When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early March, former nurse Helen Behan knew that she couldn’t sit back and watch. Instead, she joined the thousands of people who returned to the health service to help cope with the virus.
The thing that sets the Co. Meath woman apart from her colleagues was the fact that during her stint working in the COVID-19 Assessment Unit in Drogheda, she found out that she had been nominated for a best supporting actress gong at both the British Academy Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) and an Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA).
Helen had taken a break from nursing after she suddenly found herself catapulted into the world of acting, earning herself rave reviews along the way.
Although she missed out on the awards at the BAFTAs and last weekend’s IFTAs, she said she still can’t believe she had been nominated alongside the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and Naomi Ackie.
“It felt very surreal attending the BAFTA ceremony virtually. However it was the perfect way to absorb everything about it and it probably ended up giving me more time to meet my fellow nominees which may not have happened on the night! It was a lot of fun and it was nice to do all the press from the comfort of my home,” said Helen.
Helen, who has four children, worked as a nurse but had always wanted to try acting.
She was in a pub in her native Bettystown when she met famous English TV director Shane Meadows, who was there on holidays. She got chatting to him and bluntly asked him for a role in one of his programmes. He asked her for her details and she ended up in the Channel 4 production ‘This is England’.
More television parts followed before Helen landed a lead role in the critically acclaimed Channel 4 drama ‘The Virtues’ starring alongside Stephen Graham.
Helen was at back home in Bettystown when the pandemic hit in March.
“The reason I went back to work during the pandemic is that when a national call was put out for staff I felt compelled to help because I could. They were and are frightening times and I was in a position to do something positive, to help in some way, and so all the health care professionals I know put themselves forward,” she said.
“I was, of course, apprehensive about going into an unknown potentially dangerous environment but once I saw how well organised our area was and that all the necessary PPE was in place, I felt very reassured. Working in the hub was a great experience in that we were doing something positive, helping in a crisis.”
It was just before she started a shift in the hub that she learned that she had been nominated for a BAFTA.
“The news about the BAFTA came as a total shock. I woke up that morning to a tonne of messages and that was how I found out. I was about as useful to them that day as an ashtray on a motorbike so, fair play to them, they let me off a bit early to go celebrate so I was absolutely delighted,” she joked, adding that she still had to pinch herself to believe it.
“For somebody like me who came into it the irregular way that I have, it really is such an honour to be in that category.”
Helen has since finished up her stint in the COVID-19 Assessment Unit and has already filmed her next role. It may well have been her farewell to her nursing career.
“I have worked in many areas of nursing over the years, most recently as a GP practice nurse, and that was a great job. Now however I’m filming most of my time and I’m hoping that there won’t be anymore national calls for healthcare professionals to return to work, as rewarding as it was,” said Helen.
“Nursing has been a great chapter of my life but now my career path has totally changed. I love being an actor and the constant new challenges that brings.”