Monday, 11 March 2013

Pleasure island: Actress Naomie Harris returns to Jamaica for latest TV role

Pleasure island: Actress Naomie Harris returns to Jamaica for latest TV role


As an actress I've been lucky to be involved in a number of movies filmed in the Caribbean. I was in After The Sunset, with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek, which was shot in the Bahamas. And, in perhaps my best-known role, I was Tia Dalma in the Pirates Of The Caribbean films with Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley, which was also shot in the Bahamas, in Freeport.

A view of the luxury Whitehouse resort in Jamaica
Sun, sea and Sandals: The luxury Whitehouse resort
I've been to the Caribbean many times, especially when I was growing up as my mother was born in Jamaica and we used to go there when I was a child. But, for various reasons, I hadn't been back for 17 years. 
So when I had the chance to return to complete filming on the new BBC adaptation of Small Island, based on Andrea Levy's novel, I was really excited. 
I play the main character Hortense, one of the generation of Jamaicans who, similar to my grandparents, emigrated from Jamaica and struggled to make a new life in Britain. The story goes through the post-war years up to the modern day, showing how much things have changed for the better. 
Most of the filming took place in Northern Ireland as Belfast 'played' the part of postwar London. I spent two months in the city which was one of the nicest places I have visited - the people are so friendly. 
On the flight there I sat next to a viscount, who invited me and my friends to have a marvellous dinner at his house in County Fermanagh because he wanted to show us how welcoming his country is. Northern Ireland was great and I was certainly sad to leave, but it was wonderful to head off to Jamaica and get some Caribbean sun. 
Jamaica tends to get a bad Press as there are often reports of violence. You may not want to linger in the capital Kingston, but outside the city I found the island delightful, with the local people very kind and friendly. 
I decided to fly out my mother, stepfather, brother and sister so when filming finished we could enjoy a family holiday - the perfect chance to unwind after all the hard work. 
Naomie Harris is pictured on a jetty in front of the Sandals yacht
All aboard: Naomie finds her sea legs
When I was little, my mother and I used to have a Jamaican holiday every year. But it was so long ago that I had no particular memories of places. What I did remember, though, were the smells and tastes of the island. 
Had things changed much in the past 20 years or so? My mother and stepfather didn't think it had altered as much as they had expected, but there was the occasional disappointment. 
My mother was particularly anxious to revisit Port Royal where my parents had enjoyed a wonderful holiday years ago. Port Royal was once called 'the richest and wickedest city in the world'. It is straight out of Pirates Of The Caribbean, with a history rich in tales about Spanish gold looted on the high seas by the notorious 'Brethren of the Coast', as the local pirates were called. 
But Mum was surprised to find that hotels were closing because of a lack of visitors. This seems extraordinary because it is a fascinating town and well worth a trip. 
The places thriving on Jamaica are the all-inclusive resorts. We spent a week in the Whitehouse, a Sandals resort on the southern coast, 25 miles from Negril. 
In its brochure, the Whitehouse European Village & Spa talks about 'a place completely unspoiled by the ravages of time, where the alabaster-white sand beaches bear no footprints, and the lush greenery and richly-coloured flowering vines scent the air with the purest of perfumes'. 
And indeed it feels like heaven on earth: surrounded by a 500-acre nature reserve, the Whitehouse boasts two beaches more than two miles in length. It was just what I needed, somewhere to flop and recharge the batteries. But if you do want a busy holiday, lots of sporting activities are included in the price, such as sailing, scuba-diving, water-skiing and windsurfing.
One of the biggest attractions is the food, also included in the price. There are six restaurants, including Italian and Asian fine dining and a French cafe offering patisseries and crepes. They also have lots of local Jamaican food, but not, alas, my favourite curried goat. I grew up on it, cooked by my aunt who made a brilliant curry.
Naomie as Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean
Naomie as Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean
As I am away filming so often, travelling can seem a little too much like work. My most adventurous trip abroad was a climbing holiday in Mexico which I did on my own. 
Usually, if I want a break I prefer to head for the English countryside. I've recently had great stays at Cliveden in Berkshire, and at the Rookery Hall Hotel in Nantwich in Cheshire where the Beckhams had their engagement party. 
My next big project is a film based on the life story of the musician Ian Dury in which I play the part of his partner. It's a great story but filming will be nearer Billericay than Barbados. 
I don't envisage hitting the beach much on that one.

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