Actress Carol Drinkwater stumbled upon her passion for olives, and once discovered there was no stopping.
The British artist has worked in film, television and theater and is best known for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small. Straight out of drama school Drinkwater took on a part in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
When she bought her 10-acre property in 1986, the villa was rundown and the abandoned land was vastly overgrown but while clearing it two years later she discovered sixty-eight, four-hundred-year-old trees growing on the hillside among the dry stoned wall terraces.
Captivated, she boldly embarked on an olive adventure in the South of France and she faced head-on the challenges, trials and tribulations of learning the complex business of growing olives and producing olive oil.
Her aim was to produce the best olive oil possible. But this olive oil expert is an actress at heart, an artist eager to learn and to share her knowledge and passion. Today she is working on a film documentary series entitled The Olive Route.
Drinkwater said that all started with questions: Where did the olive trees first come from? Is there an olive route?
“I set up a meeting with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, with the cultural director, and proposed myself for the role of ‘seeker of the ancient journeys, she who will find answers.’ I wanted to unearth this tree’s history. I had made up my mind that I would go in search of the plant’s mysteries, its ancient heritage and track some of its original routes from wild tree to cultivation.”
Driven by her love of olives, she set off on a historical journey which took her in search of the routes that olive cultivation has taken over the years, meeting and sharing her passion: people like Salah, the guardian of the olive tree in a village near Bethlehem, two olive groves in Lebanon more than 6,000 years old and still producing fruit, and the remarkable discovery that the oldest olive trees are in Mount Lebanon.
The olive route stretches from Northern Syria to Gibraltar, some of it covering dangerous terrain. She found herself sometimes in war zones, she wore a burka when she had to, her backpack weighted down with a camera and laptop.
Drinkwater spent sixteen months travelling solo around the Mediterranean to Spain, Morocco, Algeria and Italy gathering information for her latest books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree.
She and her husband, the French TV producer Michel Noll, are now preparing the ten-part documentary film series set around the Mediterranean. “I am working on the narration of the films which will go out soon to the different networks,” she said.
The first film of the series called The Holy Land and the Olive Tree is set in Jerusalem and the West Bank featuring a 5,000 year-old tree.
“Before my 18 months of travel, I spent 6 years making contacts. When I got there I just went with the flow. I met people who led me to other people; the network of contacts was phenomenal,” she said. She added that International Olive Council Director Jean-Louis Barjol was very helpful when they met in Madrid.
Carol Drinkwater is a bestselling author of 6 memoirs sharing her passion for olives and olive oil and the effect it had on her life, starting from the time she first acquired her olive grove.