Former Emmerdale actress Anna Nightingale has opened up on welcoming her beautiful baby daughter to the world.
The star, who played the ITV soap’s Andrea Tate, is still in a happy baby bubble as we chat to her and her fiancé Daren Dixon. But she’s eager to relive her birthing experience for OK! readers, revealing why she chose to have Beyoncé playing when Ava made her entrance. Sign up below – for free! – to read Anna's interview and see all the beautiful pictures from her shoot with baby Ava.
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When we sit down to chat with former Emmerdale actress Anna Nightingale and fiancé Daren Dixon, it’s just weeks after the birth of their second child and the family are clearly well in the swing of things.
Anna says it’s “all going well” as she breastfeeds adorable Ava Noëlle – who weighed in at 7lb 2oz at 10.42am on 1 December in King’s College Hospital, South London.
Daren says Ava is a ravenous tot and “just wants mummy” at the moment – but the couple joke about juggling their new responsibilities.
And their bliss is obvious as Anna, 30, adds, “I’m a lot more relaxed than I was the first time around.”
As with their daughter Autumn, four, Anna had Ava by C-section. But she tells us this time, she and Daren felt “braver” during the birth and asked to see a lot more. “I remember Ava coming out whereas with Autumn it was all a bit of a blur,” she says.
And Ava came into the world with a very fitting soundtrack – Beyoncé’s ultimate girl power anthem, Run The World (Girls), was playing!
Here, Anna and Daren – who works in talent management and brand partnerships – tell us all about the experience and how life has been since taking Ava back to their South London home. They also update us on their wedding plans and reveal how Anna is looking forward to arranging a playdate with her Emmerdale pal Amy Walsh…
Hi, both! Firstly, congratulations! How are you doing? Is anyone in the house sleeping?
Anna: Daren doesn’t sleep much anyway. I’m amazed by how little sleep he survives on! Because I’m breastfeeding at the moment, I’m taking it all as it comes. My saving grace is a cup of tea in the morning. Daren appears like a mirage on the horizon [laughs]. We’ll swap over as she gets a bit older.
It sounds like you’re a pretty hands-on dad, Daren?
Daren: I just think that’s how it should be – 50/50. That’s how I was raised. Help out where you can and go to sleep when you can!
What’s it like finally having Ava Noëlle in your arms?
Daren: She’s a little treasure. She’s come at the perfect time, when everything is a bit uncertain. To be locked away in our little bubble focusing on her is a joy.
Anna: For me, it’s been nice to experience it all again. The first time around I was like a rabbit in the headlights.
So it feels different?
Anna: I learnt so much from Autumn and I’m using that knowledge now. Things like taking everything a day at a time and asking for help. It’s not easy but you find moments of joy in each day.
Who is it that you reach out to for help and advice?
Daren: We’re blessed to have a big family we can call on. Both our mums and dads play massive roles.
What have the early days with Ava been like?
Anna: We’re just getting to know her. We held off on naming her, actually. We had ideas but we wanted to learn more about her first. She looks like an Ava though.
Daren: We wanted an olde worlde name – something that wasn’t super-modern. There are a couple of producers and directors who we respect, like Ava DuVernay, who inspired us.
Anna: It also makes me think of old Hollywood. It’s got that undertone of old glamour about it.
Anna: We went back and forward with options but as soon as I knew it was 1 December, I was rooting for Noëlle. You start to feel Christmassy at that time and hopefully every year it’ll be the start of that festive feeling.
Daren: I tried to call her Winter.
Anna: I was just like, ‘“We cannot have an Autumn and a Winter!”
How did this birth compare with the first?
Daren: With Autumn everything was new but with Ava we knew what to expect, so I felt like everything was in clear focus.
Anna: We both felt braver as well. We asked to see a bit more this time around.
I remember Ava coming out, whereas with Autumn it was all a bit of a blur.
How did it feel when you saw Ava for the first time?
Daren: I was just so grateful.
Anna: We couldn’t wait to see what she looked like – whether she would look a lot like Autumn, or if she’d be more like Mummy or Daddy. She started crying when they put her on the scales but she was happy when she came out and she looked like a little old soul the moment we laid eyes on her. It was amazing.
What was the birth like?
Anna: Fortunately, everything went well throughout the pregnancy but I started getting pains around the previous scar site – I delivered Autumn by C-section as she was breech. Ava was head-down, so the doctors said it was up to me. I wanted to go for more of a natural birth but I thought, “Just go with what your body is telling you.”
In the end we went for a Caesarean, as Ava went past her due date. She was delivered by an all-female team who played Run The World (Girls) by Beyoncé as they brought our little girl into the world. To this day, I’ve never had my waters break or had contractions. As long as your baby gets here safely, though, that’s all that matters.
Definitely. How was it for you, Daren?
Anna: He’s not keen on needles but he was right in the mix!
Daren: It was fascinating and something I’ll treasure forever. I saw it all [laughs]!I was a lot braver than I usually am. Blood and all of that is not for me, so I’m surprised I didn’t faint.
Did you know you were having a girl?
Daren: We did. I didn’t want to know but Anna insisted. To be totally honest, I don’t think it can be a surprise for anyone any more unless you don’t go to the scans. They’re all 3D and 4D, and you’d have to be an idiot not to know what gender the child is.
