From Pembrokeshire to Hollywood…
Siobhan McGovern is a woman of many, many parts. And she is such an appealing character that it comes as only a small surprise to learn that a playwright once stopped her in the street in Newport and asked her to act in the one-woman show he was putting on in Los Angeles.
“It was by the local writer and actor John Harris from Newport,” she says. “He didn’t know me, but he asked me if I was an actress – because he thought for some reason that I would be right for his play.”
And as it turned out, she was. “I had always wanted to be an actress from the age of seven,” says Siobhan.
Harris’s play was called Land of Flowers. “It was set in Florida during the Second World War and it was a journey through racism. I was in Los Angeles for three weeks and did the play at different places, such as Venice Beach and Hollywood. Lots of people came to see the show, including actors such as Julian Sands and Carl Weathers.”
That all happened five years ago. Was she not tempted to do more of the same? No, she says. Her two children (Dora, now 15, and Malachi, 16) were missing her – and, as always, she had lots to do back in Pembrokeshire.
One of the reasons she was perfect for Land of Flowers was that she could do a convincing American accent – in front of Americans.
“I was born in Hertfordshire but when I was two months old my parents moved to America and I grew up in Virginia in the Appalachians.”
The rural life gave her real “grounding” in nature. “Then, when I was 11, we moved back to Pembrokeshire – to Cilgerran where my parents ran the Pendre Inn. And then we lived in Preseli, in Crymych.
“After that I lived in Brighton for five years but I missed Pembrokeshire and moved back here to do a marketing manager job for eight years.”
Siobhan, 45, lives in Newport and loves north Pembrokeshire. “The land here is magical, beautiful and quite special. And it’s wild. When I was a teenager, it would just make me want to run… And then there is the sea. I have come to love swimming in the sea and really enjoy it – it’s that feeling you get from the cold water.”
She thinks Pembrokeshire attracts “really interesting people –they’re either creative or they’re into the land and eco living”.
Siobhan herself is certainly creative – and multi-talented. “I do many jobs – but they are all in the community and heritage world. Living in Pembrokeshire there is not a plethora of job opportunities. But I have always found the most brilliant jobs. It’s just luck, you just fall into it.”
After her marketing manager job, she worked as hall manager at the Memorial Hall in Newport: “We made it a vibrant centre – a place where everybody can go. We had lots of great events such as the brilliant Radio 4 comedian Mark Watson, National Theatre Wales and lots of wonderful music, to name just a bit.”
And then there was the kiln project at the Memorial Hall: “It is the best preserved medieval pottery kiln in the UK. We knew, bizarrely, that it was there, tucked a way under the stage. But nobody had seen it for 100 years.
“We fundraised and got a Heritage Lottery grant for it of £350,000. It was a really great project. We had about 400 people come to the opening in July 2018. It was all going really well before Covid arrived. I am still involved with that project.”
Siobhan has also been working for Span Arts in Narberth since January 2019; her title is volunteer manager but it’s a paid job. “Within a week of the first lockdown, Span Arts was arranging online weekly events and that has carried on. We had a really full programme in 2020, including online plays and music, and this is continuing.”
In November 2020, Siobhan moved to a new job and is currently working for Pembrokeshire County Council, on behalf of the Wexford/Pembrokeshire EU-funded arts, heritage and tourism project Ancient Connections. A major aspect she wants to see promoted is the “pilgrim route” between St Davids in Pembrokeshire and Ferns in Co Wexford. The Irish St Aidan, the first Bishop of Ferns, was a a protégé of St David, she explains – hence the strong connection between the two cathedrals.
Before Covid hit, there were also plans for music festivals and big outdoor events. “We expect these to still happen as soon as Covid restrictions are lifted,” says Siobhan.
So is that everything? Not quite. “Another voluntary job I do is chair of Newport Environment Action Group. We have a new project for Newport and our aim is to encourage wildlife gardens for bees, bugs and all things wild.”
But no more acting? “Well, for the past 16 years, I have also been part of a cabaret trio. During the lockdown we have not done much, but we have done two private shows on Zoom. In the past we have performed at Glastonbury and also at local festivals. The group is called MSG – which stands for our initials: May, Siobhan and Gwen.”
MSG’s antics sound fun and occasionally outrageous: “When we first started we were quite naughty,” admits Siobhan. “We often ended up taking our clothes off. And we used to wear huge bras and pants.”
But they wouldn’t still do that now, would they?
Siobhan smiled: “Oh yes, we still might…”