British actress Sophie Ward is a woman who has always been ahead of the curve.
Born in 1964, the daughter of actor parents, she began acting lessons as a small child, and by the age of 10 had her first professional role in a British television play. In 1994, Ward starred in a TV adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s novel A Village Affair, about a married woman with children who falls in love with another woman. And in December 1996 — at a time when Ellen DeGeneres was still in the closet — Ward caused a tabloid uproar in Britain by coming out as a lesbian herself.
Ward and her partner, Korean-American writer Rena Brannan, had a wedding ceremony in 2000, before same-sex civil partnerships were legalized in Britain. Currently, Ward is a patron of the GLBT support organization London Friend.
But Ward did not always know she was gay. At 23 she married a man she had met at 19, and became stepmother to a son from his previous marriage. It wasn’t until her late 20s that she began to grapple with the possibility that she might be a lesbian.
Around this time, she was offered a television role that she felt passionate about, as Alice Jordan in A Village Affair. The role was and remains the only gay one that she has played, although Ward admits, laughing, “People who know me have looked at my work and said ‘Well, you were gay in that, too.’ But officially, that’s the only time.”
She says that she didn’t feel nervous about taking the role. "I read the book [on which the adaptation was based], and of course I knew it had so much truth in it. So I absolutely was drawn," she said. "I mean, you know, it’s not very often you get asked to do something where you think straight away ‘Oh, well this is actually really interesting, because I know this. This is true.’”
Ward continues: “There wasn’t a lot of television at that time that was featuring lesbian stories, particularly anything that had some grounding in reality. A Village Affair wasn’t just about, you know, beautiful women kissing each other necessarily, it was about some of the pain about coming out and being who you are, and trying to figure it all out.”
The program was groundbreaking for its time, and featured a hopeful ending of sorts for Alice. But it would not show her living happily ever after with her female lover, Clodagh (played by Kerry Fox).
“There’s so much sackcloth and ashes surrounding lesbian love stories,” Ward says, and admits that the ending of A Village Affair, in which Alice decides to give Clodagh up, does not makes sense to her. “I must say, I still don’t understand why they didn’t stay together,” she says with a laugh. “It seemed like they were going to have a great time. Clodagh had all these plans for a farmhouse in France, and I thought ‘That sounds amazing!’
I used to have a lot of conversations with Kerry saying ‘Well why? Why isn’t my character just saying ‘That sounds fantastic!’”