With a successful career in TV, film, and fashion, Tara Joseph welcomes to today’s show, the one and only, Donna Air. Walking down memory lane, Donna talks about how she got started in the entertainment industry as well as the memorable moments within her career, her love for animals, and how motherhood changed her life forever. Tune in to hear more.
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Acting, Presenting And A Journey Down Memory Lane With The One And Only, Donna Air!
I love it when I start my day chatting to an old friend back in the UK and now is one of those days. Let’s welcome to the show successful TV presenter, TV host and successful actress, the fantastic Donna Air. How are you?
Tara, how is it going?
It’s going okay but more importantly, how’s it going for you?
You were so lucky to be in LA. You do not want to be in London.
I got to say lockdown is pretty bad here but is it worse? Do you think for you there in London with the gray weather probably?
No. We were keeping in touch with our American friends and we’re sharing stories back and forth. We always used to be like, “They’re getting it bad in America.” I’m chatting to my friends and that was nothing. We’ve had every strain of the virus and we’re all locked in our homes. We’re not allowed out. Do you get anything open in LA?
Everything is being shut for quite a long time here. You can get takeaways from restaurants but hair salons, I need my roots doing. I’m buying all of those do it yourself, gray root touch up things from the equivalent of Sainsbury’s.
I did think about that but then in the UK, we have a lot of snow all over the country on the weekend. Everybody was so happy to see the snow. It’s like the first snowfall because it’s every little thing is a moment of joy now. Given this big snowfall, I haven’t even been able to get to the pharmacy and I’m running out of food supply.
Do you have a lot of snow in London now?
Yeah, it looks beautiful when it’s here. It’s like a scene from Holiday the movie. It was so charming. I’m sure it won’t last long and we don’t cope very well with snow. The Americans don’t cope well with heavy weather.
What I’ve discovered since I’ve lived in LA is that the Los Angeleans don’t know how to cope with rain. You’ll have a meeting scheduled with someone and they’ll go, “Sorry, it’s raining. I can’t deal with it.” They’ll cancel the meeting because they can’t deal with the rain. It’s like, “Tough enough a bit.” I’m so excited to chat with you. Obviously, we’ve known one another for years and years and I want to go back right to the beginning where it all started and from the ripe old age of being ten, wasn’t it? Isn’t that when you started acting and you were on that show for CBBC Byker Grove. Explain to our American readers a little bit about that and the phenomenon surrounding that.
For all you guys in the US, I met Tara many years ago in the ’90s when it was Cool Britannia. Everything in the UK and in Britain was on fire in the ’90s. It was so much fun. We had the fashion, the creative, the artistic scene. Everything was at its best in the ’90s in the UK. Do you remember the fun we all had?
I do remember. Donna, you were very much in the middle of it all. You must have amazing memories from that time. Are there any memories that stand out?
There are a few.
You can share with us.
I will share a few. I remember arriving in London. I was a girl from Newcastle. I grew up in the Northeast of England. I was in a children’s show. I was a child actor. I grew up on a film set and I was quite excited by that because I didn’t have to go to school. I was homeschooled on set. At the grand old age of fifteen, I was too old for the kid’s show because I got boobs. They wrote me out.
That was Byker Grove, is that right?
I started in that and I played Charlie Charlton for 5 or 6 years alongside another British duo that you might also know in the US as Ant & Dec. We all grew up and it was very much the birth of a few of us so we all moved to London. I was eighteen, living in London, in Primrose Hill and I then went to work for MTV.
That’s around the time we met.
Exactly. I had a daily music show where it was live and I was doing two hours of live TV for MTV. I was doing another two hours live in the morning on The Big Breakfast show. It was a lot of live TV and it was a great training ground to learn what it is you do. Whilst we were working very hard, Tara, we will also be playing hard and it was a hugely creative and exciting time. When I look back, in my MTV studio, we were all starting out and learning our craft. None of us really knew what we were doing but it was an anoxic time on television. Some of the people who were starting and were interns there, all the now heads of channels and they’re all some of the best people in the business.
