23 reasons why Julie's a real Lady

Colourful and charismatic, multiple award-winning actress Julie Walters is a great dame. So is it time to give her the title?
It’s been a big year for Julie Walters: roles in Effie Gray and the upcoming blockbuster Paddington, a Bafta Fellowship – and a newly announced BBC Two documentary about her colourful career. There’s even a campaign to make her a Dame. Here are just 23 reasons why we can’t get enough of her.

1 Julie Walters was born on 22 February 1950 in Smethwick, Birmingham, the youngest of three (and the only girl). In the BBC ’s Who Do You Think You Are? programme she discovered that her Irish great-grandfather, Anthony Clarke, was an early member of the Land League, which campaigned for ownership rights for Ireland’s poor tenant farmers.

2 Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Walters, died in the First World War in June 1915. He is commemorated at France’s Le Touret Memorial.

3 Walters had the desire to perform from a young age. One of her earliest memories is coming out from behind the curtains in her home, playing her plastic ukulele, and pretending to be Elvis Presley.

4 She attended a prep school run by nuns (her mother was an Irish Catholic), where she unhappily endured elocution lessons. She refused to change her Black Country accent, regarding it as a ‘final frontier to my self-worth. I was defending who I was’.

5 As a pupil in the 1960s she regularly played truant, and was eventually asked not to return to school. Instead of telling her parents, Walters claimed she had decided to leave.

6 She trained for six months to become a nurse at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, before leaving to study English and drama at Manchester Polytechnic. Her mother was not impressed, stating, ‘She’ll be in the gutter before she’s 20.’

7 While she studied at Manchester Polytechnic she lived with her boyfriend, but again neglected to tell her parents. Whenever they came to visit, she hid all evidence of him. 

8 She first met lifelong friend and colleague Victoria Wood in Manchester in 1970, but it would be eight years before they worked together – in the sketch revue, In At The Death, at London’s Bush Theatre, where Wood was one of the writers. Their comedy partnership continued on television with Wood And Walters, Victoria Wood As Seen On TV (where Walters played the inimitable Mrs Overall in the Acorn Antiques segments), Pat And Margaret and Dinnerladies.

9 Walters’s father passed away in 1971. He had smoked since the age of 10, which continues to be a powerful memory for the actress. ‘The cigarettes weren’t just in his clothes; they were in his skin, his sweat,’ she revealed in an interview. ‘I can summon up that smell in an instant.’

10 Walters’s break-out role was in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, as the young hairdresser who wants to better herself. She was a huge success in both the 1980 stage production (her London debut) and the 1983 film.

11 In 1985, Walters met her future husband in a pub in Fulham, London. She shouted to the crowd: ‘I bet there’s no one in here who votes Labour, is there?’ Grant Roffey, eight years her junior and then working as an AA patrol man, spoke up and said that he did. She invited him back to fix her washing machine and they’ve been together ever since. Their daughter, Maisie, was born in 1988 and the couple finally married in 1997.

Julie-Walters-Oct10-00-590Julie with Victoria Wood in As Seen On TV

12 Her on-screen career flourishing, Walters appeared in just one theatre run in the 1990s: Peter Hall’s production of The Rose Tattoo.

13 Walters won a Golden Globe for her performance in Educating Rita, and has also been nominated for two Academy Awards (also for Educating Rita and 2001’s Billy Elliot).

14 She has also won six Baftas. Her first was awarded in 1984 for Educating Rita, and the last in 2010 for Mo. She won the others four years in a row between 2001 and 2004 (for Billy Elliot, My Beautiful Son, Murder and Canterbury Tales). She was awarded a Bafta Fellowship this year.

15 The actress says the worst thing ever written about her was in relation to the film Girls’ Night, where a critic remarked: ‘Julie Walters obviously thinks she’s got good legs.’ She found the comment ‘painful’.

16 In 1999, she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to drama. She was made CBE in 2008, revealing that Prince Charles had confessed to being a Harry Potter fan [she played the character Molly Weasley].

17 In 2006, she took fourth place in an ITV poll of the public’s 50 Greatest Stars.

18 Her frank autobiography, entitled That’s Another Story, was published in 2008.

19 Now 64, she is enjoying getting older. ‘I’ve never had Botox or surgery,’ she revealed. ‘I wouldn’t because I’d feel I was letting myself down… Age gives you permission to be who you are, and that’s liberating.’

20 When she shaved her head for the role of Mo Mowlam in the 2010 TV drama Mo, her husband joked, ‘You look exactly as I thought you would… just like Harry Hill.’

21 One thing that age has diminished is her ability to drink. In an interview she said: ‘The menopause kind of put a stop to it for me. Just one glass and I don’t sleep.’

22 As to being known as a national treasure: ‘I’m flattered… it’s sweet,’ she said. ‘But I’m worried it’s something I have to live up to.’

23 An e-petition was launched on the HM Government website to ‘Make Julie Walters a Dame’, but was rejected on the grounds that ‘epetitions cannot include information about honours or appointments’. Watch this space.

Effie Gray is out now. Paddington is released on 28 November.