' I thought I was diabetic - but I was pregnant'
After trying in vain to get pregnant, Holby City's Rakie Ayola, 37, gave up on babies to concentrate on her wedding. Here, she explains how she and her actor husband, Adam Smethurst, 39, came to have 22-month-old Tansy...
In Holby, it looks like your character, Kyla, is being tempted into a secret fling with Justin Fuller, played by Ben Richards. What does she see in him?
She hasn't got great taste in men! She likes good-looking blokes - that whole 'take me to a cave' thing - but she doesn't check that there is a soft, gentle, sensitive side to him. He's gorgeous to look at, but she hasn't learned that you have to look a bit deeper.
Were you nervous about your first screen kiss with him?
I was a bit, because he'd just come from Footballers' Wives and I thought: "God, he's snogging all these glamorous women. How do I follow that?" Ben's a very good looking guy, so I was a bit nervous about that too, but you just treat it like work and it's fine. He knows what he's doing, so it was enjoyable!
How did you meet your actor husband, Adam?
We were working at a Birmingham theatre company in 1998 doing Hamlet. There was no spark and no flirting at first, but two years later we worked together again and that's when I suddenly noticed him. I kept looking at him and thinking: "Are you the same guy I know?" Then we were all on a night out and I was about to get a taxi home and instead he invited me back to his B&B because there was a spare bed in his room. The rest is history!
What first attracted you to him?
He's a very nice, uncomplicated man, but I saw something deeper in him. I also liked his incredible cheerfulness and openness and he has grown up with sisters so that made him easy with women.
How did he propose?
I'd just come back from several weeks in South America and when we got home he gave me a locket. Inside was a scroll. He'd had printed on it: 'Will you marry me?' It was so unexpected - I think he couldn't bring himself to say it, so he'd written it down.
When did you marry?
We got married in May 2004 and our daughter was born in July 2004, so I was very heavily pregnant when I got married. We'd planned the wedding before I got pregnant, though, because we booked the wedding in August and I got pregnant in October. I just thought I'd never have children, it wasn't happening, so we decided to get married anyway because it was taking forever.
How did you discover you were pregnant?
I convinced myself I had diabetes because I had a weird taste in my mouth and I was really tired. I'd seen a documentary about it and convinced myself that I had it. So I went to the doctor and said: "I must have diabetes because everything tastes horrible and I'm so sleepy." Then she asked me "Have you done a pregnancy test?" It turned out I was six weeks pregnant - and I had no idea. I was absolutely thrilled of course and went ahead with the wedding anyway.
Had you been hoping for a baby for years?
Well, we tried for about 18 months before I got pregnant. So we went for some tests and were told everything was fine. But we carried on trying and nothing happened. Then I thought we might need some help. So we planned the wedding and decided to get help afterwards. I hadn't lost all hope of having a baby, but I was convinced we would need medical intervention. But it was obviously down to stress because the minute I stopped thinking about it I got pregnant.
How do you juggle being a mum and working on Holby?
Luckily, I'm not in work every day, but I have an au pair and she's great. And my husband is an actor so he doesn't work 9-5, although he's recently been in Hungary for eight days filming Robin Hood for BBc1.
Your own mum, who was from Sierra Leone, left you to be brought up by her cousin in Cardiff at three weeks old. How has becoming a mother made you feel about that?
I know that I'm not naturally stay-at-home-mum material so, although I don't understand my mother's decision not to raise any of her children, I do understand her need to do other things. I don't understand how those other things completely took over her life. I will never understand that, but I do understand her need to be something other than a mother. It's just that she gave up the mothering part completely.
Do you have any regrets?
If my mum hadn't left, I wouldn't be here. I would have had a very different life, so I wouldn't change it. She might, though, I think.
Have you been in touch with her since you had your daughter?
I haven't seen her, no. We have had phone calls, but she hasn't seen Tansy. My in-laws are just the best grandparents. My father-in-law is the actor Jack Smethurst who was in the 1970s sitcom Love Thy Neighbour. It was about a white family who live next door to a black family. Isn't that wonderful irony? I say to him that it's penance for doing that show that he's stuck with me as a daughter-in-law!