IT is fair to say that Dawn Steele is a straight talker. Whether extolling the joys of cold-water swimming or discussing how having a stroke in her late 30s changed her outlook on life, the Glasgow-born actor speaks with unwavering candour.

Steele, 46, has become a familiar face on TV over the past two decades, from her early roles in Monarch of the Glen and Sea of Souls to garnering high-profile parts in Wild at Heart, River City and, until earlier this year, Holby City.

Most recently, she has been gracing our screens in the BBC Scotland crime drama Granite Harbour, which was filmed in Glasgow.

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Set in Aberdeen, the three-part series centres on a new Police Scotland recruit, Lance Corporal Davis Lindo (Romario Simpson). The trainee detective constable is thrown in at the deep end with his first case as he investigates the murder of a well-known figure in the oil industry.

Steele stars alongside rising acting talents Simpson and Hannah Donaldson, as well as Gary Lewis, Fiona Bell and Ron Donachie. As DCI Cora MacMillan, the formidable “boss” of the police operation, her character is tasked with keeping the wildcard Lindo in check.

“She likes him and wants to give him a chance,” says Steele. “He is very impulsive and works in a different way to how detectives are trained. He is in over his head, and she has to keep him in line. It does turn out to be a slightly grumpy DCI role …”

As research for the part, the actor picked the brains of a real-life police detective – a woman whose daughter goes to the same dancing class as Steele’s 11-year-old daughter Coco.

“It was brilliant to chat to her, even seeing the way she dresses and behaves – a woman in a man’s world working her way to the top. There was quite a lot she couldn’t tell me. She was being very secretive. I would be like: ‘And …’ but she would say, ‘I can’t tell you …’

“It was interesting speaking to her about what a DCI does. It is quite a management role. It is like in any industry, the higher up you go, the further away from the actual crime scene you are.”

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Filming for Granite Harbour (Image: Newsquest)

This is something Steele could relate to as her Granite Harbour character was largely office-bound throughout the series. “I think I left the office once to go to a graveyard,” she laughs. “That was it. The exterior of the police department was in Aberdeen, but the interior was filmed in a studio in Glasgow. That was a bit of a bummer because they [her cast-mates] all got to go up to Aberdeen.”

Steele, who now lives in Whitstable, Kent, enjoyed filming in her hometown of Glasgow, taking the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, as well as reconnect with familiar faces within the industry.

“I will always work in Scotland,” she says. “I love it because it is home and I know everyone. It is nice because you walk onto a set and there are so many crew who have been part of your life over the years – our lighting guy Stuart was on Monarch of the Glen with me.”

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During her career, Steele has variously turned her hand to such roles as a Highland estate housekeeper, a paranormal investigator, a vet and a doctor. Granite Harbour allowed her to finally tick “police detective” off the acting bucket list. “I suppose that is why I wanted to do it,” she muses. “I thought, ‘I have never played a detective before. It will be cool.’”

That said, as a rule, crime drama isn’t her bag. “I wouldn’t say I am not a fan – it’s just not my thing,” says Steele. “My brain doesn’t work that way. There were even points in this script where I was like, ‘Right, hold on. What is happening?’ I don’t tend to watch lots of crime dramas.”

But she has dipped a toe into the genre over the years. “I don’t read lots of crime, but I did do a Peter James play. I love Denise Mina and I loved her Garnethill book series. I remember getting in touch with her and saying, ‘If this is ever made for TV, I want to play the lead part.’

“I might be a bit old for it now as it was written quite a while ago, but I know Denise was trying to get that made for years. That would be amazing to see on screen.

“I liked watching Rebus when Ken Stott was doing that. I had a part in Case Histories which I loved. So, when I say I am not into it, maybe I am a bit more than I think?”

What makes Steele tick? Here we dig into her life and loves. Buckle up …

The books that changed her life

In a 2006 interview with The Herald Magazine, Steele listed Armistead Maupin, David Nicholls and Zadie Smith as being among her favourite authors. “I still have all those on my bookshelf and I can’t wait until my daughter reads them,” she says, fondly.

“I read a lot. I have a book group and I do my own reading as well. One of my recent favourites is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I am on a real Maggie O’Farrell run at the moment – I just finished another of her books yesterday.

“I love her writing. Hamnet has stayed with me. I think about it most days. I found it so moving how she depicted grief. The Royal Shakespeare Company is doing it next year at Stratford-upon-Avon. I am excited to see how they bring it to the stage.

“I also loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have recently gotten into John Boyne. I could talk about books forever. My daughter is reading Judy Blume at the moment. I bought her Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and she read it in a day.”

Overcoming adversity

“I don’t personally have a motto or philosophy,” says Steele. “But one that continually rings in my ears is something my mum says and that is ‘what is for you will not go by you.’

“It is hard getting your head around that as an actor. You are continually looking ahead because that is the way our industry works. You are always like, ‘What’s next? What is the next job? What is the next income? What is the next challenge?’

“I do think sometimes that things happen for a reason. I had a stroke in 2014. It turned out to be absolutely fine – I had a little procedure to correct everything – but it stopped me working for a while.”

Steele is sanguine as she reflects now. “I didn’t die. I could have been learning how to walk again. I could have lost my speech. It could have been horrendous. It turned out I had a hole in my heart that I have had since I was born but didn’t know about and that’s what caused the stroke.”

She believes that when life jumps the tracks, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “What’s for you, will not go by you,” reiterates Steele. “Things happen and they take you to different places. If I hadn’t had that happen to me, I wouldn’t have gone to River City and then, from that, I got Holby City.

“These things have a way of working themselves out; you have got to trust the universe. But it is difficult, especially when you need money to pay the mortgage – the universe isn’t going to do that.”

Best advice received

“When I was doing Monarch of the Glen, we would all go shopping in Inverness on our day off,” she recalls. “I remember Alastair [Mackenzie] and I buying MiniDisc players. Richard Briers said, ‘Don’t spend your money when you are working; keep your money for when you are not working.’

“God rest his soul, he was right. But, of course, I have never been able to do that. In this job, it is feast or famine. As soon as you’re working, you are like, ‘Oh great, I have a bit of money …’ forgetting that you might have 12 weeks of unemployment at the end of it.”

A passion for adventure

“I do cold-water swimming,” says Steele. “I am lucky enough to live across the road from the beach and I swim there. I started in February two years ago and have been doing it ever since, in every weather and with no wetsuit.

“It has changed my life. I feel clearer, calmer and that the world is fine again. There is also that whole sense of braveness about it.

“People say, ‘You’re mad!’ and shout things when they see you in the sea, whereas I think, ‘You’re mad for not trying it.’ Because it is brilliant. I have met such a great group of women. We all went on a swimming weekend to Norfolk. There were eight of us and we got a big cottage.

“When I was up doing Granite Harbour, I did manage to do a little dip with [fellow actor] Julie Wilson Nimmo at Luss. She is into her cold-water swimming too.”

Granite Harbour concludes on BBC Scotland, Thursday, 10pm and BBC One Scotland, Friday, 8pm. Watch all episodes now on BBC iPlayer.