‘Go where you are wanted’

Harriet Thorpe, Actress and Entrepreneur, on landing one of the most iconic roles in British Television at 66 and the power of believing you are enough.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“Everyone worries endlessly: are we good enough?”

In a wide-ranging interview with marketing leader Visha Kudhail on the Behind the Face of Success podcast, Harriet Thorpe lifted the unfiltered truth behind her success. 

Sharing her experience of being dyslexic in a schooling system, which defined her as ‘stupid and lazy’, Thorpe never felt that she was enough. 

Yet despite this early lazy stereotyping, Thorpe has excelled in her career as both an actress and an entrepreneur. Defying the stereotypes of ageing, she landed one of the most iconic roles in British television, playing Elaine Peacock on Eastenders aged 66. From iconic roles such as Carole Parkinson in The Brittas Empire, to Fleur in Absolutely Fabulous. To roles at the National Theatre and in Mamma Mia! on the West End, Thorpe’s career is equal parts squiggly and surprising. Her business Dr Theatre, which she owns with her sister Matilda Thorpe, continues to thrive helping men and women find their voices, across the globe. 

“You can’t be defined by one thing.”

Harriet Thorpe, Actress and Entrepreneur

Sharing her experience of thriving in an industry which is riddled with rejection, Thorpe warned listeners: “You can’t be defined by one thing.” Whether that is people, places or a job. Because if you don’t have that one thing anymore, you then by default become ‘nothing.’

“This is a marathon and not a race,” she noted, sharing that while there are ideas, there is no finishing line or winning post as a creative. 

“Creatively you learn to understand you can move from job to job, you can be different and not hold onto one thing,” she explained.

This squiggly approach to success is important at a time when many in the creative industries are facing the sting of redundancies and rejection. A sting which is no reflection of them but instead of business decisions which are completely out of their control. 

As Kudhail noted there is a human cost to these decisions. “It has really impacted a lot of people's confidence,” she explained. 

Thorpe shared that it is important to “go where you are wanted, not where you want to go.” Giving the example that while she has always wanted to work at the Royal Shakespeare Company, they have never employed her. Ultimately success comes from being able to not just blindly follow a dream, but make that dream happen by being cognizant of which organisations and people actually want to work with you. 

You go where you are wanted, not where you want to go.

Harriet Thorpe, Actress and Entrepreneur

The power of a team is also a key ingredient for a successful life. Thorpe shared her belief that it is vital to recognise that you need everyone around you. She explained: “I’m doing Eastenders at the moment. I am nothing without hair, makeup, costume, script, and colleagues. That gives us everything. We are a team.”

Kudhail shared her passion for paying it forward, sharing that this is the reason why the Behind The Face of Success podcast exists. 

The duo discussed the way in which people can shame you and make you feel less-than throughout your career. An experience which can knock your confidence, even though the issue is the other person. Thorpe shared that a way through this confidence crisis is to create a persona that is the very best of yourself. “If they are being unkind it is because they don’t feel good enough,” she says. 

Thorpe spoke eloquently on the power of women’s voices, sharing ‘today we have a voice’. Her mother wrote for Spare Rib, the iconic feminist magazine. “There are women who threw themselves under horses so that we could have a vote. It is important to honour not just the women who died for us, but the people who are coming up behind. To honour them and give them the same voice that we have and more.”

Your voice is going to make a difference.

Harriet Thorpe, Actress and Entrepreneur

Kudhail shared a marketing leader’s fear of being called ‘woke’ when they press for more inclusive casting. A drive for greater diversity that Kudhail has long-championed. 

“Your voice is going to make a difference,” said Thorpe. She reminded leaders that it is important not to be led by fear-based choices. 

This is equally important when it comes to the fear of being judged by others. She explained: “Judgement hasn’t just come in with social media, it has been there from the start of time.”

“My business is to get in the room, do my stuff and get out. Not everyone is going to like me in life and that’s ok,” explained Thorpe. She reminded listeners that you don’t need to be perfect, you can just be yourself. This means being intentional about tuning out negative inner chatter to be present in the moment. 

Thorpe urged listeners to recognise that neither their life nor their careers are a race. An approach which gives you the breathing space to reach your full potential. 

“Surround yourself with people who are positive and care about you. You have to get out of your own way,” she added. Noting that ultimately self-acceptance is freedom.

As Thorpe’s career demonstrates so clearly, with the freedom to recognise that you are enough as you are, you can build both a long-lasting and fulfilling career on your own terms.

Creativebrief is proud to support the Behind The Face of Success podcast as media partner, alongside production partner The River Group. 

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