When it came to playing the role of rookie PSNI cop Annie Conlon in new BBC One drama Blue Lights, Cookstown actress Katherine Devlin knew exactly how she wanted to portray her. 

“I was so drawn to the character of Annie and knew instantly what type of person she was because I know women like her,” says Katherine.  

“I grew up with them and I still know them. They’re class and like no-other. Also showcasing other parts of the North that aren’t just Belfast is so important. Every place comes with its own spirit and it’s a big part of who Annie is as a person.” 

The young actress plays a starring role in the new Belfast-based drama about three probationary police officers who are all at different stages of their lives. The series was written by Northern Irish men and former journalists Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, who also penned the award-winning drama The Salisbury Poisonings and the Netflix movie, Rogue Agent. 

Katherine’s character Annie is tough, sardonic and impulsive and isn’t afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She lives in a small coastal town in the Glens of Antrim and is from a traditional Catholic background.

No-one else she knows has ever joined the police. But Annie isn’t stupid – she knows that her decision puts her in unique danger. Annie has a great relationship with her doting mum, Bridie, so to ensure her safety, she decides to move in with fellow trainee cop, Grace Ellis, played by English actress Sian Brooke. 

Explaining why she was attracted to the part of Annie, Katherine says: “I just loved how both Declan and Adam perfectly encapsulated the energy of people from Northern Ireland and also how complex and distinctive the characters are. 

“Particularly having strong female leads at the forefront is so refreshing to see. 

“(Their writing) embodies truth. People from Northern Ireland tend to shroud serious situations with humour and we really get a feel for that in the script.  

“There’s also a real honesty in the script to the realities of Northern Ireland in the present day, as we’re still battling issues that have come from The Troubles.” 

Describing her character and how she fits into Blue Lights, Katherine says: “Annie is very impulsive as a character and she goes from zero to a hundred really quickly.  

“She’s almost like a walking paradox because even though she is fiery and passionate at times she’s also really soft-centred, sensitive and self-contained.  

“She’s emotionally intelligent and intuitive and she knows how to read people and situations. I think particularly a lot of young people will relate to her as behind the confident exterior, she’s just a young girl trying to figure out life and what she wants.  

“She’s by no means perfect. Drama also seems to follow her around or, maybe she just creates it for herself! She’s always stuck in the middle of chaos.” 

In her spare time Annie plays Camogie, so when Katherine landed the part, she rang a Camogie-playing friend for advice. She also listened to a lot of podcasts and interviews. And she was shocked to discover a few aspects of life as a PSNI officer. 

“The amount of kit they need to wear is overwhelming,” she says. 

“I felt like I was putting in a shift at the gym every time I threw it on! How they’re able to run after people, I have no idea. 

“In terms of personal security, I was taken back by how severe it has to be at times. It’s a real vocation that requires so much commitment. It’s not just a job that you can hang your kit up at the end of a shift.” 

The drama also stars Nathan Braniff as rookie Tommy Foster, Martin McCann as experienced officer Stevie Neil, Richard Dormer as the longest serving response officer Gerry Cliff, John Lynch as crime boss James McIntyre and Hannah McClean as fast-track officer Jen Robinson. 

While Annie and fellow rookie Tommy enjoy a sibling-like relationship, her character doesn’t gel as well with Jen, who is slightly more senior than the trainees. 

“In a way I feel like Annie and Jen are similar but neither would want to admit it to each other,” says Katherine. 

“They’re unapologetically themselves and not afraid of what other people think of them. However, there’s so many differences. Where to even begin? Jen is the type of person that would remind the teacher there’s homework, Annie is the one who definitely didn’t do it and has an excuse lined up.” 

Ballymoney actress Hannah McClean’s character Jen is a police constable who has gone through her probationary period and is about two years into the job.  

“She like to lord that over the recruits to show she is a bit more established than they are,” says Hannah.  

“She is from a police family – her mother is Chief Superintendent – and she fell into the job getting on the fast-track programme.  

“We discover that she is actually quite work-shy and doesn’t like going on patrol. She would much rather sit at her desk and do paperwork but it appears that is all a front and she’s actually terrified.  

“Her first two years on the job were too much for her to handle and as a result, she’s made some bad decisions in an attempt to make her life easier but she ends up making it worse.” 

During the prep period an expert was brought on site to show the cast how to hold a gun. 

“It felt so odd to hold one,” says Hannah. 

“I’ve lived in England for 10 years now and patrol police over here don’t carry guns so it is odd to go home and see police carrying firearms.” 

Saying why she thinks it’s the right time to tell a story about policing in Northern Ireland, Hannah explains: “I don’t think we’ve ever had a television drama that is a true reflection of modern-day policing in Belfast.  

“You get a feel of what it’s like to be from Belfast. It’s not about the Troubles but of course there’s an element of history that cannot be rubbed out of our DNA.  

“Anywhere with a history of conflict is going to have that but it adds to the uniqueness of the drama.” 

Blue Lights airs on Monday nights on BBC One at 9pm.