From their Clapham home, Sam Scott Thomas and Bertie Portal manage a huge number of challenges every week. Sam’s two sons, Tommy and Jacob appear regularly from boarding school, and fill the house with noise, dirty clothes and laughter. Sam is also part of the hugely successful team at Northcote Road’s the Painthouse, which has just opened a second shop bang opposite the first one. Meanwhile Bertie is a successful actor who has taken on two of the most gruelling challenges out there to raise money for those less fortunate than himself as well as having an impressive resume of films as diverse as ‘My Week with Marilyn’, ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Iron Lady’ and numerous stage performances, including his particular favourite, ‘Tom and Viv’
When they got together nearly five years ago, Bertie was already committed to the first and possibly the most gruelling of the two charity fundraisers he has taken on since they met. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge certainly took its toll, and Bertie says that he couldn’t have done it without Sam.
‘I told her on our first date that I was rowing the Atlantic and asked whether she would take it on…she said yes but I’m not sure even now if she knew what a big thing it was.’
Bertie finished the crossing with his friend James Cash in April 2012 after a row of 3000 miles from La Gomera to Barbados. They faced down 60 foot waves, equipment malfunction, and even capsized. After sixty three days at sea they had raised £400,000 for Facing the World, the charity set up by actress Natascha McElhone’s late husband Martin Kelly to provide facial reconstruction to children in developing countries.
He describes the preparation for his latest venture as a ‘breeze’ as this time he has no equipment to prepare, supplies to put together or skills to learn. This time, he just has to run 250kms in temperatures of up to 120 degrees farenheit, across salt pans and desert in the world’s toughest race, the Marathon des Sables. This extraordinary enterprise, which he has been training for ever since he took four weeks off after the Atlantic crossing, is a test of endurance of a different kind, and as Bertie is training in the UK the temperatures are surely going to come as a shock.
‘I have run in the heat once or twice’ he says, ‘I prefer it actually, as you can hydrate yourself and my water will be on my back. It will be fine.’ He doesn’t seem to countenance failure, which is a fantastic quality.
As if all this was not enough, Bertie did a lot of his training while filming with Mike Leigh last year in a film about the painter Turner. As well as learning to paint he jumped onto an exercise bike between takes. It is an amazing attitude, and one which has come into play this year while Sam fought her own endurance battle, with breast cancer. Sam credits Bertie with helping her through the whole experience, and she seems to share his fierce desire not to give in. She had her last op a few weeks ago, but has already been back at work, and has started a Facebook initiative called Breast Aware, to encourage women to check their breasts regularly as she is very keen to help other women avoid what happened to her.
Sam says her family has been wonderfully supportive, encouraging and supporting her throughout. Acting is at the fore in her family too, with two famously thespian sisters, Kristin and Serena, and now as well as her sporty son Tommy, she has Jacob who seems to have inherited the artistic gene.