AFTER a lifetime working in showbiz and years living with health issues including chronic fatigue syndrome, Martine McCutcheon knows the importance of not overdoing things.
“I am a big believer in making sure you pace yourself,” says the actor and singer, aged 46, best known for roles in BBC soap EastEnders and romcom Love Actually.
“My work can be intense, so I like to have some consistency in things – like walking the dogs and meditation.
“When I take care of myself, everything else seems to fall into place. It is about having boundaries – the world will still turn if you have your limits. Take time out, you can be imperfect,” she adds.
The London-born actor – who has an eight-year-old son, Rafferty, with her husband, singer-songwriter Jack McManus – has previously spoken out about being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME) in 2011. The condition can cause extreme and debilitating tiredness, among other symptoms, and it’s something she’s needed to constantly manage.
McCutcheon also recalls times when her “intense” work schedule has taken a toll.
“When I did Marple, it was really intense. I remember nearly falling asleep in my lunch in my trailer. I was on my phone talking to management, and I realised I was absolutely shattered. I was in bed for days after it finished,” she recalls of working on the mystery-drama series.
“When you are filming there is such an intense schedule, you need to deliver within certain timeframes.”
She’s learned to recognise warning signs that it’s time to slow down.
“I start to get really tired and get achy, so I know then that I need to not put anything else in the diary, and have a rest and recharge.” And when it comes to resting, it’s not just about quantity but making it “about quality” too.
“And trust yourself,” she adds. “Knowing you have something to look forward to, a break of some kind makes life more pleasurable.”
McCutcheon has partnered with McVitie’s to try and encourage people at work to take regular short breaks – if only for a cup of tea and a biscuit and chat.
A survey by the brand found 70% of workers take less than 15 minutes of breaks a day, with 47% saying they don’t have time for breaks because they’re so overloaded with meetings and emails.
Yet 93% of British workers believe a tea break is an important part of the working day, and 76% feel their performance at work is impaired if they don’t take enough breaks.
McCutcheon agrees breaks are a vital part of working life.
“It helps with keeping your mental health good, keeping things healthy in a busy structured day. If some people don’t take a break [in the workplace], no one else will,” she adds.
McCutcheon has learned what helps her find tranquillity amid a busy schedule.
“It is making sure I work to my own routine, walk to the beat of my own drum, drink enough water, get enough sleep, take time to walk and meditate. It’s saying no to jobs, but also being brave and saying yes.
“When I make the time to do the things I love, to have time with my family, it keeps me really grounded.” She says her husband helps her keep a healthy balance.
“My husband is brilliant, because he is in the industry and behind the scenes, so he gets the nature of the industry and how it is all or nothing. He understands me as a person, he is a really good moral compass and health compass for me. He is great at helping me say enough is enough.”
Since becoming a mother eight years ago, her work has changed and she is now chasing new dreams.
“It is such an exciting time for me creatively, as I am set to start working on a podcast about something I am super passionate about and am also working on a children’s book,” she shares.
“The inspiration has come from my own son – he is eight and so funny. He loves art and drawing and music. It’s just a whole new world. I have always felt like a storyteller, be it my own words or someone else’s.”
Martine McCutcheon has teamed up with biscuit brand McVitie’s to launch a campaign to reinstate a daily 15-minute tea break. To find out more, visit mcvities.co.uk/biscuitbreak