I turned down Keeping Faith four times before I accepted the role
I was 38 when I was offered the part of Faith, and I hadn’t spoken any Welsh since I was a 12-year-old at school – and that was only bits and bobs for an hour a week. How on earth was I going to learn eight hours of drama in Welsh? The producer stayed the night at my house and persuaded me to try reading the script. I could see the colour draining from her face when I said, ‘Am I holding it the right way up?’ But I ended up taking the part.
I literally had to start with the alphabet
I didn’t even know there was a distinctive Welsh alphabet. I found everything tricky with it. You’re not used to using your tongue muscles like that: Welsh is a really muscular language. There was nothing that I didn’t find difficult, and it's the most pressure I’ve been under in my entire working life. We were doing eight episodes, and I had the first scripts just four months before we started filming. There was no magic wand, and no quick way of doing it. It was just practice, practice, practice.
I knew my speech had to sound convincing
Knowing my lines and cues was all well and good. But playing someone like Faith, who was a native Welsh speaker, meant I had to sound the part as well. There was so much work involved in that – in making sure I injected the same emotion into the Welsh lines as I did in the English version. But I’m certainly not saying that other people who are learning Welsh have to sound like they’re Welsh. I totally disagree with that. Just learning is the important part.
Running was my best friend when I was learning my lines
My producer recorded all the lines with no inflection. He just said them as plainly as possible, so I could hear the pronunciation of the Welsh. I’d get up early, put my headphones in my ears, and I’d be on the Taff Trail at six in the morning. I’d run for an hour and a half, listening to the lines over and over, until the it was time for the kids to wake up. And then they’d go to school and I’d sit at the table until they came home, just going through my lines.
Now people will start conversations with me in Welsh
They inevitably think I’m fluent because they’ve seen Keeping Faith, and they’ll have a lovely chat with me in Welsh. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to understand them, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to respond. I can do that now. I mean, I know it’s not word perfect, but I don’t start the conversation with an apology – ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh.’ I start with, ‘I’m still learning – bear with me.’
I don’t know if I’m a role model, but I hope I can encourage people to learn Welsh
I guess I’m a classic example of someone who didn’t think it was possible. And it really is – it’s very possible. I think it’s important that there are people out there to encourage others to take it up. So if I’ve managed to influence anybody to start conversational Welsh, even if it’s just learning how to greet people or order something, I’d feel very humbled by that. Blown away, actually.
There’s no point in worrying about mistakes
If we didn’t make mistakes, we wouldn’t be learning. The only way to learn is through doing – and however many mistakes we make, we’re celebrating our beautiful language and keeping it alive. Long may that continue.
Learning Welsh is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life
I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m trying to do as much as I can with the language. I do my very best to encourage my girls to speak it, and I’ll now have a lot of conversations with Brad [Bradley Freegard – husband and Keeping Faith co-star] in Welsh. It has been a revolution to me, and I love it.