04 December 2009 : ES Magazine December

The saints and sinners of St Trinian’s

Gabriella Wilde and Tamsin Egerton are the queen bees of St Trinian’s, and there’s quite a buzz about their post-school careers as well. Hermione Eyre joins the clique…

Tamsin Egerton and Gabriella Wilde throw their arms around each other, baby blonde tresses flying everywhere, long tapering arms flailing theatrically, a Ronald Searle cartoon come to life. ‘Love yoooo!’ Tamsin coos. ‘Can we meet up soon and go shopping and have cake?’ Filming St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, in Ealing Studios with Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and David Tennant, has clearly been a bonding experience. ‘Actually, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life!’ says Tamsin. The girls play Chelsea and Saffy, leaders of the school’s so-called Posh Totty clique, roles they perform, it must be said, with some ease.

Both girls were born in Hampshire with rather grand surnames – and both have adopted stage names that are considerably snappier. Tamsin Egerton-Dick has given that annoying last part of her surname the chop, and Gabriella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe has discarded all three of hers to become Gabriella Wilde. After her precocious modelling career – starting at 14, she shot campaigns for Burberry, Pringle, Ghost, Topshop and Puma – she describes her new name as ‘a new start’ to launch, at the grand old age of 20, her second career, in acting.

She was picked up by Tavistock Wood, the agents who represent Dominic West, Edward Fox and Eva Green, after she approached Angharad Wood with a demo tape in which, rather resourcefully, she had recorded herself playing scenes from Emma. Saffy in St Trinian’s was her first professional role, and to take it she ditched her degree in fine art at City & Guilds of London Art School. ‘I’ll always have art, but if I want to act I should do it now,’ she says, clearly repeating advice she’s been given. ‘My agent helped me choose my new name after I was incredibly indecisive. I thought about using Gough, but that’s quite difficult for Americans’ – someone’s clearly thinking Hollywood here – ‘and then I hit on Wilde after talking through some old family names. No relation to Oscar Wilde, though, I wish!’

Her father, John Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, is a former chairman of the Watermark Group and the younger son of a baronet; her mother, born Vanessa Hubbard, was a model and sat for David Bailey and John Swannell. Two of her sisters, Isabella Calthorpe and Olivia Llewellyn, are actresses already (although both are half-sisters – Olivia from her mother’s first marriage, to the late Sir Dai Llewellyn, and Isabella from her father’s first marriage –Gabriella speaks of them simply as her sisters). Olivia, 29, had a small part in The Boat That Rocked, while Isabella, also 29, has appeared in How To Lose Friends & Alienate People and Richard Eyre’s restoration drama Stage Beauty (fittingly, Charles II is a distant forebear).

She shone on stage at the National Theatre in The Voysey Inheritance, and playing Baby’s older sister in Dirty Dancing in the West End, and is currently appearing in the university romp Trinity on ITV2, in a role, alas, best summed up as Posh Totty.

Gabriella says her sisters have warned her about ‘the ups and downs’ of the profession, and she won’t be drawn on who her boyfriend is, possibly after her sister’s experience of having her friendship with Prince William exaggerated all over the press (Isabella is, in fact, dating a different heir – Sam Branson). The sisters all have different agents, which keeps things from getting too incestuous. ‘I’d really love to be a versatile, chameleon-like actress, stretching myself a bit,’ says Gabriella, whose inspirations are Judi Dench and Kate Winslet. For now, though, swinging hockey sticks, invading boys’ schools and sliding down fireman’s poles in St Trinian’s is a good start. The pole-sliding was all her own work, no stunt doubles required.

To get into character, she drew on memories of her schooldays at Heathfield boarding school in Ascot, where she learned the fine art of skipping prep, before graduating to vodka smuggling, which resulted in a suspension and a transfer to St Swithun’s in Winchester. Was she bored or was she naughty? ‘One made the other happen, probably,’ she says airily. Her angelic appearance belies a certain wilfulness. ‘I just didn’t get on very well with school. My parents didn’t mind. I think they were naughty themselves, and I was the last of a lot of children who had been naughty at school. Also, I had to own up about the vodka,’ she says, darkly serious. ‘Otherwise they were going to punish the whole year.’