It was an exciting time to be around all of this emerging talent of which I was also part of and a lot of hosts, who then went on to do lots of stuff. We all developed what we were doing at MTV. We also got to hang out with a lot of rock stars and film stars. I was living near the MTV studio and we also had a famous street in North London where there were lots of very famous musicians and British artists. Oasis is probably the most notorious, Liam and Noel Gallagher. They were my neighbors down one side of the street. There were a lot of great groups forming in the ’90s, like the Spice Girls, who you know. All Saints, with who we have mutual friends. There are a lot of connections of musicians, artists, actors. We had Jude Law starting his career as the Sadie Frost and Jonny Lee Miller. We were all thrown into this pot in London.
It was definitely an incredible time, wasn’t it? It is so much talent and fierce energy.
It was like an incubator. What was so exciting about it was, there’s a lot of talk about diversity now but in the industry, we’re definitely one industry where there’s always been a lot of diversity. What was great about the ’90s was we were all very diverse in a sense, we were all from different backgrounds. We all collected in London because we loved what it is we were doing. The other great thing about the ’90s was there were no iPhones. Thank goodness.
You’re so right. Imagine if there had been.
I don’t think any of us would be working still when there were iPhones. The great thing about that was we were so not aware and we were working hard. All we wanted to do and all we did do was have fun. Especially now when we see what’s going on in the world, we were lucky to experience that where we all had so much fun. In fact, to your question about the stories, honestly, I had this little studio apartment in Belsize Park, which is up above Primrose Hill. It was crazy because it was always an evolving party when people finish their shows or their performances. There was always something buzzing on my Intercom. We had The Jerry Springer Show up one night, Jude and Sadie were with somewhere break dancing. There was always something fun and always a little bit offbeat going and that was London in the ’90s. You’d have Alexander McQueen pop around and you were there.
I was there to a degree but I don’t think I live it quite as much as you guys did. The experiences that I did have will live with me forever. I was behind the scenes and you were all in front of the camera, so to speak. Coming from being the young agent on the block was a slightly different perspective but it was mind-blowing and it was so energizing. Moving from representing actors to more being in the music world was mind-blowing. It did. It was exciting and you had to be there to believe it.
It was such an interesting time. One of the places when we all finished our long day at work, we’d head down to a very famous bar on Park Lane called The Met Bar.
I remember those days.
Which I guess was like the ’90s version of Studio 54. Right. Every night you’d go in there, there’d be Madonna or Bono casually having a drink.
What’s happened to that place now?
It sadly no longer but even the talent from there went on to do wonderful things because The Met Bar was set up but somebody who’s a dear friend of mine chap called Ben Pundole went to move to America way over many years ago. He was headhunted by Ian Schrager. He then went to set up all projects and cool hotels in the States with Ian Schrager. He’s doing interesting things now. It was in every industry. It was the birth of this talent. Ben in the hotel industry was responsible for creating all of these amazing experiences and atmospheres.
What was so interesting is that even though everyone had the responsibility of their day job, as you did with MTV and everyone did, there was much energy, which is energy is the word that everyone was burning the candles at both ends. It didn’t matter because no one’s burned out. It kept on going and there was no let-up but it was fine. Now, I think bloody hell, many odd years later, I lie in bed with a cup of tea at 9:00 at night.
That’s the joy of being a teenager and being so young because we were all very young. We’d have all of these incredibly amazing experiences but I don’t think I’ve ever taken a day off work in my life. I’ve never missed a day of work.
When I was doing my research on Donna Air, I also came across a music video that made me smile. I thought, “That is the best.” This is the pre all of this when you were in the group called Crush and you had a successful song out Jellyhead and you were touring the US at the tender age of fifteen.
Yes, I did. That was when I fell in love with America. It was always my dream to live in America from being a very young age.
You had such an attitude in that video. I know you were younger than when I first met you but that was the Donna I remember back in the day, that attitude. I could see it in your face and your movements.
