Interview with Celia Imrie
The actress, whose TV and film roles include Dinnerladies and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, tells Peter Stewart about her love for the South of France, the location of her debut novel
Is Bellevue-sur-Mer, where your novel Not Quite Nice is set, based on a particular town on the Riviera?
The town is an amalgamation of those beautiful places along the coast from Nice to Monte-Carlo. I adore the whole area; I always take the TGV and my favourite part of the journey is the last hour from Marseille to Nice, when the train snakes along the Mediterranean coast, passing the sea and the beautiful red rocks of the Corniche de l’Estérel.
Do any of the characters derive from your experience of an expat community in France?
They are composites of people, most of whom I actually met outside of France. However, writing my book in France was a great source of inspiration; I would think of things sitting in my favourite little bars that I couldn’t really imagine if I had been in London. I would try to write in the mornings, like Noël Coward, and go off on adventures on the buses in the afternoon, so many of the experiences fuelled my writing.
Did you know much about the Riviera before you wrote your book?
Not really. The first time I visited Nice must have been either in an October or November and I remember taking a dip in the sea and it being surprisingly warm. From that point I became enchanted by this area of France and, apart from some of the sites in India, there is nowhere more beautiful.
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How is your French?
I’d love to be fluent and I’m having lessons at a language school in Nice, so my French is improving all the time. It’s such a wonderful language and I love to be able to join in and communicate with people.
Has your acting career ever taken you to France?
The only time that I have worked there was when I filmed [the 2013 comedy] The Love Punch. The French provided a lot of the finance and everything was filmed in France, even though the opening wedding scene is made to appear as if we are in the UK. I had a wonderful time and got to stay along with the actor Timothy Spall and his wife at the Terrass’’ Hôtel, my favourite place in Montmartre.
What other places have you visited in France?
I recently discovered a beautiful rose perfume in Èze [near Monaco], where I enjoyed walking through the old-fashioned rooms [of a perfumery], which were filled with thousands of rose petals. I am a fan of French food too and dined at Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV restaurant in Monte-Carlo, which is probably the most beautiful restaurant that I’ve been to. I also enjoyed my two visits to Brittany for the onion festival in Roscoff, which is usually held in August; it’s a beautiful celebration of something that is utterly French.
Your book contains several French recipes. Do they reflect your love of the cuisine?
I’m not a great cook, but I do love French cooking and coming across different recipes. I hadn’t really seen socca [a niçois crêpe] before and decided to include the recipe, along with salade niçoise and pissaladière, two of my favourite dishes. A fond food memory is biking along the promenade in Nice to the food market and happening across the most fragrant punnet of strawberries imaginable. I tasted just one and was immediately in heaven. With so much delicious food on offer, it is incredible how everyone manages to have such marvellous figures in France.
Celia Imrie’s novel, Not Quite Nice, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £12.99, on 26 February. Celia stars in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in cinemas from 27 February.