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The Interview: Belinda Lang - Our marriage is perfect even though I'm so bossy; With A Volatile Childhood Behind Her, Belinda Lang Expected To Spend Her Life Alone. She Couldn't Have Been More Wrong, As Sharon Feinstein Finds Out.

Her father walked out when she was four. Her step-father left after years of high-voltage screaming matches fuelled by alcohol, and her mother spent weeks at a time in bed with depression. So it's not surprising to learn that as Belinda Lang grew up she had little faith in marriage and fully expected to spend her life on her own. But that was before she met Hugh Fraser.

Hugh, a fellow actor, has given the star of the hit BBC sitcom 2point4 Children what she always needed but never found - stability. And she says her marriage to him, now in its 11th year, is a dream come true.

"It's what I hoped marriage would be but there was no evidence of it in my life," she says. "I didn't expect to get married...I didn't trust it as an institution. But when I met Hugh I knew we wanted the same thing, something much more than just hanging out together. That was a feeling I'd never had with anyone before."

Belinda first met Hugh, famous as Inspector Poirot's sidekick Captain Hastings in the TV series Poirot, when they bumped into each other at the stage door of the National Theatre more than 15 years ago.

Hugh congratulated Belinda for a performance she hadn't given and she couldn't bring herself to point out his mistake.

Years passed, and they met again during the making of The Bretts, an ITV drama about a theatrical family in the Twenties. The Bretts wasn't a hit but Belinda and Hugh were.

They had a quiet wedding at Acton Register Office, in West London, in 1988 and now have an eight-year-old daughter, Lily.

"Hugh's got everything that keeps me interested. He's very bright and extremely funny, which is a big thing for me. I have to have that," says Belinda, 45. "He has a very clever, sideways humour, a sophisticated take on life just like my mother had, and I really like it. It keeps me going. Hugh's a truly good man and we still have romance, more than I would ever have expected, and our love has grown and deepened.

"I hate to say I feel safe in my marriage. It's tempting fate - rather like appearing in Hello! magazine - but I do and I feel we give each other strength.

"Hugh's reading the book about Iris Murdoch, written by her husband, in which he describes their marriage as a boat, and I think that's a very good analogy for a marriage. You've made a boat, an ark, you climb on to it and it's your safe place to be.

"We do row a lot, God yes. We're very volatile and temperamental, but that feels healthy. I'm extremely bossy so it's all about who is going to get what they want in any trivial situation.

"There's no competition between Hugh and I - quite the opposite. He's very keen for me to progress, keener than I am. He's always saying, 'This isn't good enough for you, you know'.

"He's doing another Poirot this summer. I'm quite old-fashioned and rather like my husband going off to do his TV series."

As for her own job, she appreciates the benefits it brings her - like time with Lily. Not for her is the life of the harassed mother Bill she plays in 2point4 Children. "When I'm not working I'm a housewife and I love it. I think it's terribly unfair that so many women are expected to be working mothers," says Belinda, who is currently touring the country in Alan Ayckbourn's play, Things We Do For Love.

"I work out of choice because I really like acting, but I'm also able to spend huge amounts of time with Lily that other women don't get to spend with their children. The financial structure these days is much more in favour of women working, rather than doing what they really want to do, which is bring up their children. Maybe they'd like a little part-time work, but an awful lot of women don't want to be pushed out to work for financial reasons.

"Women aren't valued for being mothers and it's bizarre because if you ask most women what is the best thing they ever did with their lives, they'll say 'having children'. It certainly is in my life. Everything dropped into place when I had my daughter."

Belinda admits she would love to have more children.

"I can't say I've been trying with a vengeance because I think that would be a neurotic thing to do, but I'd be thrilled if another one came along," she says.

"Of course, another baby would upset my career, but I don't really care. The fact is I can act, I don't have to be a major superstar. Whatever age I am I know I could get a job.

"I'm confident about being able to go to a theatre and saying, 'I'm 60 now, have you got a part for an old bag?' and they'll give me one if it's going because they know I can do it.

"I always ask Lily how she feels when I get offered a part. With this play, which was in the West End for six months before we took it on tour, I said to Lily, 'I've been offered a play, which means I won't be home to read you a bedtime story for a very long time, so how do you feel about that?' She said, 'I'd like you to do the play'. I think she gets a kick out of me being an actress, and she thinks she wants to be one when she grows up.

"I understand that because I liked the notion of my mother going off to the theatre every night."

Belinda's mother was actress Joan Heal - one of the most glittering stars in London's West End in the Sixties. She died last year. Her father was Jeremy Hawk, Benny Hill's straight man for more than a decade. Her step-father, television producer David Conyers, became a violent alcoholic and Belinda grew up in London's upmarket Eaton Square among wild scenes and highly-charged emotions.

"Their relationship was terribly traumatic," she says. "My mother had huge problems and my primary premise as a child was to try to separate her life from mine. She would have weeks of dreadful depression and just stay in bed, but the fact is she was a very funny woman and had a way of giving life to a situation, even if it was a bad one. She was able to laugh at herself, so however unhappy she was she always saw the funny side of things and made me see that too.

"I'm happy to say I haven't inherited her depression, but I often wonder whether it'll descend upon me in later life.

"It would terrify me to wake up and not want to enjoy the day. I'm lucky, I like the little things of life - the ritual of making toast and tea for instance."

While Belinda, Hugh and Lily live in a rambling terraced house in London's expensive Notting Hill Gate, she disapproves of having lots of money or leading a flash lifestyle. The family don't go away to exotic destinations, preferring to spend holidays at their cottage in peaceful Cork.

"There's far too much emphasis on money these days, and everybody has to have all this stuff. I'm not interested in that," she says. "Our expectations of our lifestyles have become ludicrous. As a child we had a bathroom for the family to share. There's nothing wrong with it, it just means there's a bit of knocking on doors.

"Now everyone has to have two or three bathrooms. We moved two years ago and Lily had a bathroom en suite, so I barricaded the door from her bedroom and she has to use the door from the hall. To me it was morally inconceivable that she should have a bathroom en suite at that age. It's nonsense.

"We have a ghetto blaster in our study and Lily wanted it in her room but I refused. She's allowed to borrow it for a few hours. That's the sort of thing I wouldn't have had until I was 21.

"I've made a good living in an English way but if I was an American sitcom actress I'd be a multi-millionairess.

"We don't pay actors in the same way and I don't think that's a bad thing. I think money's very corrupting.

"If I lost all my money tomorrow it would just present a challenge to me. I certainly wouldn't be fazed by it. If I was it would be because I'd come so far away from who I was. But I don't think I have."

For now, money's not something Belinda has to worry about. She'll soon be filming another series of 2point4 Children, she loves her stint in the theatre and family life is great.

"My daughter's very happy, my husband's by my side and I go into a packed theatre every night," she says. "I like this time of year as well. I'm in a very good space."
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Feinstein, Sharon
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 2, 1999
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