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Billie's Walk In The Park

Billie Piper made someone's day when she landed the role of a Jane Austen heroine. "My gran couldn't be happier. She almost cried when I told her," she smiles.

"But the novelty of wearing a corset, having a tiny waist and great breasts wears out after about five hours. I'm kind of done with it. It's not the most comfortable get up in the world but it looks lovely."

Former Doctor Who star Billie plays Fanny Price in Mansfield Park (ITV1, Sunday, 9pm), the first of three new Austen adaptations to be screened in successive weeks.

"I was thrilled to get the part. I remember auditioning for period things at school and people would say, `She doesn't have a period face'. And I would get really frustrated, saying, `That's not the point. I can work it out'. It's such a privilege to play a part in an Austen tale."

Fanny is a young girl taken from the poverty of her childhood home to live with rich cousins at Mansfield Park. But she's never allowed to forget her humble background.

The two-hour film co-stars Blake Ritson as romantic hero Edmund - Fanny's cousin - and ex-EastEnder Michelle Ryan as Maria, a young woman who puts material gain before happiness.

Billie, 24, started work on the production, filmed at Newby Hall in Yorkshire, just two weeks after filming Shadow In The North, the second Sally Lockhart mystery following The Ruby In The Smoke screened last Christmas.


Her other TV credits include a modern day adaptation of The Miller's Tale and Bella and the Boys. But it's the role of Rose Tyler in Doctor Who which still attracts most attention. You can see her eyes start to glaze over when anyone asks, yet again, why she left the series, before giving the stock answer:

"I just felt like it was time for a change. I think you know when it's time to move on - well, I certainly do with most things. Two years in Cardiff was quite a long time and I wanted to get back to London and have a crack at other things."

That includes a stage debut in her current West End play Treats, alongside new love Laurence Fox - of Lewis fame - and My Family to BT ads star Kris Marshall.

The tabloids, and various photographers, show no sign of giving up their pursuit of Ms Piper, who is still good friends with ex-husband Chris Evans. But, so far, she's shown remarkable patience.

Does she feel any pressure about starring in the first of the much heralded ITV1 adaptations? "I try not to listen to any of that hype because I think it can just stifle you as a human being and as a performer.

"Also my head is in my play at the moment, that's the only thing I can think about. So that's quite liberating.

"I don't sit at home worrying about whether Mansfield Park is going to be well received. I've seen it and I really quite like it. It's funnier than I thought it would be and I feel quite happy and confident about it. I also had such a good time filming it. One of the best times. That's almost enough for me.

"I never saw this happening at all, which is great. And I don't like to plan ahead anymore. I can only really think about what's happening day to day at the moment.

"Life changes so much all the time, which is something that I've learned.

"So I don't want to be really aiming for something three years down the line. I just want to be mostly happy and I want to continue to work as an actress and get jobs.


"I did want to do something completely different and quite far removed from Doctor Who and I want to continue to do that, if I get the chance, because I think it's good to keep challenging your ideas and having a whirl.

"It's important, because otherwise you can get quite complacent and stale. I don't really ever want to experience that with acting, because I love it so much - I just want to have a crack at everything."

While Billie aims to make the most of her freedom as an actress, she doesn't think she could have coped with living in the Austen era of strict etiquette and restraint.

"When I first read Mansfield Park I just thought, `How the hell did Fanny not get a stomach ulcer?'

"Not being able to say what you feel or speak your mind would surely make you ill?

I did get really angry reading it. I just wanted her to say something, but of course things were so very different back then. Women were oppressed and Fanny especially was bound by many different things - duty, class, love..."

Source: The Manchester Evening News 16/03/2007