Simone Ashley, star of the Regency drama, on corsets, California, racism and the benefits of therapy
Actress Simone Ashley, 27, grew up in Surrey before moving to Los Angeles alone at 17. She found fame starring in Netflix’s Sex Education, watched by 40 million in its first month. She starred in season two of Bridgerton, which became Netflix’s most watched show in English in its first week. She lives in London.
Teachers called me “the brown girl” at school. I remember if I ever failed a test or misbehaved, the teachers would say, “Which one? Oh, the brown girl.” My first kiss was with a really popular boy in primary school but he denied it to our friends and said, “I would never kiss the brown girl.” I don’t speak about it much because I don’t want it to sound like trauma porn, but it is very real.
We had champagne after we finished the sex scenes in Bridgerton. It felt like we’d done the hardest bit of the whole 11-month shoot. We did all of our intimacy scenes in one week. It’s a lot, gearing up for that every day and making sure you have enough sleep, doing whatever you have to do to make you feel ready. I am confident in myself and my body.
Therapy helps me clear my head. It can be a bit of a circus in this industry. There have been times when it was overwhelming, lonely and all a little bit crazy. The worst thing to do is to feel like the world is against you. Therapy has helped me learn how to communicate better, control my emotions and find useful skills for when things feel overwhelming. It means I can not take life so seriously and just enjoy it. If you can afford therapy, it’s an interesting way to learn more about yourself. Taking responsibility for yourself and who you are as an adult is important.
Going to an all-girls’ school made me grow up late. I was late to the part where I was interested in boys, and other parts of being a teenage girl. I was very much still a child when I was 14 or 15.
My mum tried to teach us Hindi and Tamil, but we grew up watching Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. Growing up between England and California, it was hard for me to tap into that. My mum would speak on the phone in Hindi, or talk to us in it, and I understood it. That ability has gone now, but I feel at home when I hear other people speaking it. Because I left home so young, I didn’t have the means or freedom to spend much time with my family in India. My mum also made me play French video games, so I learnt bits of French.
I didn’t grow up in a world where people would say, “You’re brown and beautiful.” I have always loved the colour of my skin. But the more I work in this industry, I look back and think no young person should ever feel discriminated against like I was.
I wasn’t happy in England as a teenager. All of us have had a bit of a rough time at school. But I felt happy in California, where I spent a lot of time as a kid.
I want to give more people tattoos. When I was bored in Los Angeles in lockdown, I did lots of stuff like tie-dying and learning a language. Then I realised how easy it was to get a rotary tattoo pen, found a nice design and gave myself a tattoo. On some sets that I work on, people are like, “Cool, when we wrap, give me a tattoo.”
My white male counterparts have had it very differently from me. They have more of a voice. I have had to work harder to have that kind of equality. I have learnt to have my own power. I might be different, but if I respect myself and use my voice, eventually the people around me will give me that same treatment.
Corsets push everything down to the bottom of your stomach. That means when you take them off, you’ve got a little bump. I hated wearing those corsets filming Bridgerton. They’re so beautiful, but I hate them – never again! Luckily, we’re allowed to wear bras now instead and that has changed everything for me. I can do a 12-hour day and feel comfortable.
Empowering a minority shouldn’t be taboo. Especially in the UK, we love Indian food, we watch so many movies inspired by Bollywood music. The people from that community deserve to be empowered and loved. It shouldn’t be a taboo thing to say, you’re brown and amazing.
Simone Ashley stars in a short film for Johnnie Walker’s Bold Steps campaign with Diet Paratha
Author: Georgina Roberts
Published on Feb 7, 2023