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Jodie Whittaker: "Doctor Who is all about change"

All eyes will be on this versatile actress on Christmas Day as she becomes the first woman to take on the role of Doctor Who, but, on past form, it is a challenge she will take in her stride. By Simon Evans

Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005, the announcement of a new actor to play the lead role has always been a major television event, and is year was no exception, with fans of the Time Lord having to wai until the conclusion of the Wimbledon men's final for the latest big reveal.

And what a reveal. For the first time in the character's 54 year history the Doctor was going to be played be a woman, Jodie Whittaker, and she will make her debut during this year's Christmas Day Special, taking over the keys to the Tardis from its current incumbent, Peter Capaldi.

Jodie found out in March that she had go the part, but was only able to tell two people, her mother, and her husband, the American actor Christian Contreras.

"The morning of the reveal I was just walking about my street, thinking, 'this is so weird," Jodie recalled. "Right now, I'm completely anonymous but in four hours that will all change'."

Taking in the rle of one the most high profile roles in television was, however, the culmination of an ambition Jodie had held since she was a teenager.

Born on June 3, 1982, Jodie was brought up in Skelmanthorpe a village outside Huddersfield, where her childhood was a traditional one, with her father very much the dominant figure. Jodie did not excel at school, preferring to act the class clown. "I was the attention seeking child in class who needed everyone to look at me," she later said. "Luckily that got channelled into acting, because I would have been terrible at everything else.

"Education for me was a nightmare. Your put someone talking in front aof me and I cannot engage wih that. I think that's why I'm an actor; if I can physically be in it, I get it. I'm happy not to understand something now because I spent most of my childhood not understanding. But the antithesis of that is I'm a control freak about time, organisation, structure."

By her mid teens, Jodie's heart was set on an acting career, something her parents fully supported.

"Their attitude was that I should go for the thing I wanted and not waste time on a back up plan. They were fantastic in saying: 'If you want it, do it."

At the age of 19, after finishing school, and spending a year back-packing she enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and was very quickly signed up by an agent.

One of her former classmates recalled: The ones in our class who did particularly well early on were people ho were very switched on, had figured out the business very quickly and also knew themselves very well. That's something Jodie did very well. She knows who she is."

In 2005, ay the age of 23, Jodie was cast as the title character in the film Venus, oppostie multi-Oscar nominated Peter O'Toole. It was her first on screen role but she had attended the audition full of confidence.

"Everyone kept asking: 'Where did the directer find you?', like he had picked me up on a train platform or something." Jodie recalled. In fact, just out of Guildhall, Jodie had already played opposite Mark Rylance in The Storm at the Globe Theatre, so that confidence was not misplaced.

This solid, but understated self-belief had led Jodie to take on a variety of roles, including early parts in the St Trinian's movies, the costume dramas Cranford and Marchlands, horror thriller film Attack The Block, an adaptation of Sarah Waters's book The Night Watch, an episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, to playing Anne Hathaway's best friend in the film adaption of the bestseller One Day and starring opposite Vigo Mortensen in the feature film Good.

Throughout her career Jodie had gained a reputation for never being afraid to say what she thinks, of being unswervingly loyal to her friends, and of closely protecting her private life.

She has been married o Christian Contreras, who she met a Guldhall, since 2008, and their first child, a daughter was born in 2015.

The couple live in North London, and Jodie says living in the capital suite her temperament. "I remember coming on a school trip when I was 12 and thinking it was amazing. I still feel like that. The pace suits my manic personality.

"I am a quiet person's nightmare. The only time I shu up is when I'm reading."

Often brutally frank about her own shortcomings, from an early age Jodie decided that honesty was always the best policy when it came to relationships, too. 

"I don't like no knowing where I sstand with someone. I've got a really bad temper, but if I can contain it at least you know where you stand. you're not going to walk away and think, I'm worried I've upset her- you haven't because you'd know!"

Those who have worked with her say Jodie is an unshowy actress who relishes collaboration. She also holds her friends close, many of whom she has known since her youth. Among them is the writer and director Rachel Tunnard, with whom she made the award-winning film Adult Life Skills last year, along with her best friend from school, Rachael Deering.

Although she left Yorkshire at the age of 19 Jodie visits family and friends back in Huddersfield regularly and has kept her pronounced Yorkshire accent.

Her family clearly take great pride in Jodie’s achievements, and when she appeared in Venus her dad sent Peter O’Toole a set of official Huddersfield Cricket Club balls. “And he sent Viggo Mortensen a Huddersfield Town football shirt when I did Good. He’s spreading the Yorkshire word,” Jodie says.

She admits one of the only benefits of being recognised is that she can put her name to causes she cares deeply about.

“I’m not famous, which generally is an absolute plus point, but if you’re on TV or someone knows who you are, it can be quite helpful to a certain charity or certain cause.”

So when Jodie’s nephew, Harry, who had Down’s syndrome and was a child actor in TV soap Emmerdale, died suddenly in 2014, at the age of three, she did not hesitate in becoming an ambassador for Mencap.

The role that she would become most associated with, at least until a certain Time Lord came along, was Broadchurch, in which she played Beth Latimer, who suffers every parent’s nightmare when her 11-year-old son, Danny, is found dead. The first series focused on the hunt for his killer, as well as the devastating effect the tragedy has on the Latimer family. Coming from a small, close-knit community herself, Jodie was able to understand how devastating such an event would be for everybody.

“I left when I was 18 but I sense it when I go back to my parents; they know everyone in the pub and the shops. If something like this happened in that community, you would see immediately how it affects people. It’s like a piece of glass shattering and all the cracks start appearing in this seemingly safe and family-orientated world.”

Having worked with Jodie on Broadchurch, which he created, Doctor Who’s new show runner, Chris Chibnall, said that once he had decided a woman should play the part then Jodie Whittaker was always at the top of his list, describing her as a super-smart force of nature. A certain amount of subterfuge was involved, however, as Jodie revealed later. We had a strange chat earlier this year where he tricked me into thinking we were talking about Broadchurch. And I started to quiz him about his new job in Wales (with Doctor Who), and asked him if I could be a baddie! He quickly diverted the conversation to suggest I should consider auditioning to be the 13th Doctor.

“I asked every question under the sun, and said I’d take a few weeks to decide whether I was going to audition. He got a phone call within 24 hours. He would've got a phone call sooner, but my husband was away and there was a time difference! There was no persuasion needed. If you need to be persuaded to do this part, you’re not right for this part, and the part isn't right for you.”

Little is known about Jodie's first full series as the Doctor, other than it will be broadcast during the autumn of 2018 with ten episodes, each of 50 minutes except for an hour-long opener, and her co-stars will be soap actors Mandip Gill and Rosin Cole as well as actor and TV presenter Bradley Walsh.

Jodie, however, will no doubt cope with whatever is thrown at her, and says she is relishing taking on the role of the Doctor.

“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one.

“I'm most excited about becoming part of something that has been around a lot longer than me, and an extended family I didn't even know existed.”

What do you think of this article? Do you watch Doctor Who? 

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