The girl from Hoghton who became a TV star

“I find comedy much scarier than doing something emotional - I always think it’s harder to make people laugh than to make people cry.”

Monday, 30th December 2013, 10:50 am
Hannah Britland from Hoghton, Preston, as Sam with Jack Whitehall as JP in the third series of Channel 4's Fresh Meat
Hannah Britland from Hoghton, Preston, as Sam with Jack Whitehall as JP in the third series of Channel 4's Fresh Meat

Viewers of the latest series of Fresh Meat may be surprised to hear that comic performance doesn’t come naturally to Hannah Britland.

The 23-year-old shone in Channel 4’s hit student sitcom, playing the strong-willed Sam, the reluctant love interest of Jack Whitehall’s public schoolboy, JP.

Cast opposite one of the most recognisable faces in British comedy, it’s a far cry from Hannah’s days starring in school productions back home in Preston.

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A young Hannah Britland (right) playing Jessie in a version of the film Toy Story with fellow classmates from Brindle St. Joseph's Primary School

She says: “I used to live in Hoghton Tower, kind of in the grounds of it. It sounds very posh, but it wasn’t!

“If you’re going up the drive they have got cottages to one side, tucked away into the forest.

“We had this really rundown cottage that my parents sort of did up, so it was a bit of a fairy tale for 15 years.”

Hannah went to St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Hoghton, where she got an early taste of her career to come playing Jessie in an inter-school adaptation of Toy Story, before attending Brownedge St Mary’s Catholic High School in Bamber Bridge.

Hannah Britland in her Brownedge St Mary's High School days singing 'Part Of Your World' for the Wrigley Trophy at the Penwortham Youth Music Festival

“We used to do so much, especially in high school, just production after production, and I was always singing. I lived for it. I absolutely loved it.

“It was always a passion – singing much more than acting. I was a singer originally and worked really, really hard on my singing.

“I went to Cardinal Newman College in Preston – it feels like ages ago, I’m only 23, but I feel like an old woman!

“I did three A-levels and a BTEC in Performing Arts, which included singing, dancing and drama.”

A 14-year-old Hannah Britland playing Dolly Gallagher Levi in Brownedge St Mary's High School's production of Hello Dolly

Hannah gained a place at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she underwent classical training, following in the footsteps of movie stars like Daniel Craig and Ewan McGregor, and TV talent such as Homeland’s Damian Lewis and Downton Abbey’s Lily James.

“I got to Guildhall and they were like ‘we need to undo everything you’ve learned’, because they want to take you back to the start - they don’t want you polished.

“When I arrived I was a Grade Eight singer and thought I knew everything, and then got there and realised I knew nothing!

“Everyone there was amazing and had been doing it for years and years, and I had to try and catch up, so it was pretty intense.”

Hannah Britland as Scarecrow (left) in a Brownedge St Mary's High School performance of The Wizard Of Oz

The course gave the young performer an education in how to be a theatre actress, while outside of college she slowly adapted to life in the capital.

“I’ve got godparents and family that live in London so I had been there before, but I came down really young, straight from college.

“I was 18 and it was a bit of a shock, mainly because of the hours I was doing at Guildhall.

“We would do 12 hours a day, five, sometimes six days a week, so I never really got to see any of London during those three years because I was always at school.

“It was hard work but I wouldn’t change it. I had the best time of my life there.”

In Hannah’s third year she took part in a talent showcase, where she was spotted and signed by a talent agency.

Hannah Britland as Dionne in Cardinal Newmans Limelights Theatre Company's production of The Banned Wagon at Charter Theatre, Preston

Then in 2011 she got her first big break when she landed the part of Emma, a bi-sexual runner, in the third series of E4’s award winning science fiction comedy-drama, Misfits.

“It was my first audition and I got it. I did five weeks and I made some really good friends.

“They were just so kind to me. Because I’d had classical training I knew how to act, you can either act or you can’t if you know what I mean, and if you can act on stage you can act on screen. But there are so many technical things, technical phrases where I just didn’t have a clue.

“So I was learning on the job, but it was so exciting and it’s such a clever show, so it was amazing to be a part of it.”

In 2012 the actress took on “a completely different role”, working with Brenda Blethyn in the detective drama Vera.

“I played a young girl whose mum had been murdered. I played a very vulnerable, very upsetting role.

“It was almost straight after Misfits and it was great to have that contrast on my CV.

“I love doing a gritty drama and getting my teeth into something, that’s my favourite kind of role I think.”

Hannah narrowly missed out on a part in the Formula 1 biopic Rush, after her contribution to the movie didn’t make the final cut.

However, she did get to work with its famous director, Ron Howard.