Now, I’ve got a daughter the same age as they were in that video, so I’m getting a lot of that attitude back.
Has she seen that video?
She has. It’s so funny because, as we know, all these fashions and trends come back around. She loves all this stuff I used to wear in the ’90s, like the deal, thigh boots and saddlebags, which have come around many times. There are all these iconic fashion things. She’s like, “I can’t believe you threw that out, the silver trousers.” I had my brush with being a pop star and we came to America. Weirdly, we did quite an extensive tour of America. They were my formative years because I would never have got to travel around the States and we did travel around the States.
You were so young. You must’ve had a chaperone.
I did have a chaperone and we used to have all ways to try and get rid of our chaperone.
Of course, you did.
It was so exciting to her. I remember the first time I went to Hollywood because I’d seen it in movies and I’d watch lots of films. I felt like many other people we know wanted to be there. The first time I went to the Chateau Marmont and then we’d do gigs at the House of Blues, there was all these in the room. We used to get to do gigs and all these notorious venues that I’d read books about. When you read all these rock and roll biographies, all the Danny Sugerman ones or all The Doors books, No One Here Gets Out Alive and Wonderland Avenue.
I had read lots of books about all of these bands doing these gigs. When we got to go there and we performed at Prince’s, the artist formerly known that and his club Diamonds and Pearls in Minneapolis. I was very privileged and able to because of my work, get to go and see all of these places, a girl from where I came from would never get to see. I didn’t get a gap year or my parents wouldn’t have been able to send me around to see these places, so I figured this was my way to see it. I fell in love with America. Not all parts but I loved it. We had to stay in some interesting places.
Are you still in touch with your partner in the duo?
Do you know what we did? We connect actually because of good old Facebook, we reconnected and she’s living in Canada now, I believe, with children. We were estranged for a while. She went off with the bass player and I may have had a thing with the drummer.
I love your honesty. It’s the best.
We were very young and boys got in the way. When not all ended, we tour America and being in those tour buses in itself was an experience because you sleep, wake up and you’re in another State. That was exciting. I remember I was always spending my per diems in the shopping malls because when you used to go to Vegas and you had all these shops. I remember calling home so many times because I’d spent all my per diems and I was like, “I saw these shoes.” There was another time I went to Gucci. Natalie Appleton, out of the old sense, have told you this story?
I was quite naive. I hadn’t seen the things I’ve seen now but I went to Gucci and we were in Vegas for a gig and I saw these beautiful gloves. I was like, “I have to have them. They’re going to look so cute in my next video.” I was excited and I’d spent all of my money on these Gucci gloves. I was only about seventeen and I get to the airport and we’re about to get to check-in. I opened my box to put on my new gloves and there’s one in the box. I’m like, “We have to go back. I need the other glove.” I go stomping back into the mall in Vegas. I’m like, “You only put one glove in the box. I was nearly at the check-in. Did you know I could miss my flight?” I was a bit of a diva. I was a stroppy teenager and the guy looked at me. He’s like to see, “Who is this British woman? It’s a golf glove.” “Would I look like I play golf?” “We can sell you another one.” They tried to sell me another. This whole golf glove thing became quite hot.
What did you do? Did you take the one glove or did you give it back?
I think I took the one glove.
Did you ever take up golf?
I’m starting to now.
There you go, it’s come in handy all these years later.
We had all these experiences because also when I first started coming to America, I’d find people so busy listening to your accent, the British accent. I’d order like a milkshake and they give me something different because they were so busy listening to what I was saying. In the end, I started speaking American because it was easier when you get things done.
I completely appreciate that. I do find now that there are certain words that I say because it’s easier like you have to say, XYZ, you can’t say zed because no one knows what zed is. It’s like that. I try not to slip too much because I’m very proud of my British roots.
I do love the American accent. California, all your Rs and foreigner. It’s great. I have to say. I find the American accent very interactive.
