How we met: Kitty Aldridge and Esther Freud

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The Independent Culture
Kitty Aldridge was born in 1962. She has starred in four films and many TV plays, most recently the female lead in the BBC's controversial political thriller, To Play the King. In 1989 she co-wrote and co-produced the film Tyger Tyger Burning Bright. She is divorced and lives in South London.

Esther Freud was born in 1963. She made many stage and TV appearances before publishing two novels, Hideous Kinky, and Peerless Flats, in 1992. Named as one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists, she is writing her third book. She lives in London with actor David Morrissey.

KITTY ALDRIDGE: We met at the Drama Centre in London in 1981. I was terrified of Esther; she seemed so determined and powerful, like a bullet. With her Celtic looks - pale skin, huge jade-green eyes, dark hair and brows - she looked rather fierce. She didn't speak often; when she did, it was to say something impressive. I talked non-stop, mostly rubbish, so I felt she didn't want to know me. My friend was Sharon from Swindon. Later the three of us became friends, but Esther and I still circled each other quite widely. She took everything terribly seriously and I felt that was evidence of her great intellect.

When we left drama school I decided to write a two-woman show called The Norfolk Broads. Sharon turned me down so I rang Esther and we met up and compared things we'd written. We have very different styles: mine is punchy and smart-arsed, she has this incredible lyricism, but they seemed to compliment each other. We both wanted to write about relationships - and in rhyme. So that became the style of the shows we wrote, rhyming-rap, very stylised sketches and songs. We were very lucky to have such an easy working relationship. We wrote separately for hours on end, either side of her kitchen table - Esther always has great kitchens - then we read it all and took the best. There was never any competition or worry about who had the most material in. In all these years we've never ever fallen out. I miss writing with her and I miss the shows terribly, more as time goes by. She teases me, saying that I forget how hard it was, but to me they were great days.

At the time we had no ambitions to be alternative comediennes - Esther was the most serious actress I knew - but to get my Equity card I needed 30-odd consecutive weeks of employment, so for a year we did gigs, trundling round the country in her beat-up Vauxhall Victor crammed with bizarre props. We used to worry about being stopped by the police and what they would make of our boot full of guns and contraceptives.

In 1987 we did a second show at the Boulevard Theatre, which is part of the Paul Raymond complex. Inevitably we'd find ourselves with a coachload of confused Japanese who had wandered into the wrong auditorium. We wanted to do a third but we both had straight acting offers. Then I married and became fixated on the idea of making films with my husband. I know that perplexed her. We wrote a film script together, but more important, we stayed best friends.

In 1990 she mentioned casually that what she was writing might be a novel. I'm very proud I was the first person to read it. She wanted my opinion, so I sat down, pencil in hand. After page 10 I threw the pencil away and lay back and enjoyed it. It was gorgeous, just beautiful. I rang her and said: 'It's a book, you've written a book]' She said: 'No I haven't, have I?' It was so exciting. After that things moved very fast, Hideous Kinky seemed to go straight from my sofa to super-stardom. I thought it was such a massive achievement to become a novelist - it's that mountain that actually never gets scaled, but she did it. And it was no sooner published than she'd written a second. I was absolutely in awe. I love her writing, it can break your heart but at the same time it's very therapeutic and healing.

We've been described as an odd couple - me blonde and tall, she dark and petite, but the other day she was saying how similar we probably are. Essentially we're the same sort of creature, but she's much more grown-up than I am. She's great in a crisis, very calm, she'll talk sense and make tea whereas the only occasion I remember going to her aid, I arrived with Scotch and painkillers, presenting them to her like frankincense and myrrh. She sensibly put them aside. She can be fantastically bossy and emphatic. She has this marvellous selfless ability to encourage me - just do it, she'll say. I often feel that I'm coming in where I just went out from, but Esther seems to march forward all the time.

ESTHER FREUD: I remember Kitty distinctly on our first day as drama students. The class sat in an enormous circle, the teacher scrutinising us. Kitty made a quick, funny joke, everyone laughed and I was really impressed. I remember thinking, what a beautiful girl and what strange clothes. She dressed in an incredibly messy fashion - mismatched layers with desert boots. In fact it was very clever. When she wore conventionally smart things they didn't flatter her half as much.

I was sure she was someone I would get to know, but she had such glamour, I was quite shy of her. Something happened that term that every drama student should arrange in order to make their mark - a young actor arrived outside college and hammered on the door, screaming and yelling in a very Brando-ish way, 'Kitty] I love you]' The whole college thought wow, how fantastic. After that she seemed like a creature from another planet.

I became friendly with Kitty's flatmate, Sharon, and I loved to hear tales of their life in a semi-derelict house in Arsenal. When Kitty painted the living room she had no ladder, so the paint only went up as far as her arm would reach.

It wasn't until after drama school that we really got together. I told her about a writing course I was doing and she pulled out great crumpled sheets of paper from her bag. Like me, she was obsessed with relationships so we swopped our writing and decided to put it together in a show. Kitty's very musical, she wrote the songs and compiled the music. I'm almost tone deaf. She's the only person who has ever been able to get me to sing.

We had the first performance in my garage. We'd pinched wood from building sites to make tiers of seats. We were terrified. But we were a big success. The thing about Kitty is that from the moment we decided to do the show I knew it would work, because of her. I knew her glamour would seep out and affect me.

We did gigs all the next year and I found it was exactly what I'd been wanting to do without realising it - writing and acting and having this very close relationship, it fulfilled everything for me. I was very happy. I booked us into the Edinburgh Festival and we roared up the motorway at 80 miles an hour. When we arrived the exhaust fell off and the radiator exploded, but we had a wonderful time.

Our next show at the Boulevard Theatre got great reviews and sold out. They offered us an extension, but Kitty's agent was very ambitious and began to get her lots of work. By the end of the year Kitty had done three films and was engaged to be married. That was a difficult time for me. I felt - what happened to my life? I thought the answer was to find someone else to write with, but that sort of thing happens once in a lifetime. We still kept very much in touch. Once Kitty was married she and her husband decided to make films together so she and I wrote a screenplay, but with films you need millions to get things off the ground.

In 1990 I wrote what became my first novel, Hideous Kinky. It was Kitty who suggested the title. I gave it to her to read before anyone else, saying is it a book, or just lots of words on lots of pages? She rang saying 'It's a book. You've written a book]' But she made some very constructive comments. 'Where is the end?' she said. 'It stops as if someone had shot you in the head.' She was right, I'd scrapped the end, all I had to do was reinstate it. I sent it to an agent and within a week I had a deal.

Her great strength is her sense of humour and her bizarre outlook on life. I remember calling her up in tears and she rushed round with cigarettes and whisky and made me laugh. She makes me laugh more than anyone. A critic once described her as tall and spiky and me as small and comfortable. Yet a friend watching her on telly recently said: 'Isn't it extraordinary, when I watch her, I think of you.' I guess something must rub off.-

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