Returning to stage for the first time since the pandemic, Sapphire Elia played Belle in Beauty and the Beast last Christmas, and her previous stage performances have included touring nationally as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Cecily Cardew in The Importance of Being Earnest. On screen, Sapphire booked her first regular TV role as Gemma Craig in Dream Team, before going on to play Claudine in Britannia High, with which she recorded Do It All Over Again with Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Further screen roles for Sapphire are regular character Mia Macey in Emmerdale, and more recently, Karoline Turner in Undercover Hooligan and Rose in Vengeance. Alongside acting, Sapphire runs a successful event business with her fiancé and, during lockdown, they started their new business in the Learning and Development sector. We spoke to Sapphire about performing in pantomimes, filming for Vengeance and playing Claudine in Britannia High.
Recently, you were playing Belle in the Beauty and the Beast pantomime, what was Belle like to play and how did the run go?
Yes, it was great to be back pantoing again. I had played Belle once before with PHA but this was a new script which was nice as I had more songs to sing. I enjoyed playing Belle as she has a bit of umph about her which is fun to play.
How was it returning to live theatre since the pandemic?
It was so nice to be back in front of an audience again, there really is nothing else quite like it and I did feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our audiences. Seeing them wearing their masks throughout the show was really humbling, at the end of almost every show I definitely had a tear as our dame thanked them for coming. It was a pretty full house throughout the run too! People were so happy to be back in the theatre despite the restrictions that were in place at the time.
In 2019, you toured nationally in The Wizard of Oz, how was this?
This was a very intense experience! Haha. It was my second time touring with a show and we had very little rehearsal. Given that I was playing the lead, it was a little overwhelming on opening night after just five days in the rehearsal room. I think I had around eleven songs/routines in total, but when it was up and running and the initial teething problems were ironed out, this was one of the best shows to be a part of. It was a real spectacle! The cast were unbelievably talented, and a great group of people too. Touring is intense so it’s really great when you get on with your cast as it leaves you with some wonderful lasting memories and friends for life.
A highlight was when my dog Hope made her stage debut as Toto. She was amazing, although she did throw up on stage after a few too many treats in the wings before going on, my poor baby.
How do you find the experience interacting with a pantomime audience and what do you enjoy most about working on them, which has seen you play roles including Cinderella and Snow White?
I never went to pantomime as a child really (although I had starred with my dad and brother in a church pantomime), so my first real experience was being in one at aged 22 when I played Snow White. At first, I did find it a little distracting when audiences would react etc as this was not what I had been used to, but not too long into my first run at Richmond Theatre, I really fell in love with it and have been lucky enough to be able to continue doing them all these years later. Seeing my niece and nephew in the audience is always a nice bonus.
You played Cecily Cardew on the National Tour of The Importance of Being Earnest, can you say about your time touring with the show?
This was a wonderful experience. It was a chance to flex my muscles a little as an actress being known for TV work, and show my versatility, especially with it being a comedy. I also got to work with Corrinne Wicks again, who had played my mum in Emmerdale. So that was fun!
Can you tell us about filming as Rose for feature film Vengeance?
Yes. Hitting Wayne Robson over the head with a (fake) glass bottle was a highlight! Haha, it was great fun to be in the action! I enjoyed playing opposite Stu Bennett, who is so humble you would never know he is a huge WWE star, a real gentleman. Since this was his movie debut I felt honoured to be a part of his journey. Sharing the screen with Barbara Smith as my little sister was a highlight. She is a beautiful actress and person, it is great to see her doing so well in EastEnders now.
What was it like on set of Undercover Hooligan in which you played Karolina Turner?
I had taken a break from the industry for quite a few years and this was my first job upon returning and so it has a special place in my heart. Being back on a set kind of felt like home. Karolina is a very dark, twisted character in a real gritty British film and channeling that energy was a challenge but that’s what we want as actors, so I was glad to have been given that opportunity. I got re-acquainted with my cockney roots for this one too!
How was it finding out you’d be joining the cast of Emmerdale as Mia Macey and what originally drew you to the role?
I was over the moon to be cast! A little surprised they wanted to cut off all my hair and dye it but I was happy for them to do it. I had never expected to be in a soap but when it came along it seemed like the perfect timing for me and I was grateful. I hadn’t watched an episode of the show prior to joining, purely because at that time the TV in my room wasn’t hooked up to channels so I could only watch the one DVD I owned, which was Planet Earth, lol! So, I wasn’t nervous about joining the show as you might imagine, because I didn’t know what I had to live up to or who the big names/faces were in the show, I just showed up and did the job I was paid to do and I think that made it easier in some ways. It didn’t pan out as I had originally hoped. The lovely Gavin Blythe, who cast me in the show, sadly passed away soon after he cast me, along with his vision of where he wanted to take my character. He was a wonderful man and really believed in me as an actress. When I was eventually told I was leaving the show after 18 months, it was a relief in all honesty because I had found my time up north quite lonely. Having said this, I have zero regrets because I learnt a lot, both professionally and personally.
