By 30, most people are just about working out what they want to do with their lives.
Nicola Shindler, however, was already running her own successful TV production company.
You may not know much about the staunchly private mum-of-three, or indeed Red Production Company – but you’ll no doubt have watched a number of the highly acclaimed programmes it has produced.
Happy Valley, Queer as Folk, Clocking Off and Ordinary Lies are just some of the credits under Nicola’s belt, along with an impressive string of Bafta TV awards.
She’s worked with writers including Russell T Davies, Sally Wainwright and Danny Brocklehurst, as well as award-winning actors such as Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) Michael C Hall (Safe) and Christopher Eccleston (Come Home).
Sarah Lancashire and Christopher Eccleston in Clocking Off (Image: BBC)
Despite her success, Nicola, from Rochdale, has stayed true to her north west roots and loves nothing better than shooting gritty dramas around Manchester.
“Filming in Manchester is good in a practical way, but there’s also a great tone, humor and warmth in the city that translate well on screen,” she told the Manchester Evening News.
“It’s really distinctive. Everything feels like a melting pot of creativity. It’s a place that generates different ideas.”
After moving to Bury when she was 14, a studious Nicola worked hard at school and was accepted to read history at the University of Cambridge.
Queer as Folk (Image: Channel 4)
Despite her academic prowess, television was always a big thing in her life.
“There were only three channels back then and my mum would say that I would even watch the test cards for Channel 4 before it launched,” she joked.
“I loved TV when I was growing up but I never thought of it as a job then.
“I remember always watching Coronation Street – that was a time where we all sat down and watched it together as a family.”
After showing an interest in theatre, Nicola began working in television by chance after a trainee script writer role came up at the BBC.
“I used to go to the Royal Exchange all the way through the 80s,” she remembers. “I saw so many plays there. I wanted to work in theatre initially and started off there after moving to London.
Nicola Shindler of Red Production Company
“But when I told someone in the industry how I loved working with writers, they suggested that I be a scriptwriter, so I applied for a trainee role at the BBC. I always watched a lot of television so it seemed like the perfect job.”
After her time at the BBC, Nicola moved back up north to join Granada as a script editor, where she worked on ITV drama Cracker – a show that offered her the creative freedom that translates into her work today.
“Doing Cracker was incredible,” she said. “We were told to just go for it, try things out. Without a doubt the creative freedom from that show I bring through in my programmes at Red. I know that it is OK to take risks.
“I like to not know where things are going when I’m watching a TV show. I like to try and guess the plot, just like any viewer. So I keep this in mind when producing.”
Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley (Image: BBC/Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
Nicola went on to work on Our Friends in the North, and was producer on Hillsborough, a dramatised account of the 1989 football stadium disaster.
It was after this that she set up Red, named after her favourite football team. No, not Liverpool – their arch rivals, Manchester United.
“I was working as a producer for six years in TV before I set up Red, which is a ridiculously small amount of time really,” she said.
“I did Cracker, produced Hillsborough – it was such a massive tragedy, I learnt a lot from creating that.
“I did a couple more shows and decided to set up on my own. I was 29. I guess there were not many women doing what I did back then, but I never saw that as an obstacle.
Michael C Hall in Netflix drama Safe, which was filmed across Manchester (Image: Manchester Evening News)
“I didn’t question what I was doing. Back then I had no children and didn’t own a house – I had nothing to hold me back.”
In her most recent series Nicola has reunited with Russell T Davies for BBC drama Years and Years, which started last week.
The series opener managed to shock viewers after including Doris Day’s death in a news bulletin hours after she had died.
“We have just finished Years and Years which is on BBC One. It’s a brilliant new series about a Manchester family trying to survive in the future over a 15-year period, with new technology and a difficult political climate.
The cast of BBC series Years and Years
“It’s essentially about family life and society. The characters are great. With TV, you have to believe in the characters – if they’re not real then you can’t take them anywhere.”
Another project which is in the making is the hotly anticipated Netflix series The Stranger, which sees Nicola team back up with Danny Brocklehurst and Harlan Coben.
The Stranger, starring Richard Armitage, will follow the success of The Five and 2018 hit Safe, which starred Dexter’s Michael C Hall.
On top of that, she has received another award – this time a Bafta TV Special Award. Although her trophy cabinet at her Salford Quays office is pretty full these days, Nicola is delighted with the accolade.
“It’s always fantastic to be given awards,” she said. “They mean a lot to me. I don’t get bored of being given them, it is special every time.”
Years and Years continues Tuesday from 9pm on BBC One.