Cold Feet star Fay Ripley was on the beach at Whitstable recently when she lost a ring that meant a lot to her.
“It’s a silver ring and I love it, but it’s not worth anything,” she said. “But I made my family go back 12 hours later, once the tide had been in and out, to search this pebbly beach. We searched and searched and we only blooming found it! There it was, glinting away. That was a lucky one.”
If she hadn’t been railing against her husband’s requests for a metal detector, they might have found the piece of jewellery much quicker.
“He has been begging me for one of these and I’ve been resisting it,” smiled Fay, who is married to fellow actor Daniel Lapaine. “Obviously he could buy one himself, but it feels like one of those things where you need your partner to be on board, because it’s full on.”
There is a reason we are chatting about metal detectors. The equipment plays a pivotal role in Fay’s new drama series, Finders Keepers, which started last week.
She stars alongside Neil Morrissey, who plays an amateur detectorist whose life is turned upside down when he discovers an ancient horde of treasure in a field. As he sinks further and further into financial problems, he makes a decision that leads him and his family into a world of trouble.
“I like stories about people we can relate to and in recognisable situations,” Fay said. “These are ordinary people going about their daily business when something extraordinary happens and then it’s the ‘what would you do?’ factor.
“This show is about the moral dilemmas. What happens if you find something – what do you do? It’s not like you’re walking along the pavement and see a wallet and wonder whether to pick it up and give it to the police. With this, you’re actively going out and trying to find something, but have you considered what you will do if you do find it?”
The four-part drama is the first time Fay has worked with Neil.
“I was slightly in denial about that but apparently it’s true. He is a friend. It’s an awful thing to say but because I’ve worked with Martin so often, I figured I must have worked with Neil too,” explained Fay, who has played opposite Neil’s former Men Behaving Badly co-star Martin Clunes three times.
“We know each other, so it was easy. It didn’t need to be a situation where it was the first handshake and then thinking, ‘I’ll need to be in pyjamas with you soon’. We shortcut to it quickly. I was fine to be in pyjamas with him.”
While 57-year-old Fay is unlikely to ever be found in a field searching for ancient treasure, she will happily spend hours in the kitchen perfecting recipes for bakes that look just as impressive as any horde of gold.
Her Instagram is full of pictures of stunning-looking cakes and biscuits, and she has released three cookery books over the past 15 years. “It’s the thing that makes me happy. It’s not helping in terms of my waistline, but I love sharing food with family and friends, or even sharing a recipe or pictures,” continued Fay, who has two children – Parker, 21, and 17-year-old Sonny – with Daniel.
“In a way, I struggle with people who look at food as fuel and who use it just to get through the day. Food is so fun! Don’t waste breakfast – I love breakfast! Food brings me a lot of joy and hopefully everyone around me gets that too.
“Some people’s happy place is with a metal detector, but I’d be taking my detector and not looking for gold but for an aubergine… Oh no, don’t say that, it sounds sexual. Say Victoria sponge instead. Oh no, that sounds sexual, too!”
Despite her love of food and appearing as a guest on cookery shows, don’t expect to see Fay on the celebrity versions of Bake Off or MasterChef anytime soon.
“I’ve chosen to be an actor who loves food and writing about it, but I won’t make it my nine to five because part of my love of it is because it’s my other thing. I’m reticent about making it the whole story.
“I’m not trained and I make mistakes and that’s how I write about it – I burn the pans so you don’t have to. I’m feeding my family and I’ll pass that onto you, so you don’t need to work out what will work and what’s cheap. I get a lot of pleasure out of it.
“People always ask if I’ll do things like Bake Off, but if you take part you have to be prepared to lose and I don’t think I am.”
Outside the comfort zone
If being in the kitchen is her happy place and second nature to her, Fay took a step outside her comfort zone recently when she returned to the stage for the first time in 25 years. She took the starring role in the National Theatre’s Kerry Jackson, playing the title character, a chef who runs a tapas restaurant.
“That was such a big deal for me and so significant in my personal life. It was such a mountain to climb and incredibly fulfilling. I went back because I really loved the play and the director and it was at the National – the greatest theatre in the world to work in.
“I was cast during Covid and then it was postponed, so there was a long run up to it. Doing a play takes something out of you I can’t put into words. It was a lot. But I’ll hold it up as one of the things in life – like my cookbooks – that is a highlight of my career. It was amazing.
“The thought of it was terrifying, but it’s part of my DNA. It’s that analogy of riding a bike – I hadn’t ridden a bike for 25 years but it turns out I still can. With that being said, I won’t be riding a bike again for a while; I’ll be riding in a car, and by that I mean I’ll be on the telly.
“It was good to come back to what I was trained to do at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, though. It was what I was expected to do and then TV came to me, and my life and career was changed by Cold Feet.”
The hit ITV drama, about the ups and downs of three couples, was part of the Cool Britannia movement. It started in 1997 and Fay played Jenny, starring alongside James Nesbitt, Helen Baxendale, Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst.
She left at the end of the fourth series, although she made a guest appearance in the fifth – and seemingly final – season. But it returned in 2016 and ran for a further four series.
In the decade and a bit when it was off air, Fay and the rest of the cast were asked incessantly if it would ever return. Now that it has, have the questions about its future finally come to a halt?
“It was never far from anyone’s lips and was always the first thing we’d be asked in an interview, but people are still asking the question,” she said. “Once you do come back, the assumption is the characters are still there. I think there is room for that.
“People followed the journey long enough, and a lot of the feedback we get is people saying they had babies at the same time as our characters, and then their teenage kids watched the show with them when it came back.
“Now there’s the question of the final chapter, which I hate saying. What’s the next bit going to be? I’m not in control of what happens next, if anything, but people still ask. The answer is, I don’t think there are any plans.
“But I used to say that and then it did come back, so you never know.”
Scotland a huge part of Fay’s life
Although she was born in London and brought up in the south of England, when Fay thinks back to her childhood, it’s Scotland that always comes to mind.
“My father had a place up near Tomintoul, so we used to go up there for summer and winter holidays,” she said.
“I don’t really remember my childhood, but Scotland is my childhood; that’s what I remember. We had friendships with lots of people up there.
“Whenever I hear the Scottish accent it makes me very nostalgic.
“I performed at the Fringe for a couple of years around college time. I passed my driving test at 17 and filled my Mini with props and as many cast members as I could and drove to Edinburgh.
“It was brilliant, running around flypostering at 3am and trying to persuade people to come to our show and then only three people turned up.
“I still talk about Scotland as if it’s the promised land to my kids, yet I’ve never taken them up.
“It’s the same with my husband – he’s Australian and I tell him it’s the most magical place and I must take you to visit.
“I don’t know why we’ve still to make the trip.”
Finders Keepers, Channel 5, Wednesday, 9pm
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