When Amy Jackson finally comes to write her autobiography it will read like a 21st-century fairy tale.
At 25, the Liverpudlian actress has a face that has launched more than a dozen multimillion-budget movies. She has wealth beyond her wildest dreams, acclaim she never imagined and assistants to fulfil her every need.
Yet Amy can walk down London’s King’s Road – where we meet for tea and cake – unnoticed. Because it’s in India, not the UK, that she is a superstar of stellar proportions (think Taylor Swift meets Angelina Jolie and times that by ten) with a devoted following of millions – four million on Instagram alone. After eight years starring in Bollywood blockbusters, she has won basket-loads of awards and nominations and been named Most Desirable Woman 2014 in a poll by the Chennai Times, which declared: ‘Amy Jackson can scorch the screen with her mere presence.’
Incredibly, her journey from Merseyside to Mumbai (she has a luxury apartment in the Indian capital as well as a five-bedroom house in Liverpool) was both unplanned and – initially – the last thing the teenage Amy wanted. Growing up in the suburb of Woolton, her life was about horse riding, sports and hanging out with her schoolfriends. ‘I was very sporty. I guess I was a bit of a tomboy because I was normally in trackies and trainers or riding gear, covered in mud.
‘India wasn’t on my radar,’ she says, as she orders a jasmine tea. ‘I’d never even heard of Bollywood, I couldn’t dance for to toffee [all Bollywood stars are expected to dance] and drama was the only class I was completely hopeless in at school so acting was something I never thought was for me.’
But Amy’s picture-perfect looks had not gone unnoticed. Her elder sister Alicia – now 34 and an English teacher – entered her for a local beauty contest, which she won, and then badgered her into entering the 2009 Miss Teen World beauty pageant held in Houston, Texas. Amy was flown over, put in a variety of ballgowns and swimsuits – and walked away with the crown.
She was not, however, seriously considering a career in modelling as the win coincided with her passing all ten of her GCSEs. ‘My family were very much into education and the plan was to continue with my studies – languages for A-level and possibly law at university. but I wasn’t totally sure.’
It was a twist of fate that changed her direction. The Miss Teen World beauty pageant was the rst of its kind and received a lot of media attention worldwide. A story about the event – featuring a large picture of Amy as the winner – appeared in the Daily Mail where it was spotted by an Indian film producer who happened to be in London. Amy – who was just about to turn 17 – received a call inviting her to a casting audition in the capital.
‘My first reaction was to say no,’ she says. ‘But my dad [Alan, who was a producer for BBC Radio Merseyside] told me never to turn down an opportunity. He said he’d go with me and we’d just see what it was about: nothing ventured, nothing gained. So a few days later we arrived at a hotel in London where there were hundreds of girls waiting. All were actresses with their managers and agents, which made me want to leave immediately, but we waited to be called. I met the director who asked me if I could act. I said, “no.” Could I dance? I laughed and said, “not at all.” He asked me to read a script, which I did, and then Dad and I left to get something to eat.
Mid-lunch her father received a phone call asking him to return to the hotel with Amy. All the other actresses had left and Amy was told that the job was hers. She was given a plane ticket for the following week to Chennai and then Madras, where filming on the Tamil period drama Madrasapattinam was about to begin.
‘It happened so fast,’ she recalls. ‘My mum [Marguerita, a former riding instructor] flew out with me. We were both in shock. As we sat on the plane my mum looked at me and said, “Amy love, I hope you can act.” When we got off the plane, the airport was heaving, our mobile phones didn’t work and I thought it was all a dream. Then we saw the director and the producers standing there with huge bouquets of flowers, a massive car and all these smiling, waving assistants. At that point I thought, “OK, I’m just going to enjoy this.”’
The Indian movie industry is worth £3 billion and growing at a faster financial rate than Hollywood. And alongside Bollywood there is also a huge Tamil film industry, which was Amy’s first introduction to the Indian film world. ‘It’s on a different scale,’ she says. ‘Going to see films is a massive part of the culture.’ Actors enjoy a revered status with fans traditionally visiting local cinemas in large family groups every weekend. Indian stars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar regularly top the list of highest-earning actors (above George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Johnny Depp) and it is usually impossible for outsiders to gain a foothold, particularly if they don’t belong to a well-known acting dynasty (the Indian film industry is notoriously dynastic) or speak Tamil or Hindi.
‘I was just very lucky,’ laughs Amy, who in person is exquisitely beautiful with a perfectly symmetrical face, high cheekbones and flawless skin. ‘In my first film I was playing an English girl who came to India in the 1940s and had to learn Tamil so the fact that I couldn’t even pronounce the words properly wasn’t a problem. everyone wanted to help me. I got so much advice, so many chances – it was a lovely experience. The other thing everyone in India liked was that I was always with my mum and dad and my sister. We might not have spoken the same language but we related to each other as families.’
However, she admits that at first she could not eat the food or do anything much apart from stay in her hotel and work on her lines and dances. ‘I couldn’t stand spice. I wasn’t used to it, and every dish was red hot,’ she says. ‘The climate also took some getting used to. It was boiling hot most of the time and I had to wear lots of make-up and costumes on set. We travelled to places like Madras for filming and there was so much to take in every second of the day. I’d never been on a movie set before; I’d never acted or sung or danced. In Indian films, the songs and the dances are an important part of telling the story so they have to be exactly right. In a way it was the best thing because I just immersed myself in it.
