Thursday 23 November 2017

Coming through cancer diagnosis made us stronger than ever

Having come through her cancer diagnosis together, Kate Beaufoy and Malcolm Douglas are stronger than ever.

Posh pals: Kate Beaufoy, aka Kate Thompson, Thompson thought Malcolm Douglas looked a bit dangerous when they first met. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Posh pals: Kate Beaufoy, aka Kate Thompson, Thompson thought Malcolm Douglas looked a bit dangerous when they first met. Photo: Gerry Mooney

'Kate is more outgoing than I am, but we make each other laugh all the time. We're also the best of mates, even though we're like chalk and cheese, and whatever is missing in one, the other one has, so we complement each other well. I think we are used to being together all the time, and we're very happy."

Actor and composer Malcolm Douglas is discussing life with his wife Kate Beaufoy, who was previously known as the actor and writer, Kate Thompson. The name change came about partly because there is another Irish writer called Kate Thompson, and partly as Kate has a wonderful new historical novel out, Liberty Silk, which is quite different from her 13 successful books in the general fiction genre.

The book begins in 1919 and is based on actual letters written by Kate's grandmother, Jessy Beaufoy, who was one of the very first women to graduate from Cambridge. The writer has taken the letters and turned them into a fabulous and gripping tale, adding in a few more characters and situations along the way .

Kate is the second-youngest of the late Desmond and Hilary's four children, and she grew up in Belfast. The Troubles broke out when she was a teenager, which was difficult, but she got away from it all when she went to Trinity to study French and English. Her ambition then was to act, so she joined the college drama society, Players.

Her acting career took off even before she graduated, and she worked continually for years. She became known for her roles on Bracken and Glenroe, but decided to move on after spending nine years playing Terry Killeen on Glenroe.

"My shelf life as an actress was hitting its 'best before' date," she explains, "and that was when I had the idea of writing. I was published in Ireland, but for the first year, I didn't have an agent or a publisher in the UK. Liberty Silk is my 14th book, and it has been pretty much a book a year, apart from the cancer year, which was a complete write-off."

What Kate is referring to is her breast cancer diagnosis of 2010, which was discovered when she went for a routine mammogram. She was lucky, she says, as the nature of her cancer meant that it doesn't manifest itself in a lump, so she wouldn't have known until it spread.

She had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and while she describes it as a really nasty year and a half, she feels absolutely fantastic now.

Posh pals: Kate Beaufoy, aka Kate Thompson, Thompson thought Malcolm Douglas looked a bit dangerous when they first met. Photo: Gerry Mooney

"I thought Kate was very brave," says Malcolm, who has been cast in the forthcoming 25th anniversary production of Borstal Boy at the Gaiety. "Her hair was starting to go from the chemo, so we looked at the option for wigs and something to wrap around her head. She decided that she just wanted to go bald, and I remember having to shave her head. It was a big decision, and not everyone can do that, but I really admire Kate for it."

"The more people that go out bald, the more normal cancer becomes," says Kate, who says that she, Malcolm and their daughter Clara employed black humour to get them through the illness. "Malcolm was bloody patient, as I was incredibly difficult during that time. He has the best relationship with Clara, and I feel lucky that he has looked after me so well, even with things that I am terrible with, like computers."

Malcolm is the youngest of Harold and Hazel Douglas's children, and he and his two older sisters grew up in Lucan. His dad travelled around the world selling Irish linen, while his mother was formerly an actress, who worked with Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammor.

He went to a Quaker school in England, and then studied English, French and Geography at Trinity, and also joined Players. He went on to the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in London, and he and Kate met in 1977 when he was playing a character called Gethin Price in a play called Comedians, for which he had shaved his head.

"I was completely besotted by Malcolm," says Kate. "It was absolute love at first sight. He was very lean and looked incredibly dangerous and I fell in love with the perceived danger. As soon as I got to know him, I found out he was a great big pussycat. It didn't take long for us to start dating but I was already going out with another guy at the time, and he had to be delicately off-loaded."

The delightful pair were married in 1987 in New Jersey, when they were there with a play. As there was no divorce here, they wanted to marry abroad on principle.

"Kate came up to me and said, 'Are we going to get married or not, because Nigel Boyd (the costume-maker) only has free time now to make my wedding dress?'" says Malcolm. "I think that was a proposal!"

Their adored daughter Clara was also born that year, and came as a "very happy surprise." Having been bitten by the travel bug from an early age, Clara now lives in Perth, Australia, where she is engaged to Ben and works as a Japanese teacher. Her parents miss her, but Skype every day. When they visit Clara, the pair join her in their mutual love of scuba diving.

Kate and Malcolm live near Dublin city centre, with their beautiful Burmese cat, Miss Leeloo Caswell. They go walking with their pals at weekends - Marian Keyes is part of that gang and they are known to her legions of fans as Posh Kate and Posh Malcolm.

Now, after 27 years together, they are still very happy and content . "One of the things that I admire most about Kate is her writing," says Posh Malcolm. "She is wonderful, and to have written 14 books is extraordinary in my mind."

Liberty Silk is out now. Transworld, €5.99

Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy runs at 
the Gaiety Theatre from September 11 to 
October 11.

Sunday Independent

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