She’s probably best known for two contrasting characters: a northern lass who discovers the joys of literature in Educating Rita, and the eccentric Mrs Overall in Victoria Wood’s spoof soap Acorn Antiques.
But this talented actress has a wide experience both before and since these classic roles. With her characteristic wit and charm, Julie paints word pictures of her childhood with her two brothers in the West Midlands. Her mother dominated the family with her fiery Irish character and an eye on social status. In contrast her dad was laid back and affectionate. Despite her mum’s desire that her daughter pursue a “respectable” career in nursing, Julie’s passion for acting led her the course to break away. But not before her training at the hospital had provided a fund of stories, retold in the book with great humour.
An absolute belief in her ability (coupled with a youthful arrogance) helped Julie secure some surprisingly good roles early in her career. This was enhanced by several years at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. But poor self-esteem dogged her for many years. She admits later in the book that she indulged in much of the drinking and partying of showbiz life without any sense of fulfilment.
After a couple of long live-in partnerships she unexpectedly fell in love with the guy who fixed her plumbing, and the book ends with the birth of her daughter – the most perfect moment of her life.
As you would expect from such a good actress, the book is very enjoyable, with insights into how she unexpectedly came into some excellent roles. (Her friendship with Victoria Wood was a key stage in her life and career.) Some of the complexities of her character can be seen in the parts she has played. But at times she dwells for too long on stories that lose their interest, whilst skipping details that readers may have found interesting.
And there is much that could have been written about her later career. The story ends in 1988 but was not written for another 20 years. What happened to the actress as she worked on Mamma Mia, Calendar Girls and the Harry Potter films? Such superstar roles only merit a brief mention in comparison to Rita.
Aside from an apparent obsession with youthful sex, which is sometimes described in more detail that strictly necessary, the book is an enjoyable insight into the world of theatre and the struggles of one young girl in search of stardom.
(That’s another story: The Autobiography, by Julie Walters. Published by Orion Books, ISBN 978-0-297-85206-3. Also includes Film and TV credits and comprehensive index)