‘My mum and I spent our evenings practising my script, my Tamil, my songs and my dances. I couldn’t have done it without her. If we had any time out we’d spend it with the families of the cast and crew. We just lived for that movie.’ Her work paid off when the film was dubbed the ‘out and out Amy Jackson show’ by the renowned film critic Sify, who added that ‘she is simply amazing to deliver lines in Tamil, and is one good reason to see the film’. The Tamil movie bible Behindwoods wrote: ‘The one who walks away with the top honours is Amy Jackson for a beautiful portrayal of a lady torn between her love and the mighty empire. She looks beautiful, emotes well through her expressive eyes and is able to earn the sympathy of the audiences during tough times.’ She was nominated for a best debut actress award and just as she was planning to return to her sixth-form college, she found herself inundated with movie offers.
Eight years on, Amy can speak Hindi and Tamil (the Scouse accent is only slight these days), she can dance, she can walk in a sari, and she practises yoga and meditation. She has worked with the biggest names in Bollywood, is a brand ambassador for the UK fashion house Lipsy and has recently been cast in the hugely successful Hollywood TV series Supergirl (shown here on Sky) playing Saturn Girl, a superhero from the Saturn moon Titan. She is also addicted to spice. ‘I had breakfast in the Wolseley this morning and I was shaking chilli flakes on to my avocado and eggs. India is now absolutely part of who I am.’
It has been reported that she has a retinue of staff – including a personal juice maker – to help fend off her obsessive fans, monitor her regular proposals of marriage and keep her in the style to which an Anglo-Indian princess is accustomed. She laughs and shakes her head. ‘I think there are a lot of assumptions about the way I live my life. I don’t have lots of staff. I do have friends from home who help me with choosing clothes and a great guy called Raju who is my assistant. When we met he didn’t speak any English and didn’t know what a passport was. Now he travels with me all over the world – he’s even been to Liverpool because he’s very much part of my family.
‘I never expected anything like this to happen to me but India is a land of opportunities. It has taught me to grab them, work hard and never think I can’t do something like learn to dance. If you work you will get there in the end.’
Her airy three-bedroomed apartment in Mumbai’s upmarket suburb of Khar is ‘pretty and simple’ and large enough for visitors from Liverpool. Amy – who is now such a fan of the local food that she is planning to open an Indian restaurant in Liverpool with her mum – delights in taking them to local markets to buy silks and saris and sample the spicy street food. ‘Friends and relatives come over; I love the fact that this girl from Liverpool can show them the real India. I know the best places to go. One of my favourites is Kerala: beautiful houseboats on the rivers and such a chilled atmosphere. When I arrived in Mumbai for the first time I knew it could be home. I have travelled all over this incredible country to make films and have stayed with wonderful families of people I’ve made friends with. When you make friends with someone in India you quickly meet their family and I love that. I embraced them and they have embraced me.’
But with every fairy tale there is always a downside. And amy admits that while her career is the stuff of dreams, her relationships have often been the stuff of nightmares. After dating renowned Indian actor prateik babbar from 2011 to 2012, a year later she began a relationship with liverpool boxer joe Selkirk. a few months in, Selkirk was fined and given a 12-month community order after admitting to assaulting amy outside a liverpool hotel. Worried sta had called the police but amy refused to press charges when Selkirk initially denied pushing and shoving her. She shrugs her shoulders. ‘I am a bad picker of men. but it has taught me lessons and one is to put them in the past and live my life in the moment.
‘Last year was the first year I have been single [after Selkirk she dated Coronation Street actor Ryan Thomas for seven months] and I have to say I am so much happier for it. I went to a retreat in Nepal where there was no talking, no phones, no clocks and I had a personal breakthrough.
‘You feel you should have everything in your life – a fantastic relationship and a fantastic career. That’s what I was trying to make happen, but my relationships were never right even though I tried to make them work. In Nepal I had this realisation that you have to let that go. Don’t force things that don’t work, don’t worry about not having something. Focus on what you do have and count your blessings.’
‘The good things in my life are family and my work. The other stuff – relationships – I can stop worrying about because right now it is not meant to be. My life has panned out in ways that no one would ever have expected and I want to keep pushing that. I have work in Los Angeles [she’s hoping to spend at least a quarter of her year in the USA from now on]. I’ve got a great part in Supergirl and I’ve met a lot of agents over there. Like India, it’s a land of opportunities.’
So will she be quitting Bollywood for Hollywood and leaving Liverpool behind for ever? ‘Liverpool comes with me because my mum travels with me all the time and my dad visits me whenever he can. I come home to see my friends and my sister. I have been known to jump on a plane just to spend a few days in Liverpool.’
At film openings and festivals in India, Amy is followed by a retinue of minders and bodyguards. But back in Liverpool, where she tries to spend three or four months a year, she can pop into the local corner shop without attracting a second glance. ‘I love that,’ she says. ‘I can go to shopping centres with my friends, sit in cafés, and I’m just another Liverpool girl. but everything changes if I go to a part of the country with a large Indian population. I can walk around London’s West End totally unnoticed, but if I went to, say, Tooting in South London – I’m not being big-headed, but there would definitely be a crowd of film fans within a short space of time.’
It is clear that India has made an indelible mark on this Liverpool lass. ‘I love India. It changed my life. but I want to see where things can go in Hollywood because that to me is a whole new adventure and I’m ready for it.’