Shelagh McLeod Woman Interview – April 1996

Will and Kate are in for the shock of their lives…

Although Dr Kate Webster hasn’t let on, recently she’s been suffering from the following unmistakeable symptoms: morning sickness, tiredness, inexplicable cravings and a lack of punctuality when it comes to that time of the month. So it doesn’t take a fully qualified doctor to work out what’s wrong with her.

Of course, in her professional capacity she’s seen the symptoms so many times in other women, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the realisation that she’s the one who’s pregnant this time. Her passionate, ongoing fling with Peak Practice’s dashing Dr Will Preston has left her unexpectedly expecting his baby.

‘If it had happened to one of her teenage patients she’d have been sympathetic. But, frankly, she’s in shock that’s it’s happened to her – a doctor, who you’d imagine would know how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.’ says Shelagh McLeod, who plays Dr Kate.
‘It goes to show that doctors are human too, and although we don’t get the full explanation of what went wrong, it’s obvious Kate simply made a mistake – forgot to take her Pill or whatever. Still, it’s doubly ironic that the father of the baby is a GP too. If it weren’t so tragic it would be funny.’

In next weeks episode, Kate not only confirms her worst fears, but breaks the news to Will, who’s played by Simon Shepherd. Although shaken by her bombshell, he’s opposed to Kate’s idea of a termination – and promptly proposes to her! ‘Kate’s suddenly having to consider marriage and a baby at the same time and it’s tearing her apart,’ says Shelagh.
‘She’s 36, just starting a new job, she and Will have barely known each other five minutes and they’re both recovering from broken marriages. Then again, if her heart was really set on a termination, perhaps she wouldn’t have told Will, but would have simply gone off and had one. Perhaps deep down she can see a future with him.’

Certainly while the affair has been brief, the signals have been promising. ‘They laugh at the same things, care about the same thins, like and dislike the same things. Obviously there’s a great physical attraction between them or they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place!’

It’s a mess that in some ways Shelagh sympathises with. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to contemplate first-time motherhood at 36 – having been through the experience recently, she should know. ‘Still, unlike Kate’s pregnancy, my own was very much wanted and planned, so thankfully I never had to consider whether or not I wanted a termination, which is an awful dilemma for any woman.’

But although she very much wanted her daughter, Katherine, who’s now 10 months old, Shelagh admits she was unprepared for the missile effect motherhood had on her life.
‘I wasn’t ready or the emotional bombshell of giving birth, the sleepless nights, and for the sheer exhaustion of those early months. Sometimes I was so tired I thought I’d go nuts,’ she says.

She thanks heaven for her supportive husband. Shelagh met property developer Marek Pilkington Miksa five years ago, after the break up of her marriage to America actor James Jordan. ‘Having a child is a way of closing the door on your old life and embracing a new life. It’s difficult now to imagine what life was like without Marek and Katherine.’

Shelagh found her niche at the Corona Stage School at 14. She went on to play several TV roles in Britain, including the lead role in Dennis Potter’s Cream in my Coffee. In her 20’s she lived and worked in Canada and Los Angeles. She came back to England with Marek seven years later and they moved into a house in Surrey. She loves her life there, but Peak Practice has recently taken her away to Derbyshire for filming. ‘I find myself racing back to Surrey to be with Katherine whenever I can,’ she says. ‘Seeing her again always feels like Christmas.’

Although her life’s demanding at the moment, she loves the pressure. ‘I appreciate the up-side so much because I’ve also known the down-side.’ Three years ago a degenerative spinal condition meant Shelagh needed major back surgery. The recovery was painfully long and difficult. ‘Now when I wake up pain-free and able to walk and hold Katherine, I say a little thank you. The experience taught me to appreciate the most basic things in life.’

It also taught her a great deal about the medical profession, so it’s not surprising her performance as Kate Webster is so realistic. Not that she could be a doctor in real life, especially a surgeon. ‘If I had to slice someone with a scalpel, I’d keel over,’ she laughs.
There was one sticky moment during a scene in a mocked-up hospital ward. ‘I spotted needles and tubes and it reminded me of everything I’d been through. I wanted to run away and hide.’ But she confronted her fear head on, which is exactly how Kate will cope with her current problem. ‘In the end, Kate will live by her decision about Will and the baby. She’s that kind of person,’ says Shelagh.

In the meantime, Kate has another common human condition – cold feet. And it doesn’t take a doctor to diagnose that, either.

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