Tamsin Egerton is, as a matter of record, 5ft 10½in tall, but nothing quite prepares you for her attenuated, almost alien presence. Drawn in long sweeping lines, her knowing eyes framed with spidery lashes, she’s perfect casting as a St Trinian’s belle. Her sexy, ditzy performance in the franchise’s 2007 film kick-started her career, and soon she was everywhere: on the red carpet, on The Independent’s short list of the world’s most beautiful women (she came in at number ten), on the arm of Jenson Button –or so it was alleged, after they were spotted together at the Buddha Bar and at Bungalow 8 in the small hours.

There’s definitely something of the It Girl about her as she sits down for the interview, complaining about jet lag (she’s just got back from filming Noel ‘Kidulthood’ Clarke’s in New York) and wrapping herself in a cosy cardigan, a chunky Dior Christal watch dangling from her slender wrist. ‘Isn’t it bling? This’ – she taps its encrusted surround – ‘is black crystal and these are all real diamonds. They showed me loads and asked which one I wanted. It was the happiest day of my life. I was like, “I’d like the biggest!” ‘

Laughter and words stream from her carelessly; she is a mistress of the art of inconsequential chat, telling me all about her latest nail file. It’s pink, and advertises the forthcoming West End musical Legally Blonde, which, incidentally, her flatmate Jamie Hendry is producing. Maybe the nail file was, in fact, a calculated plug. There’s more going on here than meets the eye.

Tamsin was a child star, acting professionally from the age of six, less likely to be found in the playground with her peers than in an underground lake with Anjelica Huston on a boat paddled by dwarves. She appeared, aged 11, alongside Huston in The Mists of Avalon, as the young Morgaine (blossoming, slightly improbably, into Julianna Margulies, who played the adult Morgaine). ‘Anjelica was such a lovely woman; she sent me a birthday present for years after. It was interesting to see how she really looked after herself on set, and how she got a lot of respect.’ Tamsin’s next role was as Mary in the RSC production of The Secret Garden.

Dream parts, but her school career was probably not much fun. ‘I was always going o and coming back again, so…’ Although she was doing a full-time job with its own pressures, her peers thought she was swanning around on holiday. She was bullied: teeth were knocked out; blindfolds applied. Filming St Trinian’s has given her the schooldays she never had.

‘I wish I had gone to St Trinian’s! It’s why I’m like a ten-year-old with a new best friend,’ she says, explaining her clinginess to Gabriella. ‘I’m like, “Can we live together and have babies together? Can we go on holiday together and have parties together?” ‘ She did live with Talulah Riley, her St Trinian’s co-star, for a year in a Marylebone mews house. ‘It was a tiny three-storey house with a roof terrace and little horse lights.’ (She means carriage lights.) ‘Inside it was very Laura Ashley, cream and gold and totally chintzy, because we both grew up in the countryside. There were always flowers and make-up everywhere. Boys who came back – not like that, just boys who visited – were like “Oh my God, is this Harrods?” ‘ Talulah Riley spoilt their domestic idyll when she fell in love with Elon Musk, South African-born tycoon and co-founder of PayPal (‘which is not her fault,’ Tamsin says benevolently), and moved to LA. Now Tamsin lives in West Hampstead with ‘three blokes, all involved in the theatre. Coming home and having a bit of their dinner and chatting with them is great.’

Her last steady boyfriend was Andy Jones, a Hollyoaks actor, semi-professional footballer (for Enfield Town) and sometime squeeze of Sadie Frost (aged 25 and 40 respectively, they were set up on an agedefying blind date). He and Tamsin were together for years after meeting on the set of Keeping Mum, a British comedy drama in which she played Kristin Scott Thomas’s daughter, and, rather daringly at age 16, did a topless scene. ‘So what? It’s only boobies,’ she once said debonairly.

Their forthcoming roles will propel these girls who knows where. Gabriella is slated to appear as a vampire in Doctor Who; Tamsin has made the new Noel Clarke film, which is a break away from the social realism of Kidulthood into sci-fi, and she appears alongside Nick Frost in the BBC adaptation of Martin Amis’s Money, as ball-busting film financier Butch Beausoleil. But for now, due to the huge popularity of St Trinian’s with children, they are junior school legends. As the leader of the Posh Totty tribe, Tamsin pioneered the mime ‘Oh’ (clasps mouth) ‘my’ (clasps chest) ‘God’ (clasps hands in prayer), picked up by school-age girls everywhere; now Gabriella’s contribution is ‘You’ (points finger) ‘look’ (mimes glasses) ‘hot’ (fans face). Tamsin was secretly frustrated. ‘Can’t I be a little more… intellectual?’ she pleaded with her director, clearly unaware that she was making playground history. But will both girls make acting history? We shall see.