I can’t wait until the lockdown is over and you can come over here and we can go have some fun in LA. We have to do that.
I was googling houses in Malibu and thinking, “I just cannot wait.” I’m thinking I’m going to come over there. I’m going to do some work on this day and have some sunshine.Actors tell stories through acting. They have to communicate them as realistically as possible. Click To Tweet
It’s so much fun. Come on. Let’s all get vaccinated as soon as possible then let’s make this happen.
I’ve seen enough of my house last time and I’ve probably seen enough of Hyde Park for the rest of my life. I need to break out of here the first chance I get.
Going back to your very successful TV presenting, hosting career. MTV, The Big Breakfast, a huge gig to get, how did you end up going from presenting into acting? You’re such a great actress and it would be great to share with everyone how that journey started. I know that’s something that’s very passionate to you and that’s more your focus now than anything else probably.
Yes, it is very much so. It’s typical, isn’t it? Quite often, you would try and experiment with all these things in life and you go full circle, which is what I feel I’ve done. I started off as an actress and acting is always my deepest passion. There’s no feeling like being on set. I love that whole collaboration and every part that you go through with the character and with a great script. I am very focused, that’s all I’m doing now. I’m not getting distracted anymore because I’ve also been fortunate and I get offered lots of other things and I get quite excited by them.
I ended up doing them and it’s wonderful but also time is very precious now. You do get distracted from the things that you love. It is important to me to focus on my acting and to work with great writers. I’ve done a lot of fun stuff in my youth but it’s important now to do work that has some purpose and speaks to people and tells a story that is important to me. That was triggered because I was working with a great writer on a series. You get in America but it was received well in the UK and it’s a series called The Split. It was written by Abi Morgan. She’s wonderful. She writes great female characters.
I love Nicola Walker.
She’s so great. I got off at this show to do this and I had taken a little step back from acting. I’m not sure why I had, I just did. I then went back onto set to do The Split for the BBC and something was reborn in my everything but it was reborn in a very different way because A, I realized how much I love acting. I was like, “This is insane. I haven’t done it for long.” B, the joy of doing work that speaks to people and also realizing the responsibility of telling stories because that’s all we do act as we tell stories but to communicate them in a realist way as possible and to get scripts like that is such a joy. I’m focused this time. I’m disciplined. I’m saying, “No,” and going to try my best to do the work of a similar ilk, which I’m excited about. I’m waiting for a script as good as that one.
It’s so exciting and I’m sure many will turn up on your doorstep. Are there any particular directors that you’d love to work with?
There are so many isn’t there. I grew up being an aura of all the classic directors, whether it was done, David Lynch and Francis Ford Coppola, there are all these incredible works. There are some brilliant directors. We’re surrounded by so much great content. One is also exciting. It’s a lot of brilliant female directors out there. There’s a lot of great writers. It’s opening up now and it’s a lot more balanced. We know this. I’m excited to work with some great women directors and some great female writers. It’s also opened up in the sense that there’s a better balance of ages and ethnicity in everything now. I’m excited about that.
It’s an exciting time to be an artist. I always worried that when you get to 40 because years ago you would have been over as an actress and now it seems the world’s going upside down. I’m getting great scripts. The roles are much more interesting now because there are a lot more women writing. There are a lot more women directing and the roles in your late ’30s and ’40s start to get interesting. Also, you can put a lot more into the performance because you’ve had a lot more experience in the brain thinks differently.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what your next project is.
As am I, just depends on if and when we can travel. It’s so annoying. I had a great project but we can’t get out of the UK.
When is it supposed to be filming?
It was meant to be filming in France for something and I didn’t mind locating there at all. I’m aware you couldn’t come back and forth. It’s where we’re all at. Everybody in the industry has had to adapt a lot. Now, with this closed UK corridor thing, I’m like, “Come on, we all need our vaccines and then we can get back to some normality.”
All fingers crossed it soon.
How are you getting on with the vaccine rollout?