“I had scenes with Chris Hemsworth, which was amazing. But sometimes if you’re playing a small character in a film they’ve just got so much material that if it’s not maybe an integral scene, they will pull it out.

“It was still an amazing experience to be a part of it. Ron Howard directed me and he is just such a legend, I had never watched Happy Days but I remember my dad was excited!

“I just loved the fact I was getting dressed up in a 70s outfit.”

This summer Hannah appeared in the final two episodes of another critically acclaimed E4 show, the teen drama Skins, as a drug baron’s girlfriend called Charlie, who becomes romantically involved with Jack O’Connell’s Cook.

“The character I played in Skins wasn’t actually comical at all, she had a couple of funny lines but she was just completely messed up and an absolute walking disaster. She is my favourite character I’ve ever played.

“Working with Jack O’Connell was just a dream come true. I would recommend to any actor or actress if you can try and work with Jack O’Connell at one point in your life, do whatever you have to do to work with him, because he’s an absolute star.”

Hannah’s experience in Skins may not have been humorous, but her latest on-screen adventure certainly has been.

“In Fresh Meat my character is obviously pure comedy, as I don’t have anything massively dramatic or upsetting, and it was nice to do that because I do enjoy comedy.

“There is such a skill to comedy, there really is. Watching Jack Whitehall and Zawe Ashton and people like that, they are just naturally gifted, and I just learned so much from watching them. It was an absolute honour.”

The show also features the likes of Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners, but Hannah wasn’t daunted by the challenge of working alongside established comic talents.

“I had watched the show before, I’ve got lots and lots of cousins and they absolutely love the show, especially my younger cousins, so it was just really exciting.

“The cast are all very relaxed, this is their third year of doing the show now, so they are very comfortable and confident on set, so it didn’t feel intimidating.

“It was more a challenge for me because I’ve not done much comedy in trying to make it funny. Any nerves I had were more to do with me than the people I was working with.

“I’m so proud to be a part of it and I’m hearing such good feedback about the show. Maybe they will do a fourth series, I’m not sure.

“I think it’s going from strength to strength and that’s testimony to the original cast because they’ve really made that show and they’ve got such incredible chemistry between them all, which is real. None of that is false, they actually are a group of really good mates.

“Me and Faye Marsay who has come in as Candice, we’re both new and they really looked after us and welcomed us in, so we could find our place quite easily within it.”

Meanwhile, Hannah revealed she will next be seen in the long-running Australian soap, Home and Away.

“The storyline is that some of the main cast members have a trip to London and they meet my character, called Linda. There is a love storyline that happens between me and other characters for five or six episodes.

“There is a possibility that I might go out to Australia next year, but nothing is confirmed yet.

“They came here and met Linda in London, so I was representing Britain for all the Australians to see. I hope I don’t mess it up for us!”

The part gave Hannah the chance to brush up on her Australian accent – a skill she admits needs a little bit more work.

“I have to do a bit of an Australian accent at one point, pretending that I’m Australian, and I thought it was better than it was.

“Then I actually got there with the Australians and they were all laughing at me as opposed to with me! Linda is definitely British not Australian – she’s from Preston.”

Hannah says she is getting used to the attention that comes with her burgeoning fame, whether it’s fans stopping her in the street, to devoted admirers setting up tribute pages online.

“I got quite a lot of it from Skins, from young girls sort of 16, 17 or 18, who were all in love with Cook.

“I got quite a lot of staring and people asking me thing like ‘what are you doing with Cook?’ and I was like, ‘it’s not real, I’m not doing anything with Cook. Cook doesn’t exist, he’s a character!’

“But everyone since Fresh Meat has been so lovely, they are just so sweet, and people who recognise me will just come up to me and say they love the show and how much they like it. I’ve had such a good response.

“I’ve not seen the online stuff. I think if they met me they would be bitterly disappointed! It’s hours in hair and make-up, trust me.”

Hannah’s mum and dad now live in Wales, while her sister, an occupational therapist, has also moved away from Lancashire, meaning the actress doesn’t get to visit Preston as often as she would like.

“All my family are either teachers or nurses. I’m the only one that does a self-absorbed job! They all do things that actually help people.

“Because my parents live in Wales, I only go back to see some friends occasionally. They kind of all moved out and moved to different places, so I don’t get to go back home that often, which is a bit sad really.

“I remember going out every Friday and Saturday night in Preston. The idea of going back and going out again now, I wouldn’t be able to keep up!

“But every time people ask me, I always say I’m from Preston – on Twitter I mention it all the time.

“I’m so proud to be from Preston. I loved growing up there and I think it’s amazing. It’s full of great people.”

Hannah Britland from Hoghton, Preston, as Sam with Joe Thomas as Kingsley in the third series of Channel 4's Fresh Meat