Bridgerton star Simone Ashley supports British South Asian creatives in new ‘Bold Steps’ campaign

Image of actress Simone Ashley

Simone Ashley, one of the stars of popular Netflix series Bridgerton and Sex Education is partnering with Johnnie Walker for its new ‘Bold Steps’ campaign.

The ‘Bold Steps’ campaign includes a short film directed by filmmaker Kajal and starring the actor, made in support of Diet Paratha’s Family Tree Mentoring (founded by Anita Chhiba) — a programme aimed at empowering the next generation of British South Asian talent looking to break into or advance in creative industries.

Ashley said: “I am proud to join Anita, Kajal and the Johnnie Walker team to lift up the community that I am part of — and to keep the door open for the people that follow. I was drawn to the ‘Bold Steps’ initiative as I know the power of seeing others who look like me at the table and in the room. I just remember speaking out loud for what felt like the first time about my own personal experiences, and what it is like to be a dark skinned woman and how I wanted to express this and the team just listened, related and they shared their own experiences,’.

The British-Indian actor has regularly highlighted the importance of South Asian representation, a community too often left out of the national cultural narrative. In a recent interview with ELLE, she said:

‘I want to use my voice to speak authentically about what representation means in this industry, as well as in my own career…But it’s really important to me that younger women who look like me, who are Indian, who are dark skinned like myself, feel seen – and like there is someone speaking up for them and that community in particular. I want to use my voice for setting a positive example that women like me are capable of fulfilling roles and positions within this industry and we do have a voice that needs to be heard. And to also have fun with it, celebrating my heritage and enjoying my career at the same time.’

The actor first appeared on our screens as Kate Sharma in Bridgerton, and for many, it was the first time seeing South Asian representation on such a big scale.

One particular scene between Kate and her younger sister Edwina (played by Charithra Chandran), was especially poignant for many fans due to its cultural significance:

She said: ‘This is something that I experienced in my childhood with my mum putting coconut oil in my hair. That scene was really nostalgic for me, and I never thought that I would be portraying that on screen. For many, seeing the most treasured parts of their culture acknowledged in a genre that usually excludes them was deeply moving. I was really proud to see people finding the joy and seeing a moment in my culture that related to them on screen’.

Simone has spoken on the importance of role models and how seeing other women of colour thriving and paving the way in the entertainment industry inspired her own journey.

She says: ‘I think it’s really important for the entertainment industry – especially for women of colour – to just be like, “Look, we’re a community, and let’s welcome each other in whether you’ve been in here for years, or if you’re new, or wherever you’ve come from, we’re here to do this together and to support each other. There’s a seat at the table for all of us…I always get asked, “Why is it important to see strong, independent women in film?” And I literally say, “Because they exist”.

In a recent interview with Vogue UK, Simone who was born to Indian Tamil parents, revealed that she has faced challenges in her career because of her appearance (having dark skin and curly hair) not fitting eurocentric beauty standards. Challenges she has managed to overcome, nonetheless, and with a deep sense of pride for her culture and background.

She said: ‘I’m sure it was restrictive. Things have taken me longer than other young actors who maybe don’t have the same restrictions. But I never surrendered to it. I remember being a kid and people saying certain things that make you really aware of the colour of your skin. I remember seeing those Fair & Lovely [lightening] creams — they smelt so good, like baby powder, but I didn’t understand what they were. Now I’m like, ‘Wow. That’s messed up.’ But I adore the colour of my skin. I always have… it’s about normalising dark skin and curly hair for girls who need to see that normalised.’

Simone hopes to continue to use her voice and platform to give much needed hope and inspiration for future generations of South Asian creatives and to help close the gap for South Asian representation on screen and within the mainstream media.

Find out more about Diet Paratha and the work they are doing here.

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