We heard in the State of California that if you’re 65-plus, you can now be vaccinated. For LA County, I am in group 1-C, which is for 50-plus. Now that I’m 50, I am in group 1-C. That’s so old to say it. It’s like you’re nearly on your way out at 50 but not anymore. When you look at J Lo, Jennifer Aniston and Kamala Harris is number one fan who’s 56.
Congratulations on your new president and vice president.We need the young to educate, to show the way, and to change the story. Click To Tweet
It’s great that since Biden’s been in power so many executive orders have been signed, they are undoing the damage that was done. Particularly, I’m a strong believer in equality. It’s not going into it in any detail but for example, the trans community suffered so terribly under the Trump era and now it’s the Biden-Harris era.
Now, they can be in the army.
That should have never changed. It’s exciting and happy times, hopefully, moving forward but absolutely. I have another question for you. You have a beautiful daughter. Are you happy to tell us a little bit about her? You look like sisters.
I do have a daughter who is an amazing young woman and quite an inspiration to me a lot of the time because young women still are very different. They’re amazing, strong and already found that voice that they’re right. It took me a long time to find my voice and to be, “No, this doesn’t work for me,” and it’s different now. It’s an exciting time, our daughters are definitely born into a different time to be a woman. There’s still a way to go but she’s starting to become active in work. She is passionate and a conservationist like her father. My daughter lives and grown up with very rare and endangered species. All sorts of rare monkeys, gorillas, tigers and rhino. Her father, Damian Aspinall has worked tirelessly into breeding and re-introducing these species back to the wild to save them from extinction primarily.
He’s on an incredible world, global mission. He’s campaigning all the time and Freya is getting more and more involved in his work with her father. He’s trying to close down zoos around the world. He doesn’t feel that there’s a place for them now and I agree. There is no real need. You can’t hide behind, “We need them for education.” No, we don’t. We live in a digital world and there’s no reason. All of the money that’s put into keeping animals in captivity, they should be putting that money into breeding them in the natural inhabitant. She’s working more and more with her father. She’s going to Gabon. She’s excited. She’ll see some of the gorillas that she grew up with.
That’s so special.
She’s going to be eighteen this year and she’s still studying but she is very passionate and wants to be a spokesperson about conservation and animals for her generation. I grew up watching all those wildlife shows. Let’s be honest, the way we’ve been communicated to conservation they’re a bit boring. We do need a young voice to educate, to show the way and change the story. That’s what she’s on a mission to do.
That probably is no one better verse than her to be able to do this. She’s lived it her entire life.
Her rhythm with these animals is special and it’s quite unique. It is something that I’ve never seen. She spends a lot of time in her relationship with these gorillas. She’s probably the youngest woman, if not one of the only women in the world, to go in with Silverback Gorillas.
Do they film it all? What great footage.
They are exploring. They’ve got various producers and things wanting to maybe document and follow some of their journeys, which I know they’re considering but that’s not the reason why they’re doing this. It would be a way of educating and getting the message out and showing the work that they are doing because it’s very important work. It’s so amazing and beautiful. These species that they’re adopting and they’re doing well and being sent back. I’m listening to if can on the telephone, little bits and pieces but Damian, Freya’s father, sending back a whole herd of elephants to the wild. It’s never been done before. They’ve sent cheetahs back and they’re constantly re-introducing.
This makes me so happy, honestly. I’m the biggest animal person. I think animals are much nicer than people. This makes me filled with joy to know all of this. It does.
I don’t understand how people come up like animals.
People that don’t like animals are pretty soulless.
We coexist on this planet. I do a lot of work with the Elephant Family and actually on the project for coexistence because the elephant is one of my favorite species. Whilst The Aspinall Foundation, which is the foundation that my daughter and her father are involved in and it’s a family foundation, they’re sending African elephants back to the world. My work with the Elephant Family is very much about the Asian elephant and we’ve created these beautiful elephant sculptures and things. Our plan is to bring them to America, to show and raise awareness for this coexistence project, which is to create corridors so that the elephants can get around freely without destroying farmer’s land. With deforestation, it’s more difficult for them to coexist between humans and animals, which is trying to bring that back together by creating signals systems and corridors for them to move around freely. That’s what we’re working on.
