Bees and banter with lifelong friends Jane Horrocks and Esther Coles
- Credit: Archant
Podcast Queen Bees sees the Ab Fab star and fellow actress share gossip and updates on the bees Coles keeps on her allotment near Crouch End
When Esther Coles’ bees had to be destroyed earlier this year, she was devastated.
The north London actress was not just upset to lose her colony, but was about to start a podcast with lifelong friend Jane Horrocks based around “bee-keeping and a good old catch up”.
“It was tragic,” says Coles, who keeps bees on her allotment near Crouch End.
“The local bee inspector said European Fowlbreed disease had spread to north London, a lot of colonies had died and I had to destroy them. I started again with a package of bees.”
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While there aren’t enough bees this year to make honey, Coles says visiting the allotment has been “a godsend during lockdown”.
And she and Horrocks managed to record the podcasts from their separate homes.
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“Jane’s at home with a cup of tea while I am on the allotment telling her what’s happening. Then I go back home and my husband, who is a musician, sets me up with a mic and we sit and chat,” says Coles.
“It’s been a way of checking in with the bees but also with each other during lockdown. Jane has been on podcasts before but I’ve never done anything like this and it’s been so much fun.”
When lockdown eased, the Ab Fab star visited the allotment for a tea party - with honey sandwiches of course.
Just about to start its second series, Queen Bees celebrates the pair’s easy familiarity and good-humoured banter.
Past guests have included bee expert Alison Benjamin, and Muswell Hill comic Arabella Weir, with Highgate comic Paul Whitehouse on the November 20 episode.
In a recent Q&A, Horrocks named Coles as her ideal dinner party guest.
“We’ve known each other 25 years,” explains Coles.
“I was at RADA, she had left and was acting. I got a room in a flat in Gower Street and she was in the room opposite. She cooked Lancashire hot pot and left me her shower cap, that’s how we became friends.”
They appeared together as lovers in little known film Hunting Venus.
“We dressed up as New Romantics reliving the 80s and had to kiss each other. She said I kissed like a horse but how does she know what a horse kisses like?
“We are both very different but have similar interests - like lace - we like to look at tablecloths together. We have grown more friendly over the years and we always have such a lovely time together. The good thing about old friends is you can be yourself and say whatever you want.”
Coles feels “lucky” to have had her allotment for 14 years.
“I’ve become quite productive over the years, although I’m not very good at putting things in rows. It’s a lovely haven, beautiful leafy woodland, you can see Ally Pally in the distance. There’s so much biodiversity and a great community including a few of us keeping bees on an overgrown plot, who help each other out.”
Coles started beekeeping 12 years ago after winning a competition for tuition and equipment.
“It’s such a beautiful hobby, it’s about being in touch with nature and looking after something - like having a pet only you have 50,000 at a time. It starts you caring about all wildlife, thinking about flowers and other pollinators. I like the drama in it, which keeps me in the moment. I’m quite a sensitive person and I’m glad I’ve got my bees.”
The podcast touches on subjects from how different colonies of bees behave, to how they communicate and what happens when a queen is overthrown.
“Everyone’s interested. If you run out of conversation at a party you can talk about bees. There’s so much to talk about, this podcast could go on for 100 years.”
Series 2 of Queen Bees is available November 20 via acast and other podcast providers.