I was surprised to discover that Michelle Dockery, the actress who plays the plummy-voiced Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey is an East London girl who grew up with a pronounced East End
There was no evidence of it at all when we talked at the Four Seasons hotel of haunts we both knew in the East End, and she told me with a laugh: "It was beaten out of me in drama school otherwise I don't think I'd ever have got the part of Lady Mary."
Since landing the role three years ago, the 31-year-old actress's career has taken off in a big way. She recently finished a film with Liam Neeson and is soon to start a romantic drama with Kate Winslet and Kenneth Branagh.
But for Michelle, one of the downsides of the success of Downton Abbey is that she has had to put her singing career aside temporarily. A jazz singer, she sang at the 50th anniversary of the famed Ronnie Scott's jazz club in Soho and until recently sung with Sadie and the Hotheads, a band formed by Elizabeth McGovern, who plays her mother in Downton Abbey.
"Elizabeth is managing to juggle both the show and her music career, but I haven't been able to," she said. "I sang on the album and we've performed together a few times but I need time to pursue it because I can't just do it on the side, with a few gigs here and there. If I do it, I want to do it properly."
For Downton Abbey fans, here's a hint of what she told me to expect in the fourth season, which has just finished shooting: As everyone who watches it knows, Matthew was killed off in a car crash because the actor Dan Stevens wanted to leave the series to move on. "It was strange not having him around," said Michelle. "When you spend three years with someone you become very close and good friends and I felt Mary was very isolated without Matthew and I felt the same way because from the beginning, most of my scenes were with Dan. We all miss him.
"But now it's a tricky situation for the Crawleys. The family is in a dilemma because Matthew was the heir and now the baby George is, but he's only six months old so Mary takes responsibility for the things that need doing and the debts that need paying and she becomes much more involved in the estate."
And will Lady Mary remain a grieving widow?
"There are suitors who come along but you'll just have to wait and see what happens," said Michelle firmly.
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