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Julia Sawhala in anti Esso demo
When Saffy was happy

It is two years since former Absolutely Fabulous star Julia Sawalha moved into a canal narrowboat with a group of other off-gridders and turned her back on her acting career.

She and her boyfriend eventually decamped to an idyllic woodland cottage with solar panels in deepest Somerset, eating home-grown veg around their woodburning stove.

But it seems that while you can take a woman out of showbusiness, you can’t take the showbusiness out of the woman. Miss Sawalha, 39, was tempted from her rural retreat by a plum role in the classic BBC series Cranford currently captivating the nation. And her relationship with ‘water gipsy’ Rich Annetts is over.

He has moved out of the cottage and is believed to have returned to his friends in the aquatic community.

Meanwhile Miss Sawalha’s agent Derek Webster confirmed: “She is working her socks off and doing fine. “She is on her own. She has got a cat and that’s it. She and Richard were together for a long while but it has run its course.”

Miss Sawalha, still best known for her role as Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, met Mr Annetts at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005.
The son of a mayor and a teacher, he had worked in the City but dropped out and spent his time in a river community, living with a bull terrier on a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal in Bath.

Miss Sawalha soon persuaded him to live on dry land and the couple moved to a remote property which Miss Sawalha renamed Flowers Cottage, with solar panels on the roof and woodburner in the cosy sitting room.

Her sister Nadia, also an actress, would joke that she had turned into Felicity Kendal of the Good Life. In recent months, Mr Annetts applied to the local authority to convert a stone barn on their land into a holiday home for ramblers and birdwatchers, to supplement the couple’s income.

In April, Miss Sawalha said: “I don’t miss London at all. I grow my own vegetables, I go to yoga classes and I’m also studying for an Open University English degree. “I have a beautiful life now. You have to take time out for yourself.”

She then landed the much sought after role of Jessie Brown in the dramatisation of Cranford, by Mrs Gaskell. And at that point, it seems, she and Mr Annetts began to drift apart. A friend said: “They no longer felt that they were going in the same direction.”

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