Friday, August 17, 2018

"FairyTale: A True Story" interview: Florence Hoath (Elsie)

Both my 2018 book Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real and the 1997 film FairyTale: A True Story are based on the Cottingley fairies incident of 1917 England.

Florence Hoath, the actress who played Elsie in the film, kindly agreed to an interview. As of this writing, Lizzie Earl, who played Frances, Elsie's younger cousin and partner-in-gnome, declined my request, but if she changes her mind, I will add in her answers here.

Florence and Lizzie

How old were you when you appeared in FairyTale?

Gosh, it was quite a long time ago now but I must have been about twelve years old. I had appeared in a few films and TV shows before FairyTale but none quite as high profile. 

Where were you living at the time? 

I lived at home with my family in Chiswick, which is in West London. (I do not have a Yorkshire accent so I had to have some voice coaching for the film.)

How were you cast?

I remember the casting process being quite long. I had to go through several rounds of auditions before getting the part. I'm afraid that I don't remember the early stages but I do remember one particular casting further down the line. I think it must have been the final audition as there were about twelve young girls and we all spent the day together chatting, asking questions, and playing around. The director and the casting agents were there, too, and were watching how we behaved, presumably to see what type of characters we all were. In spite of having quite a bit of previous acting experience, I was actually quite a shy child and I tended not to stand out when put in a group, so I remember thinking that I probably wouldn't get through to the next stage. Looking back on it now, I can see that the character I played was quite a shy girl, too, and that may have been one of the reasons that they picked me. 

Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?

Thrilled! It really is the best feeling in the world when you get an acting job—some things never change. It is such a difficult industry to succeed in and there is so much competition. I don't think I realized at the time just how lucky I was, but I was certainly very happy and excited about the whole thing. 

Do you remember if you'd heard of the Cottingley fairies before being cast?

It is not a story that I had heard before, but my parents had and the director took the time to explain it to us before filming. We saw the original photographs and were told how much of a big deal it was at the time—how two young girls literally fooled the world into believing in fairies. Throughout filming I got more of a sense of what that must have been like for two young girls—to be thrust into the limelight like that must have been very overwhelming.

How long was the shoot?

I believe that I was filming for around 16 weeks. However, most of the filming took place after Lizzie and I had finished because of all the special effects. I think they were filming with the fairies for another few months after we had wrapped. 

How did you feel being a part of the movie?

It was all just so exciting. It really is the best job in the world. When you are working, you get to dress up and pretend to be someone else for a while. I got to take time off school, which I thought was brilliant, and I got to hang around with fun adults all day. 

What was the hardest part of the shoot?

I don't think any of it was particularly hard. I had to learn a lot of lines which was sometimes a bit tricky and I had to wear a wig which itched a bit…but really, it was just a brilliant experience. 

Any funny stories from the shoot?

I'm so sorry, I don't really remember.

I do have a little fact that might be of interest—when we were first cast, the film was called One Golden Afternoon. I remember having a chat with the director, Charles Sturridge. He asked Lizzie and me what we thought it should be called. We gave a few ideas but surprisingly FairyTale wasn't one of ours…

Also, during filming, they were casting for Spice World—I was a huge Spice Girls fan and didn't get to go to the casting. I remember being very upset about that. Looking back, I definitely got the better film, but there was certainly lots of tears at not being able to meet my idols. 

Anything go wrong on the shoot?

Again, it was such a while ago now that I can't really recall. I do remember that the fairies' house was very, very fragile and took weeks to make. Lizzie and I had to carry it around at one point and I'm sure the props department were watching us like hawks. 

What did you think of the movie?

I don't really like watching myself but I thought the movie was great! There were some really brilliant actors and actresses in it and the story really was very interesting. 

What did your parents think of it?

They loved it. They were probably a little biased but they really did think it was great. I think it is a film that appeals to both adults and children. They knew the story already and I think they were interested to see a film about it also. 

What did your friends think of it?

My friends thought it was cool. I got teased a little about making a film about fairies, but it was all in good humor and I never took it seriously. It was not intended to be unkind. 

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what do you remember about it?

I did. I remember there being a few screenings of the film along with a premiere. We went to Bradford in Yorkshire and met the mayor, travelling around in an open-top bus and standing for photos at the town hall. We also went to LA and New York for premieres and press junkets/interviews. It was all so exciting and we were made to feel like superstars.

Were you ever in touch with the families of Frances or Elsie?

I think that they were involved in the telling of the story and we may have met one of them at the beginning. I seem to remember being shown some photographs.

