Downton Abbey star Daisy Lewis in Brighton

Downton Abbey star Daisy Lewis is a woman on a mission, travelling up and down the country to urge people to audition for the world's longest-running youth arts organisation, the National Youth Theatre.

Daisy Lewis in Silence by Moira Buffini
Daisy Lewis in Silence by Moira Buffini

NYT is looking to recruit brilliant young actors and actresses to join its prestigious training programme. As part of this, the company will hold auditions at Brighton College on Saturday, February 18. You can book on, and Daisy wants you to be there. She doesn’t want anyone to miss out on the fabulous experiences she herself had: “I didn’t have a good experience. I had the most incredible experience! I had to audition a couple of times before I got in, and that was one of the first things it taught me – that you mustn’t give up, that you have got to keep, keep trying.

“If they hadn’t let me in, I would have just kept on knocking at the door until they just got so fed up with me they had to call a police escort to take me away. I was so desperate!”

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The point is that the acting community is what she craved: “I grew up in Dorset, in the countryside, and I loved drama. Drama for me was the only way I felt I could fit in as part of the company. When you are part of drama, it does not matter whether you are the most popular person in the school or whether you are just supergeeky, which I was. I was a year ahead of myself, and I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Acting and being part of a community allowed me to make friends in an environment where we were creating something. I wasn’t the person I usually was. When I was part of something bigger, I felt like I belonged.”

Consequently, once she joined the National Youth Theatre, Daisy stayed… and stayed. She was a member from the age of 14 until the age of 22 “when they put me out to pasture” – in other words, when she finished full-time education. She read English at Kings College, London; she wasn’t involved with the National Youth Theatre all the time; but it remained a crucial constant in her life: “Having had that exposure to the National Youth Theatre, I walked away with self-worth and knowledge and love of the theatre and understanding of people from all sorts of different backgrounds to me. And I came away with a career. I came away with the tools that I needed to live in a competitive and sometimes seemingly-unfriendly and difficult world. I came away with the tools to grow up.”

Vital resources whichever career you go into: the ability to speak with confidence, the ability to make friends, the ability to survive.

And now, as she bangs the National Youth Theatre drum, Daisy can do so with the added sheen of her Downton Abbey successes: “I was really lucky to be part of it. It was just incredible, incredible to be part of, just the way the characters were so well-rounded. Julian Fellowes writes female characters like no one else. I was so lucky with my character. She was an agent provocateur. I am not interested in playing passive characters. She was interesting. She was complicated!”