Musical theatre star and Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead starts his first shift in the emergency department at Holby this Saturday as new nurse Ben “Lofty” Chiltern. But how does the character come by his nickname? And what does the actor’s own daughter Betsy make of his new role? The 32-year-old actor tells us about all this and how it feels to get his first big TV acting gig:
So, tell us about Lofty – he has quite an unusual entrance, doesn’t he?
Yes, he’s been squatting in the loft of Robyn’s student house and she catches him at the start of my first episode. Initially, she wants to call the police and get him arrested and she’s chasing Lofty through gardens and over fences. But Robyn ends up getting injured and Lofty has this dilemma: does he carry on running or does he help her out?
He is a nice guy though, right?
Yes, he has a very positive outlook on life. He’s a trained nurse, but he’s been partying too hard and has ended up hiding out in these student houses, that are owned by his father. Once he comes to Robyn’s assistance, she can see what a nice guy he is and how good his intentions are. And that’s how he ends up getting his interview for the nursing post.
What’s it like joining a fast-moving show like Casualty?
Well, I’m really chuffed to have got the role. It’s great to come into the show. When you’ve done theatre for ten years though, you’re used to having four weeks of rehearsal to find your character and doing tech runs of the show. But on Casualty, you turn up on your first day with your script learnt, you have a quick chat with the director, meet the actors on set, run the scene once or twice and then shoot. So, yes, it is a fast process, Plus, there’s a crew of 30-odd people watching the scene, so it’s a lot of pressure.
Is the medical dialogue difficult to get to grips with?
It can be. I’ve had a few words like “tachycardic” and terms such as “sats at 95 per cent” – at first, I had no idea what I was saying and had to consult a medical dictionary. But it’s been a lot of fun learning these things.
Are you squeamish?
Not really, in fact I find it all fascinating. I was walking down a corridor the other day and came across the prosthetics department. And I got to see all these injured legs and hands hanging on shelves. The level of detail is brilliant; it all looks very realistic. Poor Robyn puts her foot through a rake in my opening episode and the props people brought out this prosthetic that I did, at one point, think was real.
How are you finding juggling acting and parenting?
I’m based in Cardiff during the week because we’re contracted Monday to Friday. Occasionally, depending on storylines, you might do a three-day week, which allows me to come back to London more often. Home is north London – I like to be close to my daughter Betsy, who’s four this year. So I get to play Dad when I’m not playing Lofty!
Does Betsy now think that Daddy is working in a hospital?
At Christmas, we did get her this little toy medical centre because she knew that Daddy was going to be in Casualty. So she puts on her own little doctor’s jacket and stethoscope, which looks really cute. The trouble is that she’s just started pre-school and she’s been telling her teacher and friends that I’m Doctor Lofty. I have to keep telling her that I’m not quite a doctor yet, but she’s definitely asking for an upgrade.
Does acting take you away from singing?
Thankfully, the producers are allowing me to go off and sing – a year without singing would be hard for me. So I’m going to be doing about 20 concerts this year, playing at theatres around the country.
Is it hard not to call Derek Thompson “Charlie”, seeing as he’s played the role for so long?
Ha! Derek is such a great guy – he makes you feel very relaxed on set and he’s quite cheeky and has a lot of fun. He actually toured the cabaret scene for years as a singer and he’s agreed to come along to a concert I’m doing in Cardiff this May. It looks like he’ll pop in and do a number.
Lee Mead joins Casualty in the episode airing on Saturday at 9.20pm on BBC1