A change of pace can sometimes be life-enhancing – and that’s clearly been the case for Kara Tointon.
With acting work on hold – she was set to star in the stage version of comedy-drama Steel Magnolias, postponed due to the pandemic – she’s been enjoying time at home with her fiancé Marius Jensen, and their son, Frey, who turns two in November.
“Everything that happened [with lockdown] kind of forced me to stop and pause, I guess,” says Tointon, 37, chatting over the phone from her home in London.
“I’m normally a bit of a whirlwind, doing as much as I can and keeping going, so this was completely different for me. I loved it, and it also allowed me the space to take stock and re-evaluate things.”
It has perhaps been a timely period for reflection for the actor, who is supporting Remember A Charity – a consortium of charities working to encourage more people to consider leaving a gift to charity in their will.
Away from the spotlight, Tointon – who first found fame as feisty Dawn Swann in EastEnders, won Strictly Come Dancing in 2010 and has a strong of acclaimed TV and theatre roles under her belt – suffered the loss of her mother, Carol, in March 2019, only a few months after Frey was born.
Although she doesn’t want to talk about it today – “It’s a little too soon for me,” she confides – she’s had therapy and does meditation.
“They were probably things I’d put off doing, but I’ve used this time as a personal wellbeing moment for me,” Tointon says quietly.
“It’s been very beneficial. I can get mentally agitated if I don’t exercise, I’m naturally a very active person, so I’ve started getting back into a routine with that. I’ve also begun painting again, which I’ve always found really relaxing.
“Probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is valuing time,” she adds. “I’m aware now of respecting it and using it well.”
She’s unequivocal about finding fulfilment in motherhood. “Having a child has changed me forever. I love every minute of it. Frey’s a gorgeous little boy and it’s been wonderful being able to have so much time with him,” she declares happily.
“Marius is an amazing partner and dad and we share Frey’s care 50/50. The break’s allowed us to work on managing our time, so we can be the parents we want to be, as well as fitting in the things that mean a lot to us individually.”
Her role as a mother has given her “so much more clarity and perspective about what’s important,” she shares. “You become less self-focused and your child’s the priority.”
She and Jensen, a chiropractor whom she met four years ago, had planned to marry this year in his home country, Norway.
“We want to enjoy our day properly with all our family and friends around us, without having to worry about last-minute cancellation, so it’s probably going to be next year now,” Tointon predicts – and she’s looking on the bright side.
“It’s probably good, as it’s giving me more time to learn Norwegian. We’re bringing up Frey bilingual, which I think will such a gift,” she explains. “But I need to catch up with him, otherwise I’m worried I may be left out of their conversations! He loves the film Frozen, so we watch that together in Norwegian and as I know all the words in English, it’s a good way to learn together.”
Her 30s, she reveals, have heralded a new era too, bringing a growing sense of inner confidence.
“I’m one of those people who’s really enjoying getting older. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in myself and realising how pointless worrying about the trivial, silly stuff is,” she says.
“I’ve woken up to what works for me and being who I am, rather than trying to be someone I thought I wanted to be. You realise everyone’s version of ‘what is right’ can be very different from your own. Now, I’m ready to let go a bit and do things that feel good and enjoy them.”
Co-creating a newly launched storytelling app with Jenson, called Tell, has proved to be one such experience. Tointon enthuses about writing and editing and exploring a different type of creative process during the showbiz hiatus.
“It’s lovely to have complete control over something, and so exciting doing something different. Show-business is brilliant but turbulent, because you’re always living with uncertainty,” she says.
“It’s a conundrum for me, because I like certainty and knowing where I am, but equally I crave variety, so it’s a difficult balance. But I hope when things are back to normal, I’m able to a bit more choosy about what roles I take.
“I feel ready at this stage in my life to take a little more in control of things, and want to be able to stand back and work out: Does it suit me? Is it right for me and my life?”
One experience she definitely treasures is competing on Strictly Come Dancing – despite suffering a nasty torn ligament in her arm, which almost robbed her of victory.
“I was in such pain, I thought I’d have to pull out. I was dosed up on strong pain killers to get me through it,” she recalls. “I can’t watch back the final dances, because I can see the pain I was in and the restricted movement, but the moment we won was unbeatable,” she says.
“I’m so looking forward to watching it this year. In this weird Dr Who-type world we’re in at the moment, where time seems to have no meaning and we never know what’s going to happen next, that show’s a sort of constant, isn’t it?”
Tointon credits the support of her family and her sister Hannah, 32, who is also an actor – they both starred in ITV’s drama Mr Selfridge – with helping her through the tough times.
“Hannah and I are incredibly close. I can’t imagine not having her in my life,” she says. “I’d love to have more children, because I have such a good relationship with her and that’s my vision for Frey. Marius and I both want a bigger family – so bring it on!”
Her outlook on life, she says, is shaped by “trying to put myself in other people’s shoes. No one really knows what other people are going through – these days we can all see the bits people want us to see – but people can have things going on which we may not know about.
“Life has its ups and downs. It’s about coping with the downs when they come, and enjoying the ups and appreciating what you have,” says Tointon. “I’m very lucky and very happy.”
Kara Tointon is supporting Remember A Charity, a consortium of charities working to encourage more people to consider leaving a gift to charity in their will. To find out more, visit rememberacharity.org.uk.