Jenny Agutter: ‘You have to help others when you have so much yourself’

As she settles down to a hearty feast every Christmas Eve, Jenny Agutter is all too aware how lucky she is.

The mouth-watering meal is put together by her Swedish husband, Johan, leaving her with just a potato dish to make.

And all her family are around her, including her son, Jonathan, who rushes back from his shift as a junior doctor ready for his birthday on Christmas Day.

But while surrounded by all that joy, the Call The Midwife star can’t help thinking about those less fortunate than her – especially young homeless people.

She says: “My husband is Swedish so we have a great family get-together on the 24th. Then on Christmas Day we have an evening meal and I’ll probably watch Call The Midwife, even though I’ve seen it already.

“My son, Jonathan, was actually born five weeks early on Christmas Day. I’ve tried to pass my ethos towards charity work down to him.

"When you’re aware of how much you have yourself, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you and how you can help.”


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Family is something that has always been very important to 66-year-old Jenny, whose father was in the Army.

“I feel extraordinarily lucky to have had a very tight family background,” she says.

“We were always on the move so the important thing was this small family unit. I had my brother and parents, and that was it. But it gave me a huge amount of support.

“When I moved to London I couldn’t help being terribly aware of people on the streets, particularly very young people. Any chance to give the same support I had felt right.”

Jenny has now been working with Action For Children to help prevent youth homelessness for 25 years. She is supporting our Give Kids a Cracking Christmas campaign to raise funds for the charity.

Jenny believes the twinkling lights and frosty nights of Christmas can be the most challenging time of year on the streets.


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Jenny says: “It’s incredibly hard. There’s all this fuss and lights everywhere and people rustling round with parcels in their hands, it’s a terrible contrast between the two.

“The nights are very long – it’s dark from 5pm until the next morning at 7am or 8am.

"And anyone on the street will tell you that they never sleep because they’re never sure what might happen to them, people abusing them, kicking them and stealing from them.”

Jenny, who starred in The Railway Children as a child, earned an OBE for he charity work in 2012. She is stunned by the amount of work that still needs to be done to end youth homelessness.

She has spent a night on the street almost every year since 1998 to raise money for Action For Children’s annual Byte Night, and has been joined by celebrities such as golfer Nick Faldo.

“One time we slept out on the South Bank [in London],” she says. “It’s cold and it’s damp and at times it was wet and they had St John’s Ambulance people with us all night.

“They were actually waking us up because hypothermia can happen very quickly.

“In the morning you get a breakfast roll and you go home feeling shattered.

“But you get a shower and make yourself comfortable and it’s at that point that you think, if I was homeless, I would not be able to do this. It’s really bad and it’s worth doing something about.”

Jenny is urging politicians to think about how they can prevent people ending up sleeping rough.

She says: “Politicians should be focusing on education and social care to make sure people don’t fall into the situation where a child runs away or is not cared for.

“There are so many things that people can do – making sure information is being passed down between teachers, police and social services, so they can watch out for problems.

"There also needs to be better handling of social care within families. Usually the root cause of youth homelessness is families falling apart – whether that’s because of abuse, economic or social problems.”

Because of this, Jenny was thrilled when Call The Midwife decided to cover the issue of child abuse in its Christmas episode two years ago. Her character, Sister Julienne, helped to reconcile a family who had been torn apart by an abusive father.

Jenny admits: “It was a difficult story and I was very touched to be involved with it, because it echoed a lot of things that I really do care deeply about.”

Jenny has recently been busy filming the latest Christmas special of the BBC show, which was shot in the Outer Hebrides.

“It’s a very particular Christmas special,” she says. “It was really cold but it was so beautiful.

"Miriam Margolyes [who is guest-starring as Sister Mildred this year] and I were up by these extraordinary locations with these standing stones but we could hardly hear each other because the wind was so high and the rain was going straight into our faces, so we could hardly see.

“We were getting drenched really fast and we had nowhere to change because we were miles away from anything.

“I have a picture of Miriam covered in plastics and people around her trying to keep her protected and me in raincoats and the rest of it.

"We just wanted to try and do it as quickly as we possibly could. But it was beautiful and wild and rugged. It was very different to Poplar.”

Jenny hopes the feel-good show continues for many years to come. She says: “I’ve been in Call The Midwife for nearly a decade now and one of the reasons for this is that it’s just such a lovely group of people to work with.

"You get good stories, good production team, good actors and good food.”

She will once again count her blessings as she settles down with her family for Christmas, and think of those less fortunate.

You can be a real help

The Daily Mirror is raising funds for Action for Children, so it can buy Christmas gifts for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and offer festive meals to hard-up families.

Action for Children says there are more than 120,000 kids living in temporary accommodation or hostels, with many under-10s without basic essentials such as fresh food or warm clothing.

So every penny you donate to our Give Kids a Cracking Christmas appeal will make a difference.

Action for Children is marking its 150th anniversary and the charity’s Julie Bentley said: “Your donation will help us support our most vulnerable children, not just at Christmas but every day.”

To donate

  • Send a cheque payable to Action for Children to Daily Mirror Christmas Appeal, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP
  • Text MIRRTEN to 70175 to donate £10 to Action for Children, MIRRFIVE to 70175 to give £5 or MIRRTHREE to 70175 to donate £3. Action for Children will receive 100% of your donation.
  • To donate but opt-out to all future communications, text MIRRTEN NO or MIRRFIVE NO or MIRRTHREE NO to 70175.
  • By phone: To make a donation, call 0300 123 2112
  • Online: Donate or buy a virtual gift online at www.iamsanta.org.uk/mirror

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