‘Tree, tur­key & presents in front of the fire… lovely!’

Dame Julie Wal­ters talks to Prima about her ideal Christ­mas, her weak­ness for choco­late and feel­ing lib­er­ated by be­ing a six­tysome­thing woman

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Dame Julie Wal­ters on what makes her ideal Christ­mas

Julie, 67, lives on an or­ganic farm in Sus­sex with her hus­band, Grant. They have a grown-up daugh­ter, Maisie.

CHRIST­MAS MAGIC

Grow­ing up, Christ­mas was ex­cit­ing and mag­i­cal. I imag­ine it was ut­terly stress­ful for my mother but we al­ways had a tree and all the trim­mings, and I’ve got clear mem­o­ries of my two older broth­ers say­ing that Fa­ther Christ­mas had just flown across the sky – and I’d just missed him!

I still adore the magic of Christ­mas. I must have a tree; and I love to have a fire go­ing in our in­glenook fire­place. Maisie comes to stay – we’re very close and I never re­ally suf­fered from empty nest syn­drome when she left home be­cause she’s around so of­ten.

Farm­ers don’t get days off. So when we get up on Christ­mas morn­ing, Grant is al­ready out on the farm, although it’s a re­lax­ing day for him be­cause the turkeys have all fi­nally gone. While he’s out, Maisie and I make tea and sit in front of a big fire to open our presents from one an­other. It’s very cosy.

We used to host a fam­ily Christ­mas with my broth­ers and their kids. That was lovely, and ev­ery­one would help cook. But host­ing peo­ple be­comes tir­ing and I’ve en­joyed the fact that we haven’t had peo­ple around for the past cou­ple of years. My sis­ter-in-law in Birm­ing­ham hosts now, but she’s changed it to the sum­mer, so that’s when we all get to­gether, which is lovely.

Christ­mas lunch is very tra­di­tional. We’ll have one of our own turkeys from the farm with cran­berry sauce, roast pota­toes and then Christ­mas pud­ding. I en­joy cook­ing, although I’m very care­ful be­cause Grant has raised that tur­key! A few years ago, I had the fam­ily over and put the tur­key in the oven and was sur­prised by how de­li­cious it smelt so quickly. I re­alised just in time that I had the grill on in­stead of the oven!

Things don’t have to be ‘per­fect’ any more. If I was cook­ing for posh peo­ple, I’d be wor­ried and stressed about cook­ing, but be­cause it’s fam­ily, I’m quite re­laxed. I used to be cook­ing for days on end in the run-up, on Christ­mas Day, and af­ter­wards, but I don’t feel the need to do that now. The quest for per­fec­tion makes ev­ery­one tense and it’s so nice to feel lib­er­ated from it.

I’m quite or­gan­ised about gifts. I start buy­ing in Oc­to­ber if I can. I do stock­ings for Grant and Maisie, so I’ll keep my eye out for lovely and clever things for them.

I don’t make New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. But I do think about what I would like to be able to say at the end of the com­ing year. The kind of things I wish for are good health for the fam­ily, for all of us to be safe and things to be OK with work.

MY WORK­ING LIFE

It was so much fun be­ing back on the Padding­ton set this year and I love be­ing Mrs Bird. The set is so gor­geous – that kitchen! Ev­ery­one wants to live in that house. Paul, the di­rec­tor, is a bit of a ge­nius. He is so into it and there is noth­ing cyn­i­cal about him; he re­ally be­lieves in Padding­ton Bear! It was great see­ing ev­ery­one again. Hugh Bon­neville (who plays Mr Brown) is hi­lar­i­ous. Sally Hawkins (who plays Mrs Brown) is just the loveli­est girl – we talk food and health and nov­els all the time.

I then started film­ing for Mamma Mia 2 in Septem­ber – it’s com­ing out next sum­mer. The orig­i­nal cast all agreed that we’d only do it again if ev­ery­one was in it, so we’re all in it to­gether again. Learn­ing the danc­ing was a lot eas­ier this time around. None of us are dancers and we had to re­hearse to­gether in a big troupe for the first film, which took a long time and was very nerve-rack­ing. This time we learned the rou­tines in­di­vid­u­ally, which was so much eas­ier!

