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Best known for playing Lady Mary in ITV’s Downton Abbey, Essex-born actress Michelle Dockery is a woman of many talents. Here, she reveals her passion for music

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Michelle on the stage at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club

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Photography: Ian Harrison / Interview: Charlene Barton

Singing is something that I’ve always considered a sideline,” says actor Michelle Dockery before she performs an impromptu rendition of I wish I was a Single Girl Again at legendary London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. “I’m mesmerised when people sing live and I go to gigs as often as I can – there’s nothing like it.

“Music is a big part of my life. I’ve had a real sense of nostalgia for listening to records recently – my nan had a record player and whenever I went to stay with her I’d go through her collection. She loved Barbra Streisand and I used to sing along to that all day!

“My family bought me some old vinyl records for my 30th birthday, so I’m gradually building my own collection. I’ve got some Joni Mitchell, Oasis and the Doors, old standards like Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone, and then what I listened to as a teen. At school, everyone was into Take That and even though I secretly liked them and had a massive crush on Mark Owen, I started getting into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

“The Cranberries were a major music taste for me at that age, too, and their song Dreams is one of my favourites. It takes me right back to being with my best friend when we were about to do our GCSEs and had our whole lives ahead of us. It’s such a happy song; I don’t think it ever gets old.

“My sisters and I went to a stage school, as my parents thought it would be a nice hobby and would encourage us to be more confident growing up. They were so patient because we would spend hours in the living room dancing away in our tap shoes and ruining the carpet, but they never complained. Dancing, singing and acting became my thing and I later realised that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I never dreamed that I would get Downton Abbey, and it has changed my life. Other actresses made that leap in their early 20s, but looking back, I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed it quite so much or taken it in at that age.

“I enjoy dressing up much more than I used to. I think I went through a phase when I thought that only a certain style suited me. But I learnt that as you get to know fashion a bit you can mix it up. I’ve always said my style is classic and simple, but lately, I have started to play around a lot more with colour and style. Certainly [Downton] influences me too: the costume-designers on the show, Anna Mary Scott Robbins, Caroline McCall and Suzanna Buxton, have influenced me on what shapes suit me and what styles to go for.

“I’ve always said that I’d love to play a singer, as I’m fascinated by musicians and their vulnerabilities. Acting is my comfort zone, but singing is very exposing. I feel very vulnerable when I sing. When Sally Greene [owner of Ronnie Scott’s] asked me to sing at the club for its 50th anniversary in 2009, I couldn’t refuse, but I was so young and nervous that it overtook the excitement. It was the first time that I’d properly sung live at anything and I remember sitting in the green room beforehand and thinking that I could just run away, but the only way out was through the audience!”