A Wynter's tale... ex-EastEnder's growing pains

FORMER EastEnders star Angela Wynter is appearing at Oran Mor this week in a series of monologues.

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Angela Wynter, left, with the other performers in Voices From The Black That I Am: Tunji Linden, Katrina Beckford, and Linden Walcott-Burton. Picture: Colin Templeton
Angela Wynter, left, with the other performers in Voices From The Black That I Am: Tunji Linden, Katrina Beckford, and Linden Walcott-Burton. Picture: Colin Templeton

The stories, by Jamaican writer Karl O'Brian Williams, reveal a fascinating insight into race and colour.

The four separate tales highlight how racism is not a black-white issue, question what "black" is, and how shades of colour create different perceptions within the Jamaican community.

One voice, for example, that of a black woman, reveals why she chose a white partner and contrasts her experience with black men.

Another is that of a frightening church bigot, yet a "good" Christian.

The third person on stage is mixed race, who reveals his colour means he has a problem being accepted as a black man in Jamaica.

And there's also a dark-skinned, macho Jamaican man, every bit a male. Yet, he's in a homosexual relationship with a sugar daddy. And gay acts are criminalised in Jamaica.

However, while the cultural insight into the tiny Caribbean island promises to be illuminating, Angela's own story however is every bit as intriguing.

At the age of four, her family, her parents and older sister emigrated to England.

But they didn't take Angela with them.

"They left me behind with my grandmother," says Angela, who played Yolande Trueman in the BBC soap for five years.

"Four years later, I was put on a plane by myself, tagged and terrified, and took off to London. But when I arrived I didn't recognise my mother and father.

"I think I must have been so traumatised by their leaving me behind I blacked out all memory of them.

"All I knew of them was they sent me stuff."

Angela had lived with her grandmother and had "a beautiful life" in Jamaica.

Her parents, meanwhile, had been making their way in London, sold on the Great British Dream. Ironically, life in Jamaica had been better.

She said: "My grandmother owned a bar in Jamaica. She was a tough creature, the Peggy Mitchell of her town.

"And my dad was a successful musician and he played on cruise ships for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher. Meanwhile, we lived well in paradise.

"But in London my parents shared a house with relatives, until they could afford to buy a house in London. This took three years of real struggle and then they sent for me.

"My dad meantime still played music in a dance band, but only at weekend. His main job was working for British Rail."

Angela felt lost on arrival. In school she regressed, and growing up, had to encounter racism. Bricks were thrown through the family windows.

"Meantime, my parents had a little baby brother. So I was in the middle, trying to make my way," she says.

Drama classes offered an escape. She said: "I was a shy kid, but I had this alter ego as a performer. Luckily, my secondary school in Peckham had a purpose-built drama workshop."

Angela took CSE drama although she wasn't encouraged to become an actress; her parents would have been happier if she'd become a typist.

"But as I got older, my whole focus was drama. I wasn't interested in boys, or hanging out with the girls."

Angela, now a mother of two grown-up kids, was also a gifted singer. But unsure how to make that a career.

When her family moved to Luton in 1976, she was left in London 'to get on with it.'

"I felt lost again," she says. "I did two years in college doing drama but it was all a bit 'Oh, darling!' for me.

"There was more acting going on off-stage, so I joined a local black theatre."

Angela blossomed, and was signed to EMI for a couple of years. She also joined a reggae band, Abbu Kush, touring the world.

The acting roles developed, and in 2003 she landed the part of Yolande in EastEnders, playing alongside old friend Rudolph Walker as Patrick.

"I loved my character, whom I based loosely on my late sister. And I thought it important I brought an authentic Caribbean character to the show.

"I didn't want her to be a caricature."

After five years, Angela had earned well, but not enough to buy a home.

"It was really good to be in a secure job, but I was always afraid of my contract not being renewed.

"And when Patrick had an affair with Pat Butcher I knew the writing was on the wall."

After EastEnders, work dried up.

"But I wasn't going to sign on the dole. I lived off money I'd squirrelled away."

She has an incredibly strong character.

And if you can handle being abandoned at the age of four, you can deal with anything.

"You can," she says. "And my life is great. Work is expanding again and now I'm in Glasgow working on a lovely piece of theatre."

She adds; "Isn't Glasgow culture fascinating? What I've noticed so far is older couples seem to go out so well dressed up, nice, like peacocks.

"It's lovely."

l The Black That I Am, Oran Mor, until Saturday.

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