Emma Corrin has come a long way since she made her debut, aged ten, playing Toad in a school production of The Wind In The Willows.
Fourteen years later, the Cambridge graduate is on the brink of her own star-is-born moment.
Because I can attest that the 24-year-old’s portrait of Princess Diana, in the fourth season of The Crown, is nothing short of breathtaking.
Following in the footsteps: Emma Corrin as Diana and Josh O’Connor as Charles recreate the night the couple danced in Sydney in 1983, right
The Crown knows how to turn out stars, of course. Just think of Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby and Matt Smith, cast as the youthful Queen, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip respectively, in the first two seasons.
Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Tobias Menzies were already award-winning names when they took over the same roles.
But Miss Corrin and Josh O’Connor, as Diana and Charles in the fourth season, are unforgettable.
Peter Morgan, creator of the Netflix drama which returns to our screen in two weeks, said he gave a private screening for a couple of people who knew Diana well ‘and they said it was the first time somebody absolutely nailed it for them’.
Morgan believes the fact that Emma’s speech therapist mother Dr Juliette Corrin ‘looked very much like Diana’ may have had something to do with it.
Style icon: Miss Corrin’s dazzling Diana echoes the real princess in Paris in 1988
In 1988’s Paris visit, Diana wore a white beaded dress and was the inspiration by Miss Corrin’s outfit in The Crown
‘I think, somehow, Emma’s had this in her DNA,’ he said.
When I mentioned this theory to Miss Corrin on Wednesday, she laughed – but conceded that her mother’s resemblance to the Princess ‘maybe made it not so much of a jump’.
Even so, she’s a tad concerned that the first glimpse viewers will have of her, when the Netflix series begins on November 15, will be her as a 16-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, dressed as a wood nymph for a bit part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It’s also the first time Diana meets Prince Charles. ‘There’s going to be so much hype about the series,’ she said, ‘and the first scene anyone is going to see me in, I’m dressed as a mad tree!’
It’s actually a surprisingly tender moment: the innocent schoolgirl meeting the future king. Three years later, they were married.
‘She was 19!’ Miss Corrin exclaimed. ‘If I stop and think about what I was at 19, it’s incredible. I didn’t know anything about who I was.’
Double take: Emma (above) as demure Diana at a polo match in the new series
The real Diana wore a similar outfit, complete with dungarees, at a polo match at Windsor in 1981
Diana’s childhood offered some clues as to how to portray her, she told me. She noted that Diana had spoken in a documentary about how she remembered being inside her pram, and how it made her feel incredibly lonely.
‘That stuck in my head,’ Miss Corrin said.
The actress, who studied child psychology as part of her degree course at St John’s College, called the pram memories ‘text-book behaviour of childhood affecting how relationships are formed’.
She said: ‘I thought, that means she saw in Charles a Prince Charming.
That person who would be her protector.’ Unfortunately for Diana, ‘Charles was looking for the same thing’.
Miss Corrin and O’Connor are explosive together.
Check out those slacks: Young ‘Diana’ roller-skating in The Crown and similarly attired princess carrying Harry in 1986
The Prince is tender when wooing Diana, but volcanic when he realises he’s made a mistake, and it’s Emerald Fennell’s Camilla Parker Bowles he really wants.
There’s a Shakespearean scale to the human tragedy, which makes for dynamite television.
What’s astounding is Miss Corrin’s ability to capture not just Diana’s inner turbulence but also her gauche sense of fun. The scenes exploring her bulimia are candid and, while sensitively filmed, are bound to upset some viewers.
But Miss Corrin defends their inclusion.
‘If you’re going to put these things on screen you can’t just suggest it,’ she said, adding that bulimia ‘becomes such a central part of your experience, day to day, that to shy away’ from it would have been a cop-out.
Miss Corrin was raised in Sevenoaks, Kent. Her father Christopher is a businessman. In hindsight, it seems an acting career was always likely.
‘The amount of make-believe I used to play when I was a child is insane!’ she revealed.
She remembers fashioning a raft out of living room furniture one rainy day because ‘I was sure we were going to flood and I’d have to build a raft and sail away – I used to love creating worlds I could hide away in’.
After her turn as Toad in The Wind In The Willows, something just ‘clicked’. She watched Nora Ephron films and loved Meg Ryan.
Then Emma Watson became an obsession. She watched a lot of Westerns and war films at home, because her younger brothers ruled the remote control.
‘I’m the most capitulating older sister,’ she admitted. ‘I’m really bad at being bossy. It’s something I’m going to have to get better at.’
She says that when she landed the role of Diana, Helena Bonham Carter (so good as Princess Margaret) ‘took me under her wing’.
They live in the same neighbourhood in London. ‘I’m often popping round for tea,’ she told me.
‘She helped me realise that the only people who should really matter to you are the ones who are closest to you.’
It’s interesting that they should become friends, because out of all the royals depicted in The Crown, it’s Miss Bonham Carter’s Margaret who signals, with a mere glance, that all might not be well between the couple.
Fateful: The first time Charles sees Diana, when she is 16, she is dressed as a wood nymph
There are extraordinary scenes between Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth and Diana, too. People are going to have their own views, but I was riveted when I devoured the ten-hour season.
Miss Corrin has become pals with O’Connor; and enjoyed larking about with the ensemble.
When they were all together on set it was like ‘a family Christmas’, with everybody playing games between takes.
Sadly, she wasn’t able to bid goodbye to them – or the role – properly because coronavirus halted filming abruptly a week before it was due to finish.
When restrictions were lifted, she completed post-production work.
Oh, and made a film – a beautifully shot black-and-white short called Red Rendezvous, about a Western-inspired face-off between a mother and daughter – on Canvey Island!
It is part of the Absolute Beginners programme, sponsored by Gucci and fashion magazine Dazed, and was released yesterday.
For now, however, she is about to entrance the nation… just as the People’s Princess did a lifetime ago.
Series four of The Crown airs on Netflix on November 15.