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Imelda Staunton takes Saga Magazine's Grown-up test

21 July 2015

One of the most versatile actresses around, Imelda, born 1956, was first noticed playing a Hotbox Girl in the stage version of Guys and Dolls alongside Julia McKenzie and the late Bob Hoskins.

Imelda Staunton photographed for Saga Magazine by Andrew Hayes-Watkins
Imelda Staunton photographed for Saga Magazine by Andrew Hayes-Watkins

She's been nominated for an Oscar for her performance as back street abortionist Vera Drake; earned a cult following as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies and is now playing the 'mother from Hell' Mama Rose in the musical Gypsy in the West End.She’s been married to fellow actor and Downton Abbey star Jim Carter for 30 years and they have a daughter - Bessie - who is following them into acting.

First car?

A green Mini Cooper I shared with my boyfriend. I passed my test first time when I was 17 and got the car at 18. It was second or third-hand but I loved it.

Worst hairstyle?

A mullet in the early 70’s. No, you haven't seen the pictures, and nor will you! What possessed me? Fashion, of course. 

Twitter: Yes, no or what the hell?

No. I've got a life. I loathe people taking pictures of my on their phones as well because it’s not just on their phones, it goes across the world. I won’t do selfies with people. I don’t mind people taking pictures with their cameras but I don’t want to be in their phone. I find the whole thing odd.

Sky Arts or Channel 4?

Sky Arts but Channel 4 are doing some great things. So damn I'm being pulled between the two. 

Plane or ship?

I'd like to try a ship please. I do planes but I'd love to go on a big ship, although Jim and I are quite bad sailors, so it would have to be a very steady one.

The last time you complained or protested about something in public?

We joined the demonstration against the Iraq War - a fat lot of good that did! But I'm very proud to say that our daughter Bessie got kettled when she demonstrated against tuition fees.

How often do you check your email?

Probably about three times a day. I'm not computer savvy at all, all I can do is email, but I can't do it on my phone. Sometimes I leave it until the end of the day and when I'm on holiday I'll only check it every three days. I don't find it hard to switch off and I'm not scared I'll miss anything. 

When was the last time you broke the law?

When I was five I stole a sweet from the sweet shop across the road from my mum’s hairdresser shop where she worked. Then I sat in my bedroom eating it and I wanted to be sick because I felt so guilty. The shame.

The last good deed you did for the planet?

I'm obsessed about recycling, so every day I'm rinsing things and putting stuff in the big recycling centre near where we live. 

What do you wear around the house?

Jeans and a jumper.

Town or country?

Town. I'm a Londoner, brought up in Archway in North London and I love this city. But we have got a great garden at our house, so I've got the best of both worlds.

Learn more about Imelda Staunton here 

What do you collect or hoard?

I'm not really a hoarder and I'm quite good at going, “Right, we’re going to have a bloody great clear out now.” I don’t collect things and I'm not tempted to collect mementoes from films I've been on like Harry Potter. I believe that those things existed in that time and they should be left. The only reason you'd want to take something is that you’re going to give it to charity.

What piece of music gets you on the dance floor?

Bette Midler singing Chapel of Love and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

When did you last drink too much?

A couple of months ago when Jim and I were on holiday. We had a glass of champagne and when we got to the table for dinner the waitress said they had very good cocktails. Jim said, “No, don’t do that.” But I said, “Oh, come on Jim!” We had this little cocktail and half a glass of  wine for dinner and my head was spinning by the time we got to bed. I hated it. I can't even remember now what was in the cocktail. I don't really drink. 

What single thing would make getting older easier?

A chef and a chauffeur.

If your 16-year-old self could see you now, what would she say?

“Don't worry, it’s going to be great."

When and where were you happiest?

Just before last Christmas on a family holiday with Jim and Bessie. 

What makes you really grumpy?

If I get into a cab and they put the sat-nav on. I’m afraid I just go, “ Where are you going, what are you doing? No, don't go up that road!” . I'm afraid I go all back-seat driver. 

Which latent talent might yet to be discovered?

About six years ago I got into sculpting heads out of clay. I stopped but I'd love to take that up again. 

How do you relax?

Bath, candles and Radio 3. 

What's the bad habit you can't break?

Not finishing sentences…

Name two people from the past you'd like to sit next to at a dinner party?

My Aunt Imelda (she was called Big Imelda and I was called Little Imelda) and my mum Bridie. Mum was a real grafter and had her own hairdressing business. I think her work ethic was the greatest legacy she gave me. 

Who or what is your greatest love?

Oh, you know the answer to that - Jim and Bessie!

What would be your preferred epitaph?

She was small, but she was mighty.

What was your Plan B?

I didn't have one.

Glass half-full or half empty? 


Heels or flats?

Flats – a thousand times flats! 

What are the two big lessons that life has taught you?

I'm still trying  to learn patience but the big lesson I've learnt is that things are worth waiting for. 

Medicine or alternative medicine?

Alternative. I take vitamins regularly. 

School prefect or school terror?

A terror actually. I went to a private convent school and when I was made Form Captain it gave me such power I was bloody horrible with it. I reported kids and I really hated myself after that, so I went in completely the opposite direction. 

The last time you laughed until you cried? 

We love Modern Family and especially the Phil Dunphy character ( played by Ty Burrell). We’ll often just keep rewinding when we’re watching and howl with laughter. 

Your hope for the future?

That the family are healthy, that’ll do me. 

What will turning 60 mean to you? 

Nothing really, age is just a number. 


Imelda’s strong work ethic, her sense of fun and secure family life means she doesn't  act her age – she’s an eternally youthful 50. 

Learn more about Imelda Staunton on her Wikipedia

Credit: Imelda is starring in Gypsy at The Savoy theatre, London WC2, That Day We Sang is out on DVD now. Subscribe to the print edition of Saga or download thedigital edition for this and more great articles delivered direct to you every month 


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.

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