I loved the routine of training for something every day.”
Why, as a woman in the show, do I have to be going out with my dance partner? The guys didn’t get that in the same way the women did
Half-way through the competition she hurt her foot and, although she pushed on, the pain took its toll and six weeks into the competition the game was up. “I was so relieved,” she says. “I was in so much pain. I danced for two weeks on a sprained ankle. Everyone said I looked so happy to leave. I was sad to go but I just couldn’t do it, it was so painful.”
Strictly has catapulted her onto a different celebrity plane which carries a different level of interest. “You become more aware that everyone is looking at you,” she says. “I hated that.”
She particularly hated the notion of the paparazzi parked outside her house in search of shots of her putting out the bins. “That was the hardest thing about Strictly. I found that quite intrusive.” She has worked on reality TV programmes but has never sought any attention outside of her work and has never invited the media into her private life. When Strictly happened “it was the first time I had photographers following me and outside my house”.
“I remember coming back from yoga at six in the morning and they were there and I was like ‘Really? What do you want, like, there’s nothing here.’ I get it that sometimes the people are just doing their jobs but there is doing the job and there’s, like...” she pauses. “I remember one night three or four photographers following me in Soho and I was by myself and I remember thinking if they didn’t have cameras this would probably be illegal.”
It is not just pictures the press are looking for but intimate details of her private life. She says that is strictly off limits. “They write what they want. They get it wrong all the time and you just have to let it go. Anything I mention becomes story so I just stopped talking about anything.”
As the show progressed elements of the press started obsessing about her relationship with Giovanni Pernice, her dance partner. “Why, as a woman in the show, do I have to be going out with my dance partner? The guys didn’t get that in the same way the women did. Why? Just because I’m a girl and you don’t know who I’m going out with I must fall in love with my dance partner? It is a little bit chauvinistic, a little bit sexist.
I’ve got my Twitter and my Instagram but that’s not real life
“They said we were in love with each other and then they said we hated each other. I was just, like, as someone who studied journalism and had classes in media law and defamation, I didn’t understand why that was allowed. I think that’s kind of the nature of the beast and you get a bit of a thicker skin about it. I just found it quite funny in some ways. How can I be in love with someone and hate them?
She says she tries not to put “too much stuff out there” about her private life. “I’ve never set up a pap shot I’m not into that world, I swear. I’ve never done, it it’s not me. I’ve got my Twitter and my Instagram but that’s not real life.
“People ask me questions about my personal life and I’m like, that’s what my friends are for, I talk to them about that. If I am upset about something I’ll ring them and I’ll talk to them, not to someone I don’t know. It’s none of their business.”
While Whitmore’s stage entrance might seem surprising to many but it is something she has always wanted to do. “I have an acting agent who I told no one about. I’ve been doing workshops and stuff for the last two years just for fun. I said I’d love to something in the theatre because it is the best learning experience .
“For someone like me, who lives in central London, you’re surrounded by it all the time and I go to shows every week even by myself – I’m that loser by myself in the theatre – so it’s quite nice to kind of be on the other side of that.”
“I am enjoying it,” she says. “I’m enjoying the process. The first day was like being back at school. You meet the company, the people you are going to be with for the next six months. Everyone has very different backgrounds and as I said I’m the newbie and I’m just taking it all in.”
When she was researching her role she looked to State pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy for inspiration. “I remember even as a researcher in Newstalk I’d be looking at the court cases and you be working at crime scenes and you see Dr Marie Cassidy turning up.”
Before the rehearsals started she listened to a radio interview Miriam O’Callaghan did with Cassidy about “how you remove yourself, how do you remove yourself, how do you see a dead body of a child up not compare to your child?”
“There is a line my character has that I love. It is something like: ‘This isn’t a person it’s just a body where a person used to live and it can tell you a lot but it can’t tell you what her dreams were or what she sounded like or how much she was loved or her secrets.’ I love that line and I just find it really interesting.”
Laura Whitmore stars in “Not Dead Enough” at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from the April 18th-22nd