Donna, this is so interesting to hear. I’m happy you’re able to share all of this with us because it’s quite unique and it’s such important work. Protecting species that are becoming extinct and the work that you’re doing personally, it’s important, honestly.
It’s such a lovely thing to be involved in and all of our matriarchs, Tara. Part of the Elephant Family, part of the project is we are enrolling all of these amazing women to be matriarchs because our whole project is to celebrate the matriarch, the female and her important role in her herd. This matriarch program is we are looking for amazing women to get involved, sponsor and look after one of our elephants. Hopefully, they’re all going to go on the tour and we want these women to drive these elephants.
You must keep me posted on that, won’t you? That would be a shear honor.
Anybody, any woman that wants to get involved and be a matriarch for these incredible elephants, you can send me a message on Instagram or anything because it’s wonderful. On their website, you can get more information on it.
Will you tell us your Instagram handle and also the website so that if anyone reading wants to find out more, they know where to go?
I thoroughly urge everyone reading to go and check all of this out further and to get involved as much as you can because it’s such a special call.
Thank you, Donna. To finish with then, you’ve had such an exciting life and a successful career. What’s next? That’s the question. You’re looking for that script to excite you. In five years’ time, where would you like to be?
It’s whilst yes. One, I have had a lengthy career already and definitely an exciting life. I feel like it’s better to begin in a very different way. I’m excited. This whole lockdown and the whole pandemic has made everybody take a huge step back and everybody’s done. There’s a lot of time for reflection and if this hadn’t happened, we would never have taken that time to dig deep and work at what it is we want next. Where can we do things better? How can we be better? Where would I like to be in five years? Might be, I’d quite like to be in America.This whole lockdown and the whole pandemic has made everybody take a huge step back and take time for reflection. Click To Tweet
That house in Malibu you mentioned.
I love my home. I love London but given the fact that my daughter is growing up now and embarking on all these journeys of her own and is also planning to come to America and share her message, then it’s time. Why not? Change of scene would do everyone a world of good now and enjoy when we can travel freely again. We all will do it with newfound respect, appreciation and gratitude to be able to do so. It’s such a privilege to be able to see this beautiful planet and it’s not much of it as we possibly can in the time that we have on it and as respectful, aware as possible. That’s what I’d like to do and meet new people along the way. Before then, though, just hope that everybody stays safe, which is paramount, that we can all respect the rules, wear our masks, get vaccines and look after each other the best way we can.
That’s a perfect note to end Don. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been such a joy to chat with you after all this time and looking so well. Thank you.
Thank you for having me.
An absolute pleasure and to all of our readers out there, thanks for tuning in and you’ll be hearing from us again very soon. Bye for now.
- Donna Air – Instagram
- No One Here Gets Out Alive
- Wonderland Avenue
- The Aspinall Foundation
- @FreyaAspinall – Instagram
About Donna Air
Donna Air is a 30 year veteran of TV, film, media and fashion. Whether it is working with the likes of Ridley Scott in The Councellor alongside Brad Pitt, or as the face of MTV, Hosting the Uk’s most loved breakfast show, ‘writing for the Daily Telegraph or performing in the West End, Donna’s longevity and success is proven on multiple creative fronts.
A keen conservationist, Donna was recently made patron of Elephant Family, a charity protecting Asian Elephants. She is also hugely invested in inspiring the next generation of talent and is part of the executive Membership Committee on the BFC Fashion Trust supporting new designers and a sort after industry advisor.
Donna recently starred in the second series of hit BBC drama, The Split. This was a huge hit for the network and was the second most downloaded drama of 2020 coming in after ‘Killing eve. Donna was awarded huge critical acclaim for her performance and has just finished shooting Indie film ‘Dragged up. For more details contact email@example.com IG: @donnaair
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