‘Three Little Birds’ interview: Saffron Coomber plays Chantrelle in ’50s Windrush drama

Three Little Birds is airing on Sunday nights this autumn!

Set in the late 1950s, the six-part mini-series comes from writer Sir Lenny Henry (The Long Song, Chef) and the producers of The Good Karma Hospital.

Three Little Birds is inspired by Henry’s mother’s journey to Britain as part of the Windrush generation.

The new period drama follows Chantrelle‘s dreams of stardom, and her job as a live in nanny to a respectable British family living close to the famous film studios in Borehamwood, is just the ticket to fame that she craves.

As the scales fall from her eyes, Chantrelle discovers the devastating truth about this ‘respectable’ family and that the short-cut route to stardom is a million miles away from her reality.

Three Little Birds continues in the UK at 8pm on Sunday nights on ITV1, with all six episodes streaming now on ITVX.

The series is set to debut on BritBox in the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Nordics in 2024.

Here, actress Saffron Coomber (Small Axe, EastEnders) chats playing Chantrelle, and her own grandparents’ journey:


Can you outline your character for us?

“Chantrelle is this bright young thing coming over from Jamaica. She’s the sister of Leah (played by Rochelle Neil) and Aston (played by Javone Prince) and the friend of Hosanna (played by Yazmin Belo). She dreams of being a movie star.

“That is her intention when she comes over to England. She is vibrant, full of life, up for a good time, let the good times roll kind of chick. I love her!”


What are Chantrelle’s expectations when she comes to England?

“It’s very different to what she thought it would be.

“A lot of people in Jamaica were fed the line that it’s the motherland, that they can’t wait to have you, that the streets are paved with gold – that kind of thing.

“I think she was really expecting her dreams to come true. The way she’s going to support herself in England is as a live-in nanny for a well to do middle class family who live in Borehamwood.

“Her plan was to work as a nanny for a little bit and save her pennies. But then, being right next to the film studio, she would go and smash a film audition and get straight into stardom. That was genuinely her plan. She didn’t think that it would go any other way.”


Can you expand on that?

“Particularly being a fairer skinned person in Jamaica, Chantrelle would have been used to being treated a certain way and to being celebrated because people tend to think that she’s quite pretty – I’ll leave that there!

“She’s used to getting her own way. She’s used to life working for her. So it’s a great surprise when she comes over and encounters racism and discrimination and works for a family who think she’s stupid.

“It’s a classic thing. She’s not used to being treated like a second-class citizen. So when she does go to Borehamwood, it does not go her way.”


What happens next?

“Chantrelle quickly realises that she could have all of the talent in the world, but at the end of the day, if she looks the way that she does, then it’s not going to happen for her in England.

“It’s a tough lesson to learn, but she’s really humbled when she comes to England because this is something she has been dreaming of.

“She’s a very proactive person, she makes life happen. But that next step didn’t happen in the way that that she had hoped it would.”


How does she react then?

“She does go into a depression. It breaks her spirit being over here. But her friends and family and the community that has been built over here help her through it.

“She finds a way. She is not the same at the end of the series as she was at the beginning, but I love that. I think it’s really important you see her mature.”


How close is Chantrelle’s relationship to Leah?

“Leah genuinely is her hero. Chantrelle hasn’t really had that many friends. I do think that she was bullied when she was younger, particularly because of how she looked. But Leah was always there. She was always her saviour.

“Leah would stand up to anyone who came and threatened Chantrelle. So she is very used to being protected by her big sister. I feel that Leah is almost like a second mother to Chantrelle. Sometimes that’s to the detriment of Chantrelle, but she knows that Leah will always have her back.

“She knows her big sister will always protect her and be there for her. They butt heads sometimes. It’s a typical big sister-little sister dynamic. Chantrelle says, “I want to be free and go crazy.” But Leah tells her, “What are you doing? Please think about it.”

“So tensions come to head sometimes, but at the core of it is so much love. It’s like the only friend Chantrelle has ever had is her big sister. At the heart of it, she adores her.”


Were you already familiar with the struggles that this generation faced?

“Absolutely. My grandparents came over from Jamaica at around the same time. I owe everything to them. I wouldn’t be sitting here without them taking that leap of faith.

“I’ve always been very interested in family history anyway. I love asking my elders about what it was like, about what memories they have, and not just about the 50s.

“For instance, I love asking my aunties about what blues parties were like in the 70s. That’s definitely a real passion of mine. I like knowing where I’ve come from.

“I think it’s really important to understand the legacy that is gifted to us by our family, even if sometimes I never met those relatives.”


Tell us more about what they accomplished…

“I think my grandparents were definitely tough as old boots, and they never lost their accent. I used to ask them a lot: “Did you miss home? And what made you want to come over here?”

“After seeing this, I just hope people ask more questions about that time because it’s fascinating, and there’s a wealth of joy and sorrow and real life to be discovered if people are curious about it.

“It’s a subject that is really close to my heart. It definitely deserves exploration. And it definitely deserves celebration.”


Do you feel proud about what your forebears achieved?

“Absolutely. I am so proud, I could burst with it. I think it takes such bravery to leave everything to take that leap of faith and come over here.

“It takes so much faith to do what my grandparents did, what my aunties did, and what so many countless people did in the hope that something might be better.

“They were genuinely explorers. They were adventurers. They were pioneers in a way that I think we take for granted now.

“Look how accessible things are these days. If we want to see what a random street look looks like on the other side of the world, we can go on Google Maps.

“Back then people were really operating blind or operating from what they had been told, which is that England his this beautiful country full of flowers and roses and justice.

“They were told that not only is it beautiful, but it’s a land of opportunity where you will be able to build a life for yourself. It must have sounded like an Eden.”


Can you elaborate on that?

“Lord knows, my family went through a lot, and not just my family, of course. I have a lot of sorrow for them.

“My nan had dreams that she wanted to achieve and wasn’t able to because of the time that she was born in, and it was the same for my granddad.

“But they lived their life, they fought their way and made their life over here, so that I could have my dreams. That legacy is something that I am so grateful for.

“I am unendingly proud of what they did, so that I could thrive. I’m so indebted to them.”


Sir Lenny Henry’s memoir Who Am I, Again? is available on Amazon.