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‘I’d been a copper for 23 years so this role was perfect for me’: Granite Harbour star Michelle Jeram on using all her old know-how in new life on screen

© BBC Scotland/LA ProductionsMichelle Jeram in Granite Harbour.
Michelle Jeram in Granite Harbour.

The car thief had overturned the stolen vehicle but had escaped on foot when Michelle Jeram gave chase. The police officer caught him and made an arrest, but he wasn’t for going quietly.

“We ended up in a bit of a fight and he came out of it better than I did. I ended up requiring five operations on my leg – including a full knee replacement – it ended my career, sadly,” Michelle said, reflecting on the life-changing moment from a decade ago.

She had joined the force at 21 and enjoyed a varied career over the next 23 years – general patrol, CID, control room, covert operations and a major crimes squad. It was all she had ever known, so the future looked uncertain without the badge.

Michelle Jeram had to quit the force when she sustained a serious knee injury during an arrest.
Michelle Jeram had to quit the force when she sustained a serious knee injury during an arrest.

“I stayed in for a while and did some office duties, but there comes a point when you’re a police officer and you can’t do your full duties,” she continued. “I didn’t want to leave but it was forced on me – even my surgeon said. I can’t kneel and don’t have full movement of my right knee, and when you arrest people, you sometimes end up on the floor. Even when giving first aid, sometimes you have to kneel over the person and I couldn’t do that.

“The surgeon said I was young to have a knee replacement, and that I might only be able to have one more in my lifetime and then who knows what happens with my mobility. I understood where he was coming from but I was really disappointed and felt lost for a while.

“When you’re a police officer and wear the uniform, it’s your role to be there to help people and do all the things the police are supposed to do, but suddenly I was a civilian. In hindsight, though, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Following a childhood dream

The reason Michelle can now be sanguine about the incident is because it allowed her to follow a childhood dream that still lingered at the back of her mind.

When she was younger, she had wanted to be an actor, so at the end of 2019 she enrolled in acting class. Lockdown happened soon after, but Michelle continued with the lessons online, hired an acting coach, and a year later she secured an agent.

In June 2021, she secured her first professional job – an episode of ITV’s The Split, but her scene was cut. Her next role was in an episode of EastEnders, then along came a script that felt like a perfect fit – a role as a police officer in the new Aberdeen-set drama, Granite Harbour.

“I remember getting the script and realising it was a big role,” Michelle said. “I originally auditioned for another role – Cora MacMillan, which went to Dawn Steele. I played it authentically, having known many officers of a higher rank and how they would carry themselves.

“They wanted something slightly different for the role but they offered me Simone ‘Monty’ Montrose, who was originally written as a man, so it was generous that they liked me and asked me to do this. And they were right, because Cora is definitely Dawn and Monty suits me much better. I think it did pique their interest when they learned I had been a copper for 23 years. It’s my unique selling point.”

Granite Harbour

The first series of Granite Harbour was a hit on BBC iPlayer with 7.6 million streams when it debuted in 2022. Centring on the story of Royal Military Police Sergeant Davis Lindo, who arrives in Aberdeen as a new Police Scotland recruit working alongside DS Lara ‘Bart’ Bartlett, Michelle’s character Monty is part of the major investigations team that works with Lindo and Bart, alongside DCI Cora MacMillan and DI Jay Mallick.

In series two, the team becomes immersed in the city’s criminal underworld when the fixer of a drug kingpin turns up dead, with the officers having their work cut out to find the source of a new cocaine and ketamine compound flooding the streets.

“I’ve watched season two already and I’m really pleased with it,” Michelle said. “You get to know the characters more. And it was great to come back to Aberdeen and Glasgow to film. The five of us are such good friends and really get on, and most of the crew were the same as before, so it was fantastic to see all the familiar faces.”

Michelle Jeram with the Granite Harbour cast – ‘the five of us are such good friends’. © BBC/LA Productions/Robert Pereira Hind
Michelle Jeram with the Granite Harbour cast – ‘the five of us are such good friends’.

Having been a police officer for most of her adult life, she believes that experience has helped – and occasionally hindered – her new role of playing a fictional cop.

“All police officers have an authoritative air about them, no matter whether they are delivering a death message, collecting a witness statement, or arresting someone. That’s helpful,” she said. “But real policing is very drawn out and a lot of it is extremely boring. No one wants to watch that. It does help that I know the mechanics of it and how it works procedurally. There were a couple of times where I’ve gone to the producer and said if we do this or that, it would be more authentic.

“The caution – ‘you don’t have to say anything,’ etcetera – is different in Scotland from England. There’s a scene where I make an arrest and it tripped me up a few times because I kept saying the English version. The English one is lengthy and the Scottish one is short, but I’d been programmed for 23 years to say it in a certain way, and I couldn’t get it out of my head!”

‘I had already been acting’

Since her first television job three years ago, Michelle has realised there are skills she learned in the force that are transferrable to acting.

“You have to put on a persona as a police officer, so I had already been acting. When arresting someone violent, for example, you will approach the situation very differently to when you need to tell someone a loved one has died. You need to be this person here and that person there; it’s a weird concept.”

Michelle also feels entering the acting business in her 50s, instead of her 20s, has better prepared her for the highs and lows.

“I audition for way more than I get, and that rejection might have affected me in my 20s or 30s but now that I’m in my 50s I understand there’s worse things that can happen. I can handle that part of the industry, but I don’t think I would have had the same outlook when I was younger.”

Michelle recently appeared in an episode of Emmerdale and has a film, Queen At Sea, in which she stars opposite Juliette Binoche, Tom Courtenay and Anna Calder-Marshall, due for release later this year. She plays a police officer in that one as well, although it was a much different experience from Granite Harbour.

“The writer-director, Lance Hammer, wanted absolute authenticity and for the person to be SOIT – sexual offences investigation trained – which I was with Hampshire Police. He wanted it to be so authentic that he didn’t let me see the script. I had to improvise. He wanted me to deal with the situation realistically, and Juliette Binoche needed to respond to whatever I said. I had to have the confidence. I knew what I was doing, because this is in my bones.”

‘A tie and waistcoat – perfect’

Michelle in Granite Harbour. © BBC/LA Productions/Robert Pereira Hind
Michelle in Granite Harbour.

Monty’s distinctive dress sense and a love of waistcoats is an integral part of getting into the character, according to Michelle Jeram, the actor who portrays the no-nonsense officer.

“I did have input into how she dresses,” Michelle explained. “I discussed it with Carol, the costume designer. I saw Monty as knowing exactly what she’s doing and that being reflected in how she dressed.

“I saw Monty not as tomboyish or masculine necessarily, but I did see her in a tie, and Carol said what about a waistcoat, and I said absolutely, that sounds great!

“Coppers do dress like that. I know many who wore a waistcoat, some wear lots of make-up, and some are untidy.

“I wore a tie for 23 years in the police, so it felt like that was a natural way for
Monty to be.

“Thankfully she wears comfortable shoes!

“Lucy, the hair and make-up designer, also felt she would be well put together. We gave Monty a sleek, straight bob. It’s longer for series two, but she still has the bob.

“It’s all part of becoming Monty.”

Michelle stars alongside Dawn Steele, Romario Simpson, Hannah Donaldson, Bhav Joshi, Patrick Robinson and Lesley Hart in the second series of the Aberdeen-set police procedural.

Granite Harbour, BBC Scotland, Thursday at 10pm, and BBC One, Friday at 9pm, and on iPlayer