HOW WE MET: SERENA GORDON AND JANE HORROCKS

Serena Gordon, 33, was born in London. She studied at RADA and has worked in theatre, television and film ever since. Her film and TV work includes Golden Eye, Maurice, The Bill and Kinsey. She lives in south- west London with her husband and their baby son.

Jane Horrocks, 32, was born in Lancashire. After leaving RADA, she joined the RSC. She is best-known for her roles in Life is Sweet and Absolutely Fabulous. A one-off sketch show, Never Mind the Horrocks, is screened this week on Channel Four. She lives in north London

Serena Gordon: We met at RADA 13 years ago. At some point in the second term we must have become friends, because she came to the Edinburgh festival with me the following summer. I remember the first day at RADA was awful. We all had to sit round in a circle and say who we were and where we were from. I'd been working in New York and had just got back from Mauritius. I naively told them all this, not realising how it would sound. Other people said, "My father's a butcher and I've only been on holiday to Morecambe." I just came across as so privileged. Then I remember Jane saying she came from Lancashire and she sold umbrellas on Oxford Street.

About two days later we had to do our audition speeches and Jane did Shakespeare. She had this amazingly resonant voice. I was absolutely bowled over. I remember thinking, "Don't judge a book by its cover." After that we hit it off, although people viewed us as the oddball couple. We have very different backgrounds and look different; she's small and I'm tall.

We went to the Canary Islands once and I'm sure people thought I was a mother on holiday with her bulimic daughter. We'd lie next to this swimming pool and Jane was so thin she'd look like a towel. Whenever we went to restaurants I'd order for her because she'd always order something she hated. So I'd always end up feeling like her mother. We went to Florence about four years ago and there was all this beautiful architecture everywhere. I'd point out the Ponte Vecchio and Jane would say, "So what? It just goes over the river." In the end we had to find a swimming pool because she's such a sun worshipper.

After RADA we lived together for a few months in Bayswater. It was a kind of squat that we did up. I remember I was always far more practical than Jane. She couldn't find her way out of a paper bag. She'd say, "I've got to get to Oxford Street. How do I get there?" And I'd have to draw her a map and tell her which line to get on and when to get off.

We had great fun going out together. Next morning Jane would groan and say, "Why didn't you take me home?" and I'd reply, "You didn't want to. I'm not going to stand around like your mother." But she also seems to bring out the adolescent in me. It's a very childish friendship but a really important one too.

There was also a lot of mimicry: when we lived together we started to pick up each other's accents. People would phone up and think she was me. Every so often I'll see her playing a part where I think, "Hang on, where did she get that voice?" Fortunately she now does an accent that sounds more like Joanna Lumley than me.

I always go and see Jane in whatever she's doing. I'm so excited about her career. She needs glamorous roles, but she often gets cast as the girl with the Kirbigrip, which she does do brilliantly. Sometimes they're harrowing roles, yet she manages to combine that with Bubble in Ab Fab. She's just a great star.

I've always admired Jane for sticking to what she believes in. She'll say, "I'm not going to do that. It's inconvenient." That's a very Jane line. She knows what she wants and she gets it. When she gives me advice, she nearly always says, "Follow your heart and your instinct. Don't do it because other people want you to." And she sticks to it. She's had opportunities to go to Hollywood and said, "No, I want to stay here." I really respect that because I think if I'd had the chance I would have run with it.

When I went to see Jane's last show I was shivering all over - I was so nervous for her. I cry every time I see her in something; it's as though I'm saying to myself, "She's really doing it." There's never been any sense of rivalry - it's more a kind of reflected glory.

Whatever relationships we've been in, Jane and I have always had our time together. It's important for both of us to see each other as individuals. I'll have lunch with her so we can talk and catch up, especially when my husband Tim goes away. We go out, eat red meat and drink red wine - Tim doesn't eat meat. We also spend hours on the phone. Now they've started itemising the bills, Tim can see how many calls we make. He always asks, "How can you have anything left to talk about?" But I just do, more than with anybody else I know.

JANE HORROCKS: When I first met Serena at RADA, my first impression was, "I'm not going to get on with this woman." At one point, I'm sure she blanked me - I don't think she meant to, but I thought she came across as one of those rude-posh types.

Then at the end of our first year I went to the Edinburgh festival with her - we had a great laugh and I just adored her. Serena was very good at organising me; she'd always carry all my luggage and tell me how to get to places. I think she's spent a lot of her life being an organiser and she's chosen a husband who's also an organiser. That's probably deliberate, so that she doesn't have to do so much.

I think it's Serena's support that I appreciate most - I know she'll be there if I need her. She was my only friend who came to help me move house recently and in a way she was the only person I wanted there. I knew she'd be totally helpful. Workwise, she's also very encouraging. I always feel I've done something very special when Serena comes to see it. When she came to see me in Ab Fab I'd be cracking up laughing because I could hear her laugh on all the recordings. I always feel she's genuinely proud of whatever I do. Sometimes you think your actress friends could be envious, but it's never been like that with Serena - she's not a jealous girl. She's really enthusiastic about everything.

I've always seen her as successful, although I think we've gone in different directions. I've played a lot of character parts and I think Serena is good at straight roles - that's where she's found her niche.

Both of us have had quite a few relationships with blokes and she always used to take it worse than I did. She's very prone to tears. I sometimes feel as hard as nails compared to her, because I don't cry at the drop of a hat. Serena's emotions can flow like water. I remember going to see a Shirley Bassey concert with her when she'd just broken up with somebody. She bawled her way through the concert and then said afterwards, "Thanks for inviting me, it did me the world of good."

Serena used to get quite concerned about me romantically, because I used to be quite a flitter. I'd fall madly in love with one person, then the next minute I'd be off with somebody else. She got quite upset one night, saying I'd make myself unhappy. My response was, "I'm all right Jack." I think that's my response a lot of the time. I would never admit I was wrong and say, "Yes, I should think about things more seriously."

But turning 30 changes all that. Now I do think about marriage and children and I'm envious of Serena's situation. Her life has gone in a different direction to mine. She's happily married with a lovely baby and she's more secure than I've ever seen her. It was a difficult time for me when Serena got married - I did feel it would change our friendship. I probably wasn't aware of it, but looking back I think I sort of backed away from being so close; I'd say, "I feel fine, I'm OK," when really I wasn't. Then the year before last she was planning to move to San Francisco for good and I felt very miserable. I remember feeling slightly resentful about her husband; not only was he marrying my best friend, he was also taking her off to America. I think I was probably quite difficult with Tim - it's territorial, really.

But it's really nice now, because we'll go shopping together and it's more like it used to be. We had a night out last week and Serena, who was never one for going home early, was up until about 3am and I thought, "This is brilliant. It's just like the old days."

I really admire Serena's generosity of spirit; she always tries to find the best in people whereas I feel I've been a real old bitch at times. I really respect that and try to be like her; to see the good in people and get on with them instantly. When we had our joint 30th birthday party at the Groucho Club she was inviting anyone she met at Covent Garden Tube Station. She's got an enormous number of friends; wherever we went on holiday we'd meet someone she knew.

What I value most about our friendship is the sense of history - we've spent such a lot of time together. At RADA, I wouldn't have believed that the one friend I'd still see so much would be the Chelsea girl. !

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