I was born in Calcutta, India on 25th September 1955. I am Anglo Indian. This means I can readily trace my Scots, English, Portugese and Irish heritage but have no idea where that defining bit of me that is Indian links in. I was schooled at La Martinere for Girls. I was taught in French and English, but, sadly, was never schooled in Urdu, Bengali, Hindi or any of the languages of my birth country. My maternal grandfather a child of the Inglis clan, Scots merchants who settled in Calcuttain the early 17th century adored India, Shakespeare, the actor Robert Donatis diction and Fred Astaire. My paternal grandfather, an English non commissioned officer from Deal who went on to work on the railway, disappeared back to England when my father was 20 never to be seen again. My father Kelly King was to become a brilliant and much respected industrial and commercial photographer in India and then in the UK.
I had seen •My Fair Lady• with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison at Drury Lane in 1961 while visiting England and I was transported. I wanted to be a part of that world that could inspire, wrench emotions, teach people, change their lives gave one a voice.
Over the next few years I determined to become an actor. Shakespeare, The Greeks and Hollywood Musicals of the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s became my life. I wanted to be Ralph Richardson and Judy Garland. I gave my Romeo to a bemused Michael Croft at theNational Youth Theatre and got in.
I trained at The Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art ,the drama school that at least tried to fathom the complications of my ethnicity .I left in November 1977 having been cast as a regular in the BBC TV carbolic soap opera •ANGELS• in which I played Jay Harper an orphan with brown skin and no knowledge of her heritage.
I was granted an Equity card immediately because it was accepted that there was no other card holding mixed race actor in the Union which at the time was a powerful closed shop. The rest was to come.
1979 – 1989
The first half until 1986 was dominated by television. Asian women, some of mixed race, damaged, privileged, frustrated, angry all trying to find a voice and an identity in Britain. There were many marches to Broadcasting House by a spectrum of protesters all of whom had ideas about the way in which these characters should be portrayed on television, insistent that a fairy tale approach was best.
A return to the theatre was imminent. It also offered me the chance to return to singing. My success as Joanne in Sondheim’s ‘Company’ at Webber Douglas seemed to herald a career in musical theatre and that would have been my path had I not been offered ‘Angels’.
1990 – 1999
A return to theatre began at The National with their British Asian production of Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ which was to tour nationwide and worldwide. Scheduled to tour for eleven weeks with a nine week slot at the Cottesloe, it ended two years later at The Lyttleton having returned twice to the Cottesloe and having visited theatres in Spain, Turkey, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan to great acclaim. Next up at the National was a production of the Sanskrit drama ‘ A Little Clay Cart’.
Highlights during this time saw work with The Actors Touring Company, Tara Arts, The Royal Court, Manchester Contact, The Globe, The Wolsey Ipswich and a return to the NT.
Television was not to the fore, but, two projects will stay with me. The BBC’s A Secret Slave which investigated the lives of women transported as luggage to work for the Saudi aristocracy and a truly enjoyable adventure for children ‘See How they Run’ shot in England and Australia in which I got to play a truly nasty villain.
2000 – 2009
Theatre remained the naughty driving force both the classics and new writing. There was, of course, Bombay Dreams, Mr LLoyd Webber’s meeting with the sub continent and my meeting with Kitty da Souza, downtrodden but triumphant for whom I will always have respect and a big soft spot.
This was also a time for first meetings that would lead to long association- with Kali Theatre, the company dedicated to the production, support and encouragement of new writing for theatre by British Asian Women – with Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti through her first play ‘Besharam’ at The Soho Theatre and then with her second ‘Behzti’ at the Birmingham Rep. A superb piece of work violently and thoughtlessly terminated. The theme of old and new continued with productions at The Young Vic, The National, Hampstead Theatre, The Royal Court and with the production of Calcutta Kosher by Shelley Silas born out of a conversation seven years previously about our love and connection with the city.
Janet Steel became Artistic Director of Kali Theatre, taking it to new levels of achievement establishing Kali as a force for the support of new writing and gaining annual funding from the Arts Council. I was proud to be voted Kali’s chair and to open the first major Talk Back Festival celebrating the work of female British Asian playwrights at the Soho Theatre. This began with a full production in the main house, two studio productions and rehearsed readings.
So far this year has seen Shelley appear on TV in ‘The Bill’ (ITV), Radio Mr Anwar’s Farewell to Stornaway (BBC Radio 4), Film ‘ Rafta, Rafta ( Left Bank Films) to be released Spring 2011. Also work continues at Kali with Womens Talkback Festival 2011 at the Oval House in London.