Celia Imrie: "I remember"

Caroline Hutton 

Celia Imrie is one of Britain’s best-loved actresses, having appeared in numerous TV, film and stage productions over the past four decades. She looks back on her glittering career and life. 

…My father asking when I was going to be on the "gogglebox"

He’d wanted me to be a secretary so was a bit sceptical about my acting aspirations. Sadly he died before I got my first part on television—in Upstairs, Downstairs, a programme he’d loved.

He was 60 when I was born; the fourth of his five children. We were a rather noisier bunch than he’d bargained for, but he was a wonderful man, terribly modest.

He was a radiologist and patients would come for their appointments to our house. I wish I’d known him more.

Read an excerpt from Not Quite Nice by Celia Imrie


young celia imrie
A young Celia Imrie with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer


…Believing I would become a great ballet dancer

I was obsessed and danced like mad, taking my exams for the Royal Ballet School. But they said I was too big and I wasn’t offered a place. That’s a hard thing for a child to understand—especially for someone who didn’t like to take no for an answer. 

I stopped eating and developed anorexia. I spent time in Great Ormond Street and St Thomas’. Looking back on it now, I think, "What a terrible waste of life".


…Brilliant Victoria Wood

What a privilege it was to work with her for so many years. She was very loyal to us all and I’m forever grateful to have been in her team. We had marvellous times.

Victoria had a way of capturing our own temperaments within our characters. Once I couldn’t get to rehearsals for Dinnerladies on time and got in a flap on the phone to the stage manager. Victoria must have overheard because the next week my shouting episode was written into the script practically verbatim.

I remember trying to keep a straight face during the famous two-soups sketch, for Victoria Wood as Seen on TV. It’s the one where Duncan Preston and I are in a restaurant and Julie Walters is our hopeless waitress

We didn’t get through a rehearsal without collapsing in laughter, but when it came to performing in front of the live audience, we knew everything depended on us not breaking down. If you look carefully you can see Duncan and me biting the insides of our mouths to focus on keeping it together. 

Read more: Victoria Wood's life in comedy


victoria wood with celia imrie
With "good pal" Victoria Wood in Dinner Ladies


…Alan Bates melted my heart

He and I had been friends for many years before we played husband and wife in the 2002 TV adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate.

We had an easy familiarity that was heavenly; it meant that we hardly had to play at being a married couple—things like ignoring each other at mealtimes came very naturally!

I was sort of in love with him for years. 


…When work was no longer the whole point of my life

That happened when my son Angus was born 22 years ago. His father (the actor Benjamin Whitrow) and I have never been a couple, but we’re really proud of our wonderful son. 

Angus is training to be an actor now. I knew his fate was sealed when, aged ten, he played Queen Victoria in his school play. He had to wear lipstick, a pearl necklace and a black veil—that takes some determination and I thought, Well, that’s it then. 


celia imrie buns calendar girls
Starring in Calendar Girls


…Taking my clothes off for Calendar Girls

I’ve never liked going to the gym, but when the day dawned for my scene behind the buns I got up very early thinking, Oh dear, I’d better get in shape quickly.

Bleary-eyed, I opened the door to find the entire cast down there busy doing all sorts of energetic gym stuff—at 6am.

We were all of “a certain age” so were in it together, which helped. And what a wonderful true story—the bravery of the women of the Rylstone Women’s Institute in Yorkshire and the millions they’ve raised for leukaemia research is an inspiration to us all.

Read more: How to improve your fitness after cancer treatment


…Loving filming or the two Exotic Marigold Hotel films in India

India is a place people either love or loathe because it’s so extreme. But to me it was a dream job.

I don’t like flying so I took a train ride from Udaipur to Jaipur, which was lovely because the trains don’t have any doors and there were so many wonderful sights over that seven-hour journey.

I adored everything about the country. 

Read more: Mumbai is the city of a million possibilities


Celia Imrie Calendar Girls


…Being on the promenade in Nice on Bastille Day 2016

I was caught up in the tragedy and saw the horror of people running towards me trying to escape the lorry, which killed and injured so many as they celebrated on the streets. I knew something terrible was happening and fled up a side street. 

I have an apartment in Nice and my two novels are set there, so I have enormous affection for the people, but this was a sombre and unworldly time. The florists of Nice laid a path of flowers along the prom and there wasn’t a gap in sight. 

After three days of mourning, something wonderful happened when the residents formed a huge human chain and, to clear the prom, passed all the flowers to the bandstand. Now, more than ever, I want to celebrate Nice in my books.


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