SHE has been described as a ‘phenomenal new talent’ by a TV boss and on Saturday she will watched by millions on BBC One.

No pressure then for Gabriella Leon who is making her debut in a lead role in Casualty.

The former Priestley College student will be playing Jade and will form a comic partnership with Marty (EastEnders’ Shaheen Jafargholi) as two student nurses navigating their first months in the NHS.

Gabriella told Weekend: “I got the job in July so it’s been a long four months of being secretive. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone so it was a big relief and very nice when it all finally came out.

“I had my first auditions at the end of May and the beginning of June and then it was matter of weeks as I was on set for the first time in July. It works very quickly.”

Being secretive will continue to be part of Gabriella’s job though because episodes are filmed four months in advance – so she knows plotlines that will only be revealed to viewers in 2019.

The 22-year-old added: “You’ve always got to be careful about what you share but it’s an exciting thing.

“Jade adds a new flavour to the ED (emergency department). On Saturday you get to see her bolshie, chaotic self as she comes to terms with her surroundings.

“I haven’t really come to terms with the number of people who will see me on screen but it’s very exciting. It feels a bit like a lucid dream, a bit surreal.


“I’m a little bit nervous but it’s more an excitement to share my work with people. It’s my first TV job so this is a very different, new and special experience for me.

“I used to watch the show as a kid so it’s mad that I’m in that position now doing it. It’s been on TV for 32 years. I’ve wanted to act since I was a child so it just feels like one of the many achievements I’ve set myself.”

Gabriella said her teacher Mr Batt at Cardinal Newman RC High School was the ‘catalyst’ to her acting career and also praised Priestley College’s performing arts department for pushing students to their creative limits.

She said: “Mr Batt was like: ‘You should do this Gabs, you should be an actor’ and he was the one who sent me the application for the National Youth Theatre that gets you in for ensemble training and is a great experience.

“I did that when I was 14 and he was the reason I applied so I owe him a lot.”

After Priestley, Gabriella trained at E15 Acting School in Essex and she now has her own theatre company called Kilter.

Gabriella, who grew up in Stockton Heath, added: “I’ve only been out of drama school for a year and a half and have been doing loads of plays but when this audition came up for Casualty I read the casting breakdown and I was like: ‘I can do this’.

“It was very special. I got very excited by it. I do a lot of comedy for the stage. I wrote my own clown show called The Others and that was about three young people who don’t feel they make an impact on the world and that was set against the backdrop of Brexit.

“We had a sell-out run at Camden People’s Theatre so that was really exciting. I love theatre and TV. I don’t think you should ever choose.

“As an actor it’s important to be versatile. If you work hard enough and the roles become available you should absolutely go for it.”

Gabriella’s love of acting in all its forms must be shining through because she was described as a ‘phenomenal new talent and an utter joy as Jade’ by Simon Harper, executive producer of Casualty and Holby City.

She said: “It was very sweet of him. It puts the pressure on a tiny bit but it was very kind.”


So what was it like adapting to a TV set for the first time?

Gabriella added: “It’s funny, the transition from stage to screen is not as jarring or different as people may think it is. It’s like learning another language

“It’s just the technicality of it and being aware of different things you’re not usually aware of.

“So it was quite a smooth transition actually. I really enjoyed learning from people. The set itself is vast though. I got lost at least 30 times in my first week. It’s like a maze in there.”

Meanwhile Gabriella is planning a hospital-themed viewing party for the airing of her first episode on Saturday.

She said: “I’m not going to be back at home sadly. I’ll be in London but my best mates have arranged a little viewing party.

“We’re going to eat jelly beans from a jar labelled as antibiotics. I’m a very silly, playful person so I like doing silly things like that.

“The support I’ve also had from my family has been insane. I really feel like they’ve been on this journey with me. They’re super excited and they’re planning on having their own party. My mum said: ‘I’ve got the champagne in’. They’re very proud and I’m lucky to have that support network.”

Helen Lowe, who was Gabriella’s drama tutor at Priestley, added: “Right from the very beginning Gaby had the most incredible work ethic.

“She loved a challenge and was a real force in the class as well. She had high standards and was driven to help other students raise the standards of their work.

“She just had an incredible presence on stage. Everything she did she was totally focused and totally engaged in. She drew your eye when she was performing even if it was the smallest part. She was captivating.”

You can see Gabriella play Jade for the first time on Casualty at 8.35pm on Saturday