You played Claudine in Britannia High, what was the show like to be part of and how was it seeing the fans’ response to the series and soundtrack?
Honestly, this was a dream come true. I loved every minute of that show. I have nothing but fond memories of being on set and in the studio with friends who I have remained friends with ever since. The fans of the show were so supportive and it is always a pleasure meeting them. I still get people tell me how much the show impacted their childhood and encouraged them in one way or another, which is a real honour and a privilege to hear. I am so proud of all the hard work we all put into the show, it was a shame it had to end but I will always have a soft spot for that one.
Do you have any favourite memories from your time as Claudine?
Many! Walking into Peter Gabriel’s huge studio for the first time and meeting all the wonderful songwriters from across the country has to be up there! I remember we all sat around a big wooden table for lunch and the energy was electric. So much talent in one room, all fuelling up for a long day of songwriting. The many music videos we filmed, recording the vocals to Do It All Over Again with Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy! Claudine’s outfits were always great fun, I loved dressing up as her every day. Seeing our poster blown up to at least 30 feet and on every bus and underground station haha, so many things! It was just the best time.
Can you say about some of the other screen and stage roles you’ve been part of over the years and do you have a favourite aspect of working as a performer?
Well, the first job that got me noticed was a McDonald’s commercial I did at age seven. They televised it for quite a while and I became the “McDonald’s Girl” for a while in my local area. Haha!
I have to give credit to my role as Gemma Craig in Dream Team for Sky One. This really was my training ground. Being only 19 when I was cast, I had a lot to learn! This was my first regular TV role as an adult. I was used to being chaperoned to jobs so having to make my own way and be on time proved very difficult at first. It got to the point where my producer had to reprimand me for being one hour late to set! I did struggle with time management for a few years after that but I got there in the end, thankfully. We often hear about these Hollywood stars being late to set and acting like divas but the industry as a whole does not accept this type of behaviour, and getting a reputation for it will affect your career in this industry just like it would in any other.
My favourite thing about being a performer is the part where you actually get to perform! I spent so much of my life in between jobs, wondering where the next job would come from, audition after audition and that part is tough for all performers mentally and emotionally but when you land a great role it is worth the wait. I can’t pretend every role is totally fulfilling or that I get to showcase my best skills, but I like to try to understand human nature, I love a challenge and to express myself creatively. I find that being a performer allows me to engage in all these things.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I was three when I started as a model but my love for acting came later during school. I attended Sylvia Young Theatre School from ages 9-16 and it was there I learnt where my talents and passions lie. I developed a love for acting around aged 10 or 11, fuelled by my time in Les Misérables as Cosette in the West End where I just didn’t want the run to ever end. As well as my wonderful drama teacher Clive Shilson, and speech and drama teacher Jackie Stocker (among so many other inspiring teachers). They were very serious about acting as a craft and this really grabbed my attention, I realised I could be really good at something that was also a respected craft and I worked hard during those lessons to be the best I could. My love for singing was always there I guess. Singing/music has always been a release and an escape for me and helped me through the difficult times growing up.
My family has always been really supportive of my life in the arts but I was the only one in the industry. My dad was a bit of a performer though, and although never pursued it as a profession, he had that kind of personality. Always telling a story, or making people laugh. He would even write and perform little sketches with me for church, so maybe some of it came from him!
How do you like to spend your time away from your performing career?
I have been lucky enough to undertake a few different projects in my adult life that don’t involve performing and it is great to have skills that transfer. My fiancé and I run a successful event business, as well as a new business in the Learning and Development sector which we founded during lockdown.
I think it is really important to teach young people coming up in the arts that they have so much to offer and that, although they need to be dedicated in order to do well, they can also turn their talents to other things too, which I feel is especially important in an industry where work can be so sporadic and poorly paid. Being a performer is a timeless art form, and there is freedom in that, so the pressure can be taken off. It is part of who we are and it never leaves, it only evolves. As well as that, the more life experience we can get, the better performer we become!
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I can say off the bat my favourite musical has always been Miss Saigon. I am all about those tragically romantic love stories.
When it comes to films, I can watch most genres apart from horror, which I chose to stop watching because they genuinely disturb my soul. I am too sensitive!
A random fave film of mine that no one ever remembers or talks about but I have gone back to a few times is Minority Report by Spielberg. Still so relevant and really makes you think about those big life questions. Oh and any film with Tom Hanks!
These days we get through TV shows like water thanks to Netflix, but to pick a few of my faves recently – Queen of the South, Love is Blind, and Friends, which will never, ever get old.
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