Geraldine James takes our Grown-up Test

Danny Scott / 22 March 2016

The 65-year-old star of everything from The Jewel in the Nile to Little Britain, appears in new thriller The Five on Sky 1. So how old is she in her head?



Naughtiest thing you did at school?

I was sent home for inviting a boyfriend up to my room for ‘cocoa’. I then arranged to meet another one at night, but the headmistress found out and met him instead. He got quite a shock.

Biggest fashion mistake?

My tastes in the Seventies were catastrophic! I moved to London, where my stylish sister was working at Vogue, and felt like a lump. I would spend all day in Biba and end up with some ghastly top. Even today, I’ll see a piece of material and it’ll remind me of something nasty I once wore.

Related: Remembering Biba

What did your parents teach you?

My mother was an alcoholic, so life at home wasn’t always pleasant, but there was a lot of humour. We’d listen to Round the Horne; watch Morecambe & Wise. I learnt that having a good laugh never did anyone any harm.

Twitter. Yes, no, or what?

Good God, no! I worked with Russell Brand on Arthur in 2011, adored him and started following him on Twitter. But I couldn’t deal with all the negative, horrible stuff you get bombarded with.

What did turning 60 mean?

A ruddy great party! It’s such a shocking label, ‘You’re in your 60s’, but I’m still working and don’t look too bad for my age. There’s a calming quietness to my life now that I wouldn’t swap for anything.

Last forget what you went upstairs for?

I have actually gone upstairs looking for my glasses, forgotten what I went up there for, retraced my steps for ten minutes to jog my memory, then realised I’m wearing them.

Related: 5 ways to supercharge your memory

Thriller or cosy costume drama?

I don’t mind, as long as the characters are believable – that’s what drew me to The Five. I hate it when you’re watching some crime drama and the Chief of Police is 22. C’mon!

Success better now or in earlier life?

Thanks to things like The Jewel in the Crown and Band of Gold, I certainly had more ‘success’ in the past. But I was scared stiff that someone was going to say, ‘Ah, James. We’ve realised you’re rubbish. Off you go.’ So I never enjoyed it.

Gets you on a dance floor?

Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Have I still got the moves? Yes, I’d like to think I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

Conceal your age?

I’ll admit that I have started wearing lipstick. But I had to check with my daughter that even that didn’t make me look ridiculous.

Related: 8 beauty tips for older women

Unsay one remark in your life…

Too many to list. I’m blunt and tactless. I was talking to a lady the other day and found myself telling her a play she was involved in was dreadful. I could have kicked myself. Why didn’t I just say it was marvellous?

Could you run a mile?

I did some running for a job last year and enjoyed it so much that I started doing a mile or two each day. My knees did give me a bit of jip, but the running shoes are in the hall, waiting for the good weather.

Thing you can’t throw away?

A baby grand piano my father bought me. We saw it in town and he said, ‘My father had one just like that. It was the same colour, with a little scratch on the corner’. It turned out it to be the same piano!

What makes your heart sing/sink?

“At the moment, singing makes my heart sing. I’ve just joined a choir because I love classical choral music. What makes my heart sink? Watching the news. Actually, it’s got so bad, that I can’t watch it anymore. It’s too distressing.”

What's the silliest thing you did recently?

“I fell down stairs last week. Nothing serious, but I must have looked a right prat. I’m glad no one was there to see it.”

Which decade are you most nostalgic for?

“Maybe the 50s of my childhood and growing up in the English countryside. As children, we were given so much freedom; kicked out of the house in the morning and told to ride our bicycles for the day. I live on a street in south London full of young children, but I never hear them playing. That seems so sad.”

What would you prefer: your youth back or what you have now?

“The only way I would ever want to go back is if I could do it with all the knowledge I have now. It would be nice to be able to say to that nervous, naughty girl… ‘Stop worrying about everything. It’s going to be OK!’”

Two people from the past you'd like to sit next to at dinner?

I would say John Lennon, but I saw a film about him that implied that he wasn’t always a nice man. Could I have John and Yoko? Then she could tell me what he was really like. Mind you, I still haven’t forgiven her for landing him when I was hoping he’d be my boyfriend.

How do you relax?

“Recently, I’ve had a go at Mindfulness. Has it worked? I’m not sure. Ask me in a couple of months; maybe it takes a while to… kick in.”

Related: Find out more about mindfulness

Preferred epitaph?

At least she gave it a go.

Verdict: Anyone who looks good with minimal make up and has running shoes ready in the corridor can’t be more than 53.

The Five starts on Sky 1 on April 15, at 9pm.

A version of this article was first published in the April 2016 of Saga Magazine. For great articles like this, Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.