‘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
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.
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