I’m moving house, parting ways with my beloved friend Georgia. For eight years, the two of us have laughed madly, danced wildly and cried horribly. But life moves on and so must we. Boxing, labelling and filing items is not in my nature, which makes Operation Declutter rather difficult. Instead, I sit amid a sea of bin liners stuffed with objects that share stories from the past year: sentimental letters, family photos, dog-eared books, plays and endless diaries reminding me of good days, and bad ones. It has been a year full of opportunities, of challenges approached and the occasional disaster. I’m living and (hopefully) learning.
I have just finished working with a wonderful cast and crew on a ITV drama, whose name I cannot yet reveal. There were 5 a.m. wake-up calls and I shared the car journeys to and from set with the lovely Amanda Burton; I would ask her endless questions with a coffee in one hand and script in the other. Lunch breaks were spent on a bus with Freddie Fox and Mark Stanley, who made me laugh until my face hurt. Before filming starts you never know who you’re going to be sharing these moments with: I’ve been so lucky with the friends I have made. At the wrap party, I celebrate by downing tequila and dancing to the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’, trying to swing my hips like Freddie, but I don’t have the same rhythmic flow. It’s sad saying goodbye to so many kindred spirits.
Morning dawns. With a hangover from hell, I run to a class led by the acting coach Gary Condes. He is strict on late arrivals and attendance and I make it, by the skin of my teeth. Phew. My scene is first up. Typical. Of all the days to be playing a ball-busting American, today is not one of them. I do the scene. My note from Gary: ‘Next time hit the ground running, Cressida.’ Got it.
With my TV job now at an end, I am back in the brutal rat race of castings. My phone buzzes. It’s my agent Chloe with good news: I am in the last few for a role I would love. I go into the audition, guns blazing. Gary would be pleased.
Missed call from Mum. I ring her back and tell her she interrupted my morning meditation ritual. She is sceptical about this ‘meditation business’ and hopes I’m not making any ‘funny friends’. Assuring her I’m not about to join a hippy cult, I tell her I have to prepare for an audition. ‘Just be yourself and they will love you,’ she says — totally missing the point of acting. But I love her for her support.
While visiting my sister Isabella in Oxford, I head out to explore the city and stumble upon my dad’s old college, beautiful Oriel. I am reminded of how he would have liked me to have followed in his footsteps and studied history here. There was a look of horror on his face when, aged 17, I told him that theatre was my calling. ‘Well, you’re no Judi Dench,’ he said. This only spurred me on, and ten years later he’s never missed a play.
In the afternoon my cousin Richard, a self-taught nuclear physicist and author of The Fusion Age, invites me to one of his guest lectures. He talks about the technology needed to build a baby star on earth, and making it a source of clean energy. For the physics part, he might as well have been speaking in Swahili, but the idea is intriguing. Nuclear fusion is everywhere, it is the universe’s chosen element creator and energy source. Might we harness it? Richard has always taught me not to give up: he learned early the lesson of never entering into a business endeavour you do not love. Those who do love it will always be ahead of you.
Family will always remain at the heart of Christmas. I think of my boyfriend Harry’s family this year. The month marks the 12th anniversary since James Wentworth-Stanley, Harry’s brother, took his own life. Suicide is the single biggest killer of young British men, a fact we have yet to adjust to. James went looking for someone to talk to about his suicidal thoughts but, like so many, he was failed by a broken and ineffective system. He was referred to A&E as a low priority and after waiting there for some time, he left without being seen and took his own life two days later. James’s Place is set up as a place to support men who need to talk things over with someone. A place of hope, where precious lives will be comforted and saved. If you’re looking for a charity to donate to, instead of spending on Christmas cards, it’s worth considering. One day, perhaps, mental health will be treated as seriously as physical health. But until then, there is a job to do.