Emmerdale star Sophie Powles: 'I’ve had to wait tables – and there’s no shame in admitting that'

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Sophie Powles Arriving For The 2012 British Soap Awards At Itv London Studios, South Bank, London. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
Sophie Powles at the 2012 British Soap Awards. (UK Press via Getty Images)

Former Emmerdale star Sophie Powles has spoken out about the challenges of being an out-of-work actor and said no-one in her profession should be ashamed of having a “normal job”.

Earlier this year, Powles, who played Holly Barton in the ITV soap, shared an Instagram post in which she talked about the sense of “failure” she experienced after leaving the soap and moving to London to further her career.

Now home visiting family as lockdown measures have eased, Powles said she spent most of her time in London working at a health food cafe, where she would be “spoken to like crap by a customer or asked why I don’t just get an acting job”.

“It felt like defeat. It felt like failure. Eventually I realised the lessons I was learning. To just find happiness in the everyday and the people you have around you. To be grateful for just simply waking up and being healthy.”

Powles told Yahoo Celebrity UK that her upbringing made it impossible for her to sit and wait for jobs to come along.

“If you are from a working-class family like I am, we have to work, that is the only option,” she said. “I have always just wanted to act but I have had to work from a young age to support that. I always had a little Saturday job to contribute.

“I am very lucky, I have got an amazing mum and dad who worked so hard to take me to my singing, dancing and acting lessons but they can’t do that forever.”

Powles landed a job on Holby City as a young teenager and her role on Emmerdale in 2009, which she left in 2012. She returned to the soap briefly in 2016, before leaving again the same year.

She moved to London a few years ago to land bigger roles.

Powles said: “I was very lucky but it’s unrealistic to think that anyone could afford to live in London and just wait for auditions.

“Whilst in London I wanted to try and do some workshops and networking events and they cost money so I had to have my day job, otherwise I would literally be living in London never leaving my room.”

She got a job at a health food cafe in central London to keep herself afloat.

“When I was in the cafe a few people would recognise me and be like ‘What are you doing here?’ and I’m like, ‘I need a job, I need to pay my rent.’

“The acting industry is so hit and miss, one minute you could be having the best job and then it finishes and there is no guarantee when your next job is going to be and you just have to accept that and be willing to get your hands dirty and get to work.”

Powles said she knows fellow actors who are embarrassed that they have to get a “normal job” but believes “no-one should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed because there are so many actors out there and not a lot of acting opportunities, so of course it makes sense that we have to do other things while we wait”.

She said that, over her career, she had “done all sorts”, from teaching yoga to children, nannying and babysitting, to working in a cafe, being a lifeguard and volunteering at an agency for people with disabilities and special needs.

Coronavirus and the arts

The acting profession has been one of the hardest hit professions during the coronavirus pandemic, with creative professionals’ livelihoods threatened by prolonged closures due to the virus.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has announced a £1.57 billion emergency support package for the arts, including a VAT cut for attractions including theatres, shows and circuses.

These measures have, however, come too late for the Nuffield Southampton Theatres, which went into administration in May, while theatres such as the Manchester Royal Exchange, Birmingham Hippodrome and Theatre Royal Plymouth have all begun redundancy consultations.

The Old Vic’s artistic director Matthew Warchus warned of a “perilous year ahead”, and British theatres are yet to find out how the funding will be distributed.

Powles has been involved in a project called the Isolation Ensemble as part of the 2.6 Challenge, an initiative launched to help UK charities to raise money for regional theatres in need.

The Isolation Ensemble is a group of 26 actors who perform 26 short scenes – which they rehearsed together via Zoom, email and on the phone – to create a piece of collaborative online theatre.

The project is raising money for Birmingham Hippodrome, Manchester Royal Exchange, Coventry Belgrade and Wiltshire Creative (Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury International Arts Festival).

Powles said: “Regional theatres provide opportunities for working class actors and working-class creatives. When you are out of work it’s really important to keep in the loop.”

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