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Doctor Who and Shetland star Neve McIntosh reveals spooky scare in real life-inspired Susan Hill’s Ghost Story role

© Richard CampbellNeve McIntosh
Neve McIntosh

The ghosts of Christmas past lingered over actress Neve McIntosh in her haunting new role.

The Doctor Who and Shetland star plays a spirit inhabiting an old house in primetime festive drama, Susan Hill’s Ghost Story.

And the 47-year-old, who played Madame Vastra in Doctor Who, had her own spooky encounter to draw on when filming.

“I’ve had experiences that make me think there’s so much more out there,” said Neve, who also starred in Bodies, Lip Service and Cheat.

“When I was a kid, there was a lady who used to come and stand at my bedroom door after we moved from Paisley to a big flat in Edinburgh.

“The flat had been in the family for a few generations, and my room was where my grandfather was born.

“At first, I thought this figure was my mum watching over me until I went to sleep, so I said to her one day that she didn’t need to do that, because I was fine in the new house.

“She later told me she was about to say she hadn’t, but stopped herself because she didn’t want to freak me out.

“It wasn’t something that scared me. My mum felt a vibe around the house as well, and I think it was just the spirits of our family welcoming us. There was nothing malevolent about it – they were just looking out for me.

“I don’t think everyone can feel it but, for me, there’s definitely something there.”

In Susan Hill’s Ghost Story, to be shown on Channel 5, Neve’s character Denisa and her son, who is also a ghost, haunt the new owner of their old house; played by Neve’s long-time friend, Douglas Henshall.

“We worked on a series of Shetland together and I did Psychos, my first big telly job, with him,” she continued. “I also did a couple of Sea Of Souls episodes, where he was haunting my house, so now I’m getting my own back, which was quite fun!

“Dougie and I try to keep in touch, and whenever we meet it feels like no time has passed.

“This acting lark makes it hard to meet up with people. But around this time of year is good, because I always make sure to head home and try to catch up with everyone in the pub.”

Neve in Susan Hill’s Ghost Story

Although based in London for a number of years, Neve comes home often to visit her mum, her brother and his family. She also hopes to be back more frequently for work.

“It’s great there are more productions being made in Scotland now,” she said.

“I’m in (current Alibi series) Traces, which is set in Dundee, but most of it was filmed in Manchester so I didn’t have the chance to come back to Scotland for that one.”

Although Neve says she’s been up in Scotland auditioning for a number of roles recently without landing them, she is enjoying a purple patch with a succession of TV roles and theatre work, including starring opposite Orlando Bloom in the West End last year.

“It’s nice just to be consistently working,” she admitted. “There was a time when I had a bit of a wobble, but a lot of acting work had dried up and I think loads of people thought they wouldn’t work again, but it’s building back up now.

“I love doing theatre, it’s one of my big passions and I’ve been involved with the Traverse in Edinburgh for a while. There is new writing, especially Scottish voices, coming from there, which is great and I keep my oar in with that. You can’t beat a live audience.”

Neve plays a spirit whose family haunts Douglas Henshall, as Adam Snow, in Ghost Story

The role for which she’s best known, and still has Doctor Who fans flocking to speak to her about, is lizard lady Madame Vastra.

“I was a big Doctor Who fan growing up, so to get to do that was great,” she said “I thought it would be one episode and done, but (writer) Steven Moffat kept getting me back and we formed The Paternoster Gang of characters and it snowballed from there.

“The fans seem to love us and our stories, and now we’re carrying that on thanks to an audiobook spin-off series.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll ever be back involved in the TV series due to the way the programme has gone now, which is fine.

“Girls who have made full costumes of Madame Vastra will come up to me at conventions wearing them, which is a real honour.”

Neve spent four hours in make-up each day to be transformed into a lizard while working on the Timelord series. The process for Susan Hill’s Ghost Story wasn’t quite as demanding.

“There was a lot of pale make-up and eyeliner,” she smiled. “There are flashback scenes where I’m more real, so I look a little healthier.

“My costume was pitched to me as being a mixture of Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush, so I fell in love with the designer when she told me that!”


Susan Hill’s Ghost Story, Channel 5, Boxing Day, 9pm