I love singing. So I re­ally en­joyed lay­ing down the tracks in the stu­dio. I wasn’t ner­vous this time, but I was when we made the first film: I re­mem­ber go­ing to the stu­dio for the first time and

bump­ing into Meryl Streep, and

Benny and Björn! Straight away, we all had to sing Mamma Mia to­gether around the pi­ano – which is the hard­est song to sing. So that was a bit of a bap­tism of fire.

Meryl is very down to earth – not starry at all.

When we first met, we im­me­di­ately started talk­ing about do­mes­tic stuff, like our fam­i­lies, so it was all very hu­man. She is very much an ac­tor as op­posed to a star, although she has this huge en­ergy, which made me feel knack­ered all the time! I sup­pose I’m pretty down to earth, too. I hope that I see things for what they are. The busi­ness is only glam­orous from the out­side. In­side, it’s very hard work!

I have been in the busi­ness so long that I don’t tend to keep in touch with the ac­tors I meet on set.

But when I find my­self re­united with some­one like Jim Broad­bent, who is also in Padding­ton, and who I’ve worked with a lot over the years, it’s just won­der­ful.

An­other of my work highlights this year was film­ing Mary Pop­pins, which comes out next Christ­mas.

I had to fly into Cherry Tree Lane and it was mag­i­cal and fab­u­lous… un­til the 16th take, that is, when the har­nesses started chaf­ing!

WHAT MAKES ME TICK

My job is mas­sively so­cia­ble, so what I re­ally like do­ing is be­ing at home and watch­ing TV with my hus­band. I like be­ing around peo­ple, but I’m def­i­nitely a home­body. I love my house, but it’s not all match­ing; it’s more like the Weasleys’ house in Harry Pot­ter – hig­gledy-pig­gledy and homely.

I do care about look­ing after my­self. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I think, ‘I must do 10,000 steps’, but I hardly ever do! I’m aware of it but it’s much harder to do when I’m film­ing and rou­tine goes out the win­dow.

It’s the same with my diet – I have times when I’m ‘good’. It’s true that the cam­era adds a few pounds and some­times be­fore film­ing I think, ‘Oh,

I shouldn’t be fat for this part’. I knew that my char­ac­ters in In­dian Sum­mers and Mamma Mia! wouldn’t be over­weight, but Mrs Bird and Mrs Weasley could be any old size. And los­ing weight is so de­press­ing and mis­er­able, deny­ing your­self all the time.

I con­fess to hav­ing an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with su­gar. I stayed in a lovely ho­tel when we were film­ing Padding­ton and each evening there would be four choco­late bars in the fridge – and I’d eat ev­ery sin­gle one of them! Even­tu­ally, I had to ask them to stop leav­ing them in the fridge be­cause I knew I’d just eat them.

I’m not gre­gar­i­ous, with mil­lions of friends.

I have two close friends in Lon­don and an­other in Brighton – peo­ple I can re­ally talk to. And I have friend­ships from all phases of my life, from school to my early days work­ing as a nurse, to peo­ple from drama col­lege. They are all im­por­tant to me.

When I’m not work­ing, I spend most of my time do­ing do­mes­tic stuff: sort­ing, pot­ter­ing around, wash­ing. But I like walk­ing in the woods. And

I love to read; at the mo­ment I’m read­ing

The End Of The Af­fair by Gra­ham Greene. Next on the pile is The God

Of Small Things by Arund­hati Roy.

But what I re­ally love do­ing is ly­ing in front of the soap op­eras eat­ing some­thing I prob­a­bly shouldn’t. The other night, Grant made some potato wedges that were just the ticket!

Quite hon­estly, I’m find­ing it a re­lief be­ing 67. Less is ex­pected of you in some ways – so every­thing is a bit of a bonus. I don’t have so much to prove; I’m not scrab­bling for my po­si­tion in the busi­ness and there is some­thing about not hav­ing to be a young woman any more that feels lib­er­at­ing. I’m more able to be my­self. And I’m more able to say what I think.

• Padding­ton 2 will be re­leased in UK cin­e­mas on 10 Novem­ber

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