Frances's daughter Christine Lynch with 
Florence (left) and Lizzie (far right)

premiere notes by Christine Lynch

Did the movie ever affect your dating life in any way (i.e. when you first told boy/girlfriends you were in it)?

Whenever someone asks what I do and we end up talking about acting, FairyTale tends to get the biggest response. I get lots of "Oh my God, I loved that film!" It does tend to be girls more than boys and usually people of my age or above, but it does seem to be a really well-loved film. I don't think it has ever affected my dating life apart from it being something interesting to talk about when you are first getting to know someone. 

Did you receive fan mail? If so, do you still have any of it?

I do still receive fan mail but not that much from fans of FairyTale. I did a couple of episodes of Doctor Who and the fans of that show are brilliant! It is always lovely to get letters from people who like your work and I do keep it all. 

Were you ever recognized in public? How often and when last? Any stories about that?

I do get recognized in public occasionally but not as much as I used to. Funnily enough, the thing that I used to get recognized for the most for was a commercial campaign that I did when I was about 16. People sometimes used to shout at me in the street, which was a little embarrassing. To be honest, nowadays I get more "Do I know you from somewhere?" or "You've got a really familiar face." I wore a wig in FairyTale and had a different accent, so perhaps that was why I didn't get recognized as much. 

Funny story; I got recognized by two Chinese ladies when I was at Disney World in Florida. They came up to me and I wasn't quite sure what they were saying. It sounded like "maple." It turns out they recognized me from an episode of Miss Marple called "The Body in the Library"—I was the body, so for the most part I was playing a dead person. I was very impressed that they recognized me from that!

Did you appear in other movies after that?

I did, yes. I appeared in several other films, commercials, period dramas, TV shows, and a soap. 

Did you keep in touch with Lizzie Earl (Frances), and if so, when were you last in touch?

Unfortunately, we did not keep in touch. Please do give her my regards if you speak to her! It would be lovely to chat to her sometime and compare stories. 

If you went to college, where and what did you study?

I didn't go to college. I was lucky enough to be offered enough work to keep me busy. 

What are you doing these days?

I am currently writing a book! Like many actors and actresses I have had numerous other jobs including bar work and office work. I sold property in London for a high-end company for a few years, but decided that I'd rather be doing something creative so have written my first-ever book. It's a novel for young adults and is about a girl who has a very unusual ability…

Florence in her garden with Fairy Spell...
and fairies?

Where do you live?

I live in South West London, near Richmond.

If you are/were married, what was your future spouse's reaction when s/he learned you were in this movie?

I am married to an actor. He has never seen the film but does remember it coming out. I think his family were more excited than he was!


I do not have any kids…yet. 

When was the last time you saw the movie? How do you grade your performance?

I haven't seen it in quite a long time, certainly not from start to finish anyway. It pops on the TV from time to time and I'll get a few messages from friends and family letting me know that I'm on the telly. I'm happy with the way that it turned out but I can't help but be a little critical of myself. I do wonder, if I could go back and do things differently, would I? I don't know, I think at the time I did the best that I could do, but I was a kid. I turned up, learnt my lines, and tried to feel what Elsie would be feeling in that moment. As a child I think everything is much simpler. I didn't overanalyze anything or try my performance ten different ways to see what worked best. I just tried to be as natural as possible and hoped that the director liked it. 

Do you believe in anything that hasn't yet been proven by science (including fairies)?

I'd like to believe and I try to keep an open mind. If someone tells me that they have seen a ghost, or felt a presence that they are not able to explain, then who am I to say that it's not true? I believe that there are a lot of things that cannot be explained and I'd like to think that maybe there is something more out there. With regards to fairies…I think it's important for kids to believe in magic. As a child I created whole worlds in my back garden and my imagination allowed me to believe in all sorts of wonderful things—I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Maybe he could give me some tips on how to get published! No, honestly, I am pleased that there are people out there still interested in the story. That people still want to know about Elsie and Frances and what they did, and that it may now be told to another generation. I sometimes think about my time making FairyTale and what a wonderful experience it was, but I don't really get a chance to talk about it often. It is nice to relive some of the memories. 

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

When the film came out, we did quite a few interviews, both TV and editorial. I remember us having a big spread in Tatler magazine. We got to do a photo shoot, too. I felt very grown up. I remember seeing one of the photos when it came out and they'd printed one of me in black and white wearing John Lennon-type sunglasses—it was by far the coolest I'd ever been in my opinion. It probably still is…

How do you look back on the experience?

With a smile. I'm grateful that I got picked to play the part and got the opportunity to be involved in the film. It is an experience that I will never forget and a story that I can tell for the rest of my life.

how I inscribed Fairy Spell for Florence; 
illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

No comments: