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How Nicola Walker became TV's most understated success story

All hail Nicola Walker, the understated TV queen! As fans say goodbye to Unforgotten’s Cassie Stuart, how the scrap-metal dealer’s daughter went from a bit part in Four Weddings to prime time crime dramas (with a little help from BFF Sue Perkins)

  • WARNING: SPOILERS 
  • Nicola Walker, 50, has ended her stint as DCI Cassie Stuart on ITV’s Unforgotten 
  • She got her start at Cambridge’s Footlights with Sue Perkins and Rachel Weisz
  • Had a bit part in Four Weddings And A Funeral before making it big
  • Now she’s the queen of prime time drama and has another series in the works 

Up until a few years ago, Nicola Walker was probably one of those actors who you recognise but you can’t place their name. 

Now with hits like Last Tango In Halifax, The Split and Unforgotten under her belt, Nicola, 50, has graduated from well-respected character actor to a prime time TV star.

It was Nicola’s commanding performance as DCI Cassie Stuart that provided the heart and soul of ITV cold-case thriller Unforgotten. Her six-year stint on the show came to an end last night when her character died in a moving series finale.

Now Nicola, who appeared in Touching Evil and Spooks, is adding yet another TV detective drama to her resume. Photos reveal she is busy filming Annika, in which she plays ‘witty and enigmatic’ DI Annika Strandhed of the Marine Homicide Unit. 

Not a bad move for an actress whose first gig was a bit part in Four Weddings And A Funeral.

But despite her considerable success – which has included a BAFTA nod for Last Tango In Halifax and an Olivier Award for The Curious Incident In The Dog In The Nighttime – Nicola remains delightfully low key. 

Prime time star: Nicola Walker’s commanding performance as DCI Cassie Stuart that provided the heart and soul of ITV cold-case thriller Unforgotten. Her six-year stint on the show came to an end last night when her character died. Pictured, with co-star Sanjeev Bhaskar 


Back to work: Now Nicola, who appeared in Touching Evil and Spooks, is adding yet another TV detective drama to her resume. Photos reveal she is filming Annika, in which she plays DI Annika Strandhed of the Marine Homicide Unit (right). Left, at the 2013 Olivier Awards

First job: Nicola appeared in Four Weddings And A Funeral, above. She played a folk singer whose performance prompts Simon Callow’s Gareth to fake his own death in the pews.

She isn’t on Twitter, doesn’t splash photos of herself on social media and keeps her family life with husband Barnaby Kay and son Harry, 14, out of the spotlight. 

Born in Harlow, Essex, Nicola’s father was a scrap-metal dealer. She caught the acting bug at a local youth theatre she joined to meet boys.

Intelligent and hard-working, she went on to win a place at New Hall, Cambridge. 

Her ‘college mother’ was Sue Perkins, the comedienne and former co-presenter of The Great British Bake Off. 

Nicola was introduced to Footlights, the Cambridge theatrical club, by Sue, and they also performed with another university peer, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz.

She and Sue remain close friends. ‘I thought Sue was fantastic from the first moment I met her,’ Nicola has said.

Catching criminals: Nicola first appeared as a TV detective in 1997 when she appeared opposite Robson Green as DI Susan Taylor in Touching Evil

Standout role: Nicola was the unshowy Ruth Evershed in Spooks where her romance with Peter Firth’s Harry Pearce (pictured together) set hearts gently blazing

Her first job was in 1994’s Four Weddings, in which she played a folk singer whose performance prompts Simon Callow’s Gareth to fake his own dramatic death in the pews. 

‘I thought this is it, this is the life,’ she has previously said of landing the role.

How ‘college mother’ Sue Perkins became a BFF

Nicola studied at New Hall, Cambridge, where Sue Perkins, , the comedienne and former co-presenter of The Great British Bake Off, was her ‘college mother’. 

Nicola was introduced to Footlights, the Cambridge theatrical club, by Sue, and they also performed with another university peer, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz.

She and Sue remain close friends. ‘I thought Sue was fantastic from the first moment I met her,’ Nicola has said.

The pair even starred opposite each other in comedy Heading Out. 