Were there tears at the birth?
Daren: Yeah, she looked so much like Autumn but still her own little character. I’ve always been like, “I could never love a little girl as much as we love Autumn,” but you develop a whole new bottle of love when another comes along. She’s brilliant, even though she eats all the time. She just wants Mummy at the moment.
Anna: Your time will come, Daren, don’t worry!
How is feeding going, Anna?
Anna: I’m breastfeeding and luckily it’s going well. I give credit to myself for that but also to Ava. You’ve got to persevere. It’s a beautiful time but as a new mum there’s a lot that you go through.
Do you ever worry about the “mum police” on social media, Anna?
Anna: I have it in the back of my mind that people might say something but I’ve got so much support around me, and at the end of the day everyone is going to have an opinion. All I can do is try my best and shrug it off.
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Good for you. How’s the recovery going this time?
Anna: I’ve felt a lot more alert much quicker. I’m healing well, getting back on my feet – literally! I felt like I could go for a walk after just a couple of days.
That’s amazing! Does it feel like your family is complete now?
Daren: It felt complete before. I never want Autumn to feel like we were incomplete after having her. We were totally happy. This is an extra blessing. We’re just trying to make our little bubble as happy as can be. Don’t get me wrong, having two young children is not easy. You need teamwork and you have those moments where you think, “What are we doing?” But the bottom line is that we love them to bits and we’ll always make it work.
Anna: Like Daren said, we felt like a complete family before and if we couldn’t have had any more kids our family would’ve been 100% whole. But for Autumn to have a sibling is just the best thing ever. She’s been asking for one for two or three years!
How has Autumn reacted to Ava?
Anna: She’s absolutely smitten. It’s hard for her because she just wants to hold her and play with her but we have to explain that she’s still so little and new.
What did she do when you brought Ava home?
Anna: Her face lit up. She takes great pride in telling everyone that she’s a big sister now. She wears it like a badge, which is just so sweet. I think they’ll have a really beautiful relationship.
How would you describe each other’s parenting styles?
Daren: Anna is an amazing mother and very caring, and she does all the things I find boring – like reading books and homework – really well [laughs]. I will obviously do that sometimes but I’m definitely more the fun and sporty one.
Anna: Not that we’re sticking to stereotypes or anything. Daren is a very hardworking, positive person. It’s the reason I fell in love with him and the reason he’s such an amazing dad.
Daren: I think we complement each other really well. I’m a bit more of a computer geek, whereas Anna is a bookworm. Anna likes going for walks, whereas my family never did that kind of thing because it was too cold. Obviously, the girls have a mixed background with Anna’s family being from Yorkshire and me being from South London with my family background from Guyana, South America. It’s so important to us that the girls know exactly where they’re from and are educated about that.
What are your hopes for Ava?
Anna: That she’s happy and that she always looks beyond herself to her family and friends for support when she needs it.
Daren: That she learns Spanish and French, does ballet, gets a first at university, travels the world and takes care of mum and dad later [laughs]. I just want her to treasure her older sister and vice versa.
Have you been able to introduce Ava to the family?
Anna: Because of the uncertainty [around Covid] it’s been a bit weird but it’s actually nice to have a forced breather. I’m a lot more relaxed than I was the first time around, so I’ve seen some of my mummy friends who have kids the same age as Autumn. Our mums dropped by and both our dads followed quickly. Our brothers are yet to meet Ava but it’ll be top of their lists.
How have your Emmerdale co-stars reacted to the happy news?
Anna: The group I was working with on the Super Soap Week scenes were all very aware of the pregnancy, as well as Alex Lincoln, Amy Walsh and Claire King. Since posting the news on Instagram that I’d had Ava, everyone has been in touch to say how lovely it is to know she’s finally here.
Will you meet up for a playdate with Amy Walsh and her new baby at some point?
Anna: I’d love to! Amy is a riot – I love her.
Did you watch the dramatic demise of your character, Andrea Tate?
Anna: I did. I was by myself and there were a lot of tears. I definitely think pregnancy hormones had a big part to play!
Daren: We were meant to watch it together but Anna waited until I was away for work. I still haven’t seen it!
How will you balance your career and family life?
Anna: I’ve done both before, so it’s definitely something I can do. With Ava being so little I’d like to at least enjoy the first six months to a year with her. It’s such a special time. Saying that, if an opportunity comes up I’d be open to it. If we can make it work, we will.
What would you love your next role to be, Anna?
Daren: Female Jason Bourne.
Anna: [Laughs] Honestly, I did love doing the more high-action stuff during Super Soap Week. Throw a gritty drama at me any day. I also love comedy and musical theatre. I’m open to anything!
Finally, update us on your wedding plans. Will we be hearing bells any time soon?
Daren: When Ava can walk…
Anna: That’s realistic! It depends on what we could do in terms of restrictions. For us,it’s important to get everyone together safely. I’d love a festival vibe. That way, we coulddo it outside and have more people.
Daren: I actually don’t mind there being fewer people. Anna wants us to invite a million people and I’m like, “Uh, you’ve got to pay for all of them!” If it was just a few of us then we could do it on an island somewhere.
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