From Abigail’s Party to Pride and Prejudice, Gavin and Stacey to most recently the sitcom Boomers, Alison Steadman’s talents have lit up the big and small screens for decades.
The much-loved actress is so superb at her craft, it’s hard to imagine that she ever harboured doubts about her abilities as an actress. But when she was a drama student she most certainly did and it was her mum, Marjorie, who talked her through those difficult times.
“I was very nervous when I started acting but my dear mum was always behind me, giving me courage,” she revealed at a talk she gave at London’s British Film Institute recently. “I'd say I didn't think I'd be able to do something and she'd always reply, ‘Never say can't, Alison, always say you can and you will.’ I'd keep that phrase with me all the time. I needed her to boost my confidence.
“When I was at drama school and nervous about a production, I’d save my coins to ring her up and she'd talk me through it. She always encouraged me.”
Right from the very beginning, Alison says her mum nurtured her talent. “She encouraged my acting. I would constantly borrow her clothes to play dress-up. We got a telly when I was seven and I’d watch people such as Hylda Baker and Beryl Reid and impersonate them. Very often my mum would say ‘Oh, turn the television off. There's nothing on. Come on, Alison, do us some Hylda Baker’.”
Sadly Alison’s mum passed away in 1996. “We had a great relationship,” says Alison. “I think the whole acting thing comes from her side of the family. She was a great character with a gift for words and sayings and nicknames for everybody. My mother always looked her best. She never went to the shops without lipstick on, and would say to me: ‘Put a bit of lippy on, you'll feel better.’ I've found that to be true!”
Like many of us who no longer have our parents around, Alison would sometimes love to turn back the clock so she could ask her mum questions. She says: “I loved her – and my dad – dearly but I often think back to the odd times when she‘d be telling me something and I remember being conscious of kind of brushing over it, being too busy and not really listening to her. I’d love to be able to go back and ask her what made her say such-and-such a thing.”
Alison (70) is a mum herself to Toby and Leo, the sons from her marriage to Mike Leigh, both of whom are now in their 30s. “I love being a mum,” she’s often revealed. “My two boys mean more to me than anything.
I’d love to go back in time to when I had my sons. Just to look at them. I remember when they were born, looking at them and thinking – goodness, I just made that child! They were the two best days of my life. And then when they smile for the first time! When that happens, it’s like the world just glows a brighter colour.”
READ MORE: Alison Steadman on age, her new series, husband and the glittering career she'd had in numerous movies and TV shows.
Words and interview by Alison James