how do I look?: Royle variety

As a child she was a tomboy, in the Sixties she was into miniskirts. Now she alternates between high heels and wellies. Sue Johnston, the slobbish Barbara in `The Royle Family', reflects on her changing appearance
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I was brought up with my cousins. It was towards the end of the war, and we used to spend our time with my mum's three eldest sisters while their husbands were away. My grandmother was a very gifted dressmaker, and we had these cute little dresses that always looked lovely. On high days and holidays, we would all be turned out in frills. There was a strong sense of fashion within the family. When I was nine I had a lovely yellow cotton sun dress with a jacket. It was shop-bought and I loved it. We used to get new clothes for church on Easter Sunday. I also had white lace gloves to wear in church and I used to bite them. They were all frayed, with finger-ends sticking out. I had a friend, Pat, whose father was an accountant. Her family were the first people I knew who bought clothes at Marks & Spencer. They took me on holiday, and my Auntie May made me a dress of lovely blue glazed cotton, but I felt that everybody would know it was home-made.

I wasn't a particularly pretty little girl. I had friends who were very pretty, and I used to imagine that I was like them. Then I'd look in the mirror and go: "Ugh! That's not how I feel I look. Ugly girl!" One Christmas, when I was about 16, my mother bought me stockings and a pair of cream shoes with huge Cuban heels. I felt so embarrassed - I was a tomboy, and wearing stockings was almost a sexual statement. We went to my grandmother's, and one of my uncles laughed. I ran into the kitchen and put my shoes and socks back on.

I came to London as a drama student in 1966 and, of course, it was amazing. I remember my first miniskirt. It was grey wool with a big black belt, but they weren't really that short when they first came in. For a wedding, I bought a maroon jersey dress which I wore with a pink petal hat. It was only to the knee, but my mother made me let it down. I used to come home in my old Levi's, and mum would say: "You're an actress now, you're supposed to dress like one." I'd ask: "What does an actress dress like?" If I love a jumper and it's got holes in it, I'll still wear it. But my mum, even at 84, is immaculately turned out. She says: "I take pride in my appearance." (Dig, dig, dig). And: "Now you're getting old, you should wear something that brightens up your face."

I don't exercise; I have a cupboard full of exercise videos that I've never done. I did once join a gym and went for three months, but then I thought: "Why am I doing this?" I used to be bored stiff, and there would be Dave Watson, the captain of Everton, with his big, tough legs, pounding away for hours beside me. But doing a show like The Mysteries, you never have to think about your weight because it's so energetic.

I hate my nose. I loathe it. I have my dad's nose, and my dad's high cheekbones. He lay on his deathbed and I thought: "I'll look like this on my deathbed." I said: "Dad, you look like Geronimo." But I suppose I have a dramatic profile - I like my cheekbones, it's just this nose. I have thought of changing it, but then I think: "What if I lose something of me with it?" Ageing is not nice. It's difficult to come to terms with. I'd like to get rid of my droopy jowls, but I'd hate to have got to this age and to have a lineless face.

I love designer clothes - Nicole Farhi, Armani, DKNY. And I keep my clothes - I've got an attic-full. I've got Biba stuff I bought at her first shop when I was at drama school. I don't spend a lot on make-up, and I'm not very good at taking it off, which is why I have dreadful skin. I could never bear not to have mascara on, and nowadays I have to wear some lipstick because there's this terrible paling of the lips as you get older. I go to Antenna in Kensington Church Street in west London to have dye put on my hair. It's sort of light chocolate. I often have extensions, especially for The Royle Family. When I'm playing Barbara I don't wear any make-up and I let the grey come through. It's great fun being such a slob. I do love getting glammed up, but there are days - when I'm at home, or just out with the dogs in my wellies - when I would quite like not even to get washed. I ruined my feet when I was young, putting them into stilettos. I've got toes that fit perfectly into pointy shoes. I do wear high heels sometimes, with a suit, but I know it's not me. I think style is about recognising who you are, and which clothes make you feel like who you are. But my mother always says: "You've never looked good since I stopped dressing you."

Sue Johnston will be appearing in `The Mysteries' at the Royal National Theatre, London SE1 (0171-452 3000) from 18 December.

Comments