BFFs: Nicola Walker and Sue Perkins

She first appeared as a TV detective in 1997 when she appeared opposite Robson Green as DI Susan Taylor in Touching Evil. 

Later she was the unshowy Ruth Evershed in Spooks where her romance with Peter Firth’s Harry Pearce set hearts gently blazing. 

She has previously admitted insecurity about work earlier in her career meant she put off pregnancy for as long as she felt able. 

She met her husband, actor Barnaby Kay, in 1994 when they both starred in a production of The Libertine.

They married in 2003 but didn’t have their only son, Harry (named after Firth’s Spooks character) until 2006. She had to give up being in Spooks as there was no hiding her bump.

‘I wish I’d started earlier,’ she said in a 2015 interview. ‘I wish someone had got hold of me and said: ‘You know children are really good fun, you will have a fantastic time and you will still work.

‘But you have no sense of how much your life is going to change. It does change but it changes for the better. I thought the work would disappear. And it did for a while. But then things changed in a good way.’

In 2012, Nicola’s career kicked up a gear. She won an Olivier Award for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time and held her own with Derek Jacobi as his love-starved but promiscuous daughter Gillian in the first series of Last Tango In Halifax.

The BAFTA-winning BBC show has now run for five seasons, with its dedicated fans crossing their fingers for a sixth. 

In 2015 Nicola appeared in two crime dramas that aired concurrently: River, in which she played a figment of the imagination of her former colleague John Rivers (Stellan Skarsgard), and the first series of Unforgotten. 

Now, six years later, Nicola has finished her triumphant turn as leading lady Cassie Stuart and is passing the baton to co-star Sanjeev Bhaskar, who will front the next series as DI Sunny Khan. 

Fan favourite: In 2012 held her own with Derek Jacobi as his love-starved but promiscuous daughter Gillian in the first series of Last Tango In Halifax. The BAFTA-winning BBC show has now run for five seasons, with its dedicated fans crossing their fingers for a sixth. Pictured, Nicola (far right) with Last Tango In Halifax stars Sarah Lancashire, Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi

Supernatural twist: In 2015 Nicola appeared in River, in which she played a figment of the imagination of her former colleague John Rivers (Stellan Skarsgard), pictured together

High flying lawyer: Nicola is expected to appear in the third series of BBC divorce drama The Split, pictured, in which she plays a high-powered lawyer with a complicated private life

She’s a West End award-winner, too!  

In 2012, Nicola’s career kicked up a gear. She won an Olivier Award for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time at the National Theatre.

She also received rave reviews for her performance in the 2014 Young Vic/Wyndham’s Theatre production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, which transferred to Broadway. 

Nicola has also appeared at the Royal Court and Hampstead Theatre.  

Theatre star: Nicola Walker with Mark Strong and Phoebe Fox in A View From The Bridge at Young Vic/Wyndham’s Theatre

‘ITV would like to thank Nicola Walker for playing the brilliant role of Cassie Stuart in four series of Unforgotten which has become one of the best loved and most critically acclaimed police dramas on TV,’ ITV bosses said in a statement today. 

‘Nicola and writer Chris Lang decided that Cassie’s story would come to an end last night, but that Unforgotten would continue, in series 5, with a new case, and a new “Partner in Crime” for DI Sunny Khan.’ 

As well as Annika, which is currently filming, Nicola is expected to appear in the third series of BBC divorce drama The Split, in which she plays a high-powered lawyer with a complicated private life. 

But Nicola appears to be refreshingly modest about her own triumphs, insisting not too long ago that the uncertainty of being a jobbing actor is never far from her mind.

‘I started when I was 21 and it was always about getting the next job — like most actors that’s all it’s ever been for me,’ she said. 

‘While you are in work you are wondering where the next thing is going to come from. That will never go away.

‘I just hope my agent continues to call and tell me “something interesting” has come in.’ 

Although Nicola might not be convinced by her own stardom, it would seem there is plenty still to come from this understated scene stealer. 

And you don’t need to be a detective to work that out.

Final scenes: Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stuart’s in last night’s Unforgotten series finale

Next up: Nicola has finished her triumphant turn as leading lady Cassie Stuart and is passing the baton to co-star Sanjeev Bhaskar, who will front the next series as DI Sunny Khan (pictured)

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