My secret life: Juliet Stevenson

Actress, 52

The home I grew up in... doesn't exist. I grew up all over the world. My father was in the army and was posted to a new place every two and a half years. I have no geographical roots.

When I was a child I wanted to be... a waitress and an air hostess - a common element of serving other people, which I do a lot at home. So I've fulfilled my ambition after all.

The moment that changed me for ever was... the moment I first heard Shakespeare spoken out loud, by a group of actors at school. Theirs was a five-person rendition of King Lear. I walked out an hour later, transformed by the language and scale of thinking and feeling.

My greatest inspiration... is my mum, who has overcome an enormous amount and remains joyous, outward-looking and energetic.

My real-life villain... cruelty to children is the thing I can least bear in the world.

My style icon... Annie Lennox: her confident, celebratory and individual commitment to style, and her disregard for fashion trends dictated by cynical forces.

If I could change one thing about myself... it would be almost everything

At night I dream of... losing my children was a recurring one when I was younger.

What I see when I look in the mirror... I tend to see someone I don't always recognise.

My favourite item of clothing... is a shirt I wear that belonged to my brother, whom I lost seven or eight years ago.

I wish I'd never worn... I'm rather haunted by a Westwood dress I wore to pick up an award for Truly Madly, Deeply. I arrived straight off a plane, and my friend sorted out the outfit – made of old car tyres. She persuaded me it was cutting-edge, but the only edge it cut was into the flesh around my hips. It felt like the worst form of fancy dress.

It's not fashionable but I like... rubber clogs.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at... remembering people and what they have told me in past conversations.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... cooking, saving money, organising my finances in any way that makes sense.

All my money goes on... keeping this quite large, expensive and very active household afloat.

If I had time to myself... I never have time to myself; it's the one thing about my life I would probably hope to change.

I ride... a bike in Suffolk, which makes me happier than almost anything else.

My house... is bohemian, cluttered, warm and noisy.

My most valuable possessions are... the clay sculptures my daughter made between ages of 9 and 11. She worked with a potter and made the most remarkable series.

My favourite building... is the Alhambra de Grenada, which is vast and yet it's like lace. It embodies the most exquisite harmony of water, form and light

Movie heaven... is a night at the Everyman theatre in Hampstead, watching an Ingmar Bergman film, with regular popcorn.

A book that changed me... was Emile Zola's Germinal, set in a mining community in southern France. Those 19th century novelists were exposing the appalling injustices of the new post-industrial age. It was a big source of political fire in my late teens.

My favourite work of art... if I could have any artist's work on way sitting room wall it would probably be by Van Gogh or Picasso.

The last album I bought/downloaded... recently I have been listening to a lot of violin artists, particularly Bach sonatas.

The person who really makes me laugh... my children, all the time, every day.

The shops I can't walk past... there are many of those: the Oxfam bookshop in Highgate Village, John Lewis, the garden centre and if I'm with my daughter then Abercrombie and Fitch.

The best invention ever... antibiotics.

In ten years time... I hope to have more time to think, to look at the sky, dealing with less crisis management, to learn another language, to travel.

My greatest regret... I have quite a robust relationship with regret. You simply don't know what the alternative would have been.

My life in six words... hectic, privileged, blessed, crowded, challenging, happy

A life in brief

Juliet Stevenson CBE was born in October 1956 in Kelvedon, Essex. A Laurence Olivier award-winning stage actress, her extensive film credits include a lead role opposite Alan Rickman in Anthony Minghella's Bafta-winning Truly, Madly, Deeply. She lives in north London and Suffolk with her husband and three children, and stars in Duet for One at the Almeida until 14 March.

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