5 minutes with: Emma Samms MBE

Emma Samms MBE is an actor (best known for playing Fallon Carrington Colby in Dynasty and appearing in BBC’s Doctors), and co-founder of the Starlight Children's Foundation. More recently she has become a voice for people suffering with the long-term effects of Covid and has teamed up with Dr Mark Faghy at the University of Derby to support his research to improve the lives of people suffering with the prolonged and life impairing impacts of the illness. Here, she discusses her career, new projects, and her recovery from long-Covid.

You appeared in your first leading role in General Hospital 40 years ago, and have gone on to appear in Dynasty, The Colbys, Delirious opposite John Candy, The Marksman opposite Wesley Snipes and most recently BBC’s Doctors. But your career spans across dancing, writing, directing and much more. What have been the highlights?

No matter how good a script is, it’s always your co-workers that produce the highlights. With that in mind, I would say that working with Peter Ustinov, John Candy, Adam Cooper and one particularly lovely film crew in Toronto, are the aspects of my career that I look back on with the most fondness.

At Derby we offer courses in Theatre Arts and Applied Theatre and Education. What is the one piece of advice you would give to aspiring actors, directors and writers? And what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

The best way to learn is to observe and then practice, so I’d always recommend doing anything possible to get into a theatre or on a film set (as a runner, making tea and coffee, whatever it takes) and then watching and absorbing as much as possible. And be proactive! Don’t wait to get an agent and go to auditions. Write your own material. Film it yourself. These days full length feature films can be made on a smart phone. Don’t be shy about putting yourself out there and exploiting every possible contact you encounter.

Emma Samms MBE

It has been a difficult two years for everyone during the pandemic, but for those experiencing the long-term effects of contracting Covid the challenges continue. How did Covid, and then long-Covid, affect you?

In many ways I was lucky. I contracted Covid in March 2020, so very early into the pandemic and before we’d all received the vaccines, but my case wasn’t severe enough for me to be admitted to hospital. However, many of my symptoms never went away, which certainly has been frustrating and sometimes rather frightening.

You have been an active voice in the fight to get more treatment and support for people with long-Covid. How did you connect with Dr Mark Faghy at the University?

Social media has its downsides, but for many of us with long-Covid it has been a real saviour. Firstly, in the early days, when doctors were being highly dismissive of our concerns, social media connected us and reassured us that our symptoms were far from unique. After that, it has allowed us access to whomever is conducting relevant research and to offer those people the opportunity (if they choose to take it) to hear the voices of lived experience.

When Mark and his team at the University of Derby reached out to me, it was immediately apparent that their unique approach to investigating the complex and diverse symptoms of long-Covid would suitably value patients’ own experiences, which gives me confidence that their work will be of great benefit to many sufferers around the world.    

What are your hopes for this study and others like it?

All we are asking for is diagnostics and actual treatments. We want to know why we still have trouble breathing and why our blood pressures and heart rates are all over the place and, most importantly, if any of these things can be fixed.

I think I can safely say that most of us are fed up with offers of CBT and rehab and the occasional inference that our symptoms are the result of somatisation. The sheer numbers of us who are now living with varying levels of disability will, hopefully at least, provide a decent economic motivation for a fast-tracked research effort.   

What are your plans for the future?

Other than my writing, which I can do at home, I’ve only managed to work for two half-days since I got Covid in March 2020. I’ve very much hoping to return to Los Angeles to continue working on the television series there that I’ve had a reoccurring role on for nearly 40 years, but until my health improves, or the show agrees to drastically reduce my daily schedule, that’s still just a dream. Though of course, if Mark and his team manage to figure out how to treat long-Covid, then I’ll be off to Hollywood in a shot. No pressure, Mark!

And when you are not entertaining the nation, campaigning for development into long-Covid or raising awareness for your charity, how do you spend your free time?

My husband Simon and I are currently renovating one of the old out-buildings at our house, converting it into an art studio and guest house. I’m hugely enjoying the whole design process and it might even lead to a television or YouTube series about the whole thing, which is very exciting.

Find out more about the University of Derby's long-Covid study.