INTERVIEW: Spotlight On… Actor & activist Leila Crerar

In Cabaret, Features, Interviews, London theatre, Opinion by Helen McWilliamsLeave a Comment

Stage and screen actor Leila Crerar, whose most recent theatre credits include Nora in A Doll’s House at Sherman Cymru and Othello for Frantic Assembly, is behind the charity Wifi4Refugees, which is holding a fundraising night of music, comedy, poetry, photography, films, talks and a live auction on 6 December 2016 at London’s Rich Mix Shoreditch.

Wifi4Refugees is supported by people in the arts including Mark Rylance, Sara Pascoe, Dan Gillespie, Jaime Winston, author Khaled Husseini, comedien Mae Martin, David Schwimmer (to name a few). These and others will be attending, performing and/or donating to the auction.

The charity supports refugees in Northern France and beyond by providing them with vital WIFI (via The Refugee Info Bus – a horse box converted into a tech hub!). Their next goal is to fund a new tech hub for refugees in Greece. Wifi and access to information is certainly something I certainly take for granted!

I chatted to Leila about her fundraising venture…

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Leila. What can people expect from the event?
It’s going to be a really exciting night of comedy, music, poetry and film. We have award winning comedian Mae Martin performing and emceeing. Music from Dan Gillespie Sells, fresh from his UK tour with The Feeling, Lyndsey Marshal currently staring in cinemas opposite Michael Fassbender will be reading poetry written by refugees. We have some guest speakers including ex residence of the refugee camp in Calais, and World Wide Tribe…and more exciting guest to be announced. There is a live auction with lots from Mark Rylance, Steven Berkoff, Khaled Hosseini, Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) Jaime Winstone…some of whom will be coming along. So I’m pretty excited about it.

How did you become involved?
I had never run a marathon, collected for a charity or done any thing to raise money before I set out to Calais with my friend Nicky and a van of Two-Thousand-Pounds ASDA food shop. I was really nervous about asking for money, but I was blow away by how quickly and generously people gave. In less than a week we had two-thousand-pounds, which I suddenly realized was quite a big food shop! We spent a hilarious morning at ASDA warehouse in Enfield, while ten jolly staff members loaded two-thousand-pounds worth of tinned fish, olive oil, and sacks of rice, followed by lots of jokes about my large appetite.

We nervously set out for Calais the next day, I didn’t plan on doing more than dropping the food off and volunteering for a week, but nothing prepared me for that first visit to the ‘Jungle’, and how haunted I would become by what I saw. That was the start of UAidRefugees, essentially the idea of it being YOU Aid Refugees (You the donors) who are directly helping, I wanted to people to feel empowered to get involved. I told everyone “I will go, but we are all doing this together.” I then started a blog, continued to raise over ten-thouasand, set up small teams of people collecting shoes, clothes, tents, blankets, food and mobile phones. It got to a point when you could hardly squeeze through my hallway for bin bags. I took the donations, regularly to Calais, along with carloads of volunteers. I also created a sound installation project ‘Voice From Across the Water’ for the Barbican Papers festival, which involved listening to recordings of refugees telling their stories. One day during all this, I watched my Syrian friend squat between two shelters. “The only place you can get a signal, sometimes, if you’re lucky,” he told me, as he attempted to retrieve emails from his wife and two small children whom he had not seen in three years. There was no access to internet in the camp. I began looking at Wifi options-at the same time I heard about a new project, The Refugee Info Bus. Two long-term volunteers Rowan Farrel and Sarah Story, where converting a Horse-Box into a mobile tech hub, complete with laptops, charging stations, a printer and Wifi accessed from a retractable mast. Myself and World Wide Tribe immediately collaborated to get Wifi into the bus, and soon thousands had access to the internet. We are now raising money for a new bus for the refugee camps in Greece, so I have organized Wifi 4 Refugees fundraising event, by calling on my acting community for help, it’s been really heart warming how much support I have been given from Mark Rylance, David Schwimmer, Zoe Wanamaker, Khaled Hosseini, Steven Berkoff, Natasha Khan, Jaime Winstone among others. I am very excited about the event on the 6th Dec.

You are a well known face from our television screens, what has been the highlight of your on screen career, so far? 

Probably Mr Selfridge last year. When I left drama school I was in BBC drama series, Belonging for three years, and on Mr Selfridge I really enjoyed being part of team again, I made some great friends.

What was it like to join the cast of Mr Selfridge?

I loved it. It was funny because I got very excited about all the costumes when I turned up, then they showed me what I was wearing. I was not playing a glamorous character and basically got given a smock to wear. But I really enjoyed filming this over the summer last year, and met some wonderful people.

What led you to a performing career?

I knew when I was very young I wanted to be an actor. When I was six there was a film crew shooting something in my local Welsh valley, and they came round to ask about locations, apparently I kept walking in and out of the room acting out various mines, I remember being gutted they hadn’t ask me to be in the film. I was very lucky to have one of the countries leading youth theatre’s on my doorstep, Mid Powys Youth Theatre. My first stage performance was with MPYT on the Olivia stage at the National Theatre. I was 12 years old and I remember looking out at a thousand people, I was hook after that.

What are your career ambitions? 

There are a whole host of incredible roles I would still like to play for stage. Including some of the big male Shakespeare roles, cross casting is becoming not just a wishful dream, especially with so many incredible female directors at the helm of lots of the big theatres now, so I think there is an impetuous to explore cross casting more than before. But I also have a burning ambition to tackle a great film role. I love filming, after so many years on the stage, I find the challenges of it exciting.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket to the Wifi4Refugees event? 

It’s going to be such a fun evening, I’m thrilled to have so many talented people supporting us, the night is going to be really special! And the tickets are not expensive for the entertainment available. None of us are paid to do this, so every penny raised will go directly to helping refugees connect with their families. It’s going to be cracking party.

Huge thanks to Leila for a great interview and this sounds like an incredible cause! Best of luck!

Wifi4Refugees Event is on the 6th Dec at the Rich Mix, Shoreditch, London at 7pm. BOOK TICKETS:


Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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