Interview : Julia Sawalha: Absolutely one of the girls

She might be famous and glamorous - a forces sweetheart for the Nineties, no less - and come from a theatrical family, but Julia Sawalha comes across in person as down-to-earth and spontaneous

Julia Sawalha is big in Bosnia. Thanks to the huge success of such programmes as Absolutely Fabulous, Pride and Prejudice, Martin Chuzzlewit, Second Thoughts, Faith in the Future and Press Gang, her televisual alter ego tends to track the British Army round the globe like an unusually dazzling camp-follower. A forces sweetheart for the 1990s, she is always getting requests - some more printable than others - from Our Boys overseas.

Despite all the worldwide attention, the 27-year-old Sawalha remains commendably down-to-earth. She ridicules the idea of herself as a glamour puss. "I'd hate to be a sex symbol," she says dismissively, "because you're always having to live up to an image. I haven't got time to sit around doing my nails. In half an hour, I've got to go and get a clamp off my car - you can't do that in stilettos and long nails."

Dressed as a symphony in brown to match her tresses and puffing on a cigarette, she claims never to get offered glamorous roles, either. "Because I've played someone's daughter for so long, nobody's asked me," she sighs. "I love a bit of glamour - who doesn't? - but I probably wouldn't be able to pull it off."

Of even her most obviously alluring role - the spoilt Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejuduce - she concedes: "While I loved getting into period things, at the end of the day, I was pleased to get my jeans on again. It's like coming home from school and being able to take your uniform off."

Sawalha is keen just to be seen as one of the girls, someone you'd be more likely to see down the car-pound than the beauty- salon. Given to generous and spontaneous bursts of throaty laughter, she and her two big sisters (the eldest, Dina, is an artist, while the middle one, Nadia, plays tough-nut Annie Palmer in EastEnders) glory in the distinctly unflattering nicknames of "Big Slapper", "Slapper Number Two", and "Slapperette".

It was just this sort of "laddette" approach that first drew Sawalha to Jennifer Saunders' landmark sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous. In the role that made her, Sawalha played the prim, "adult" daughter Saffy to Saunders' juvenile delinquent mother, Edina. "That part helps me sleep at night, because I know that if my career ended today, I'd have done something half-decent," she asserts. "It had a profound effect on my career. People now have more respect for me in my work."

She reckons Ab Fab worked so well "because it wasn't PC, and everything nowadays has to be so correct. It showed women were capable of being smutty and drinking too much, and it was such a relief to see that. It's so important to be able to take the piss out of yourself, and Jennifer is so good at that."

The actress was also attracted by the thought of an almost exclusively female cast. "Without being sexist about it, there's a different sensitivity in the room when it's just women," Sawalha contends. "You don't have to push yourself forward to make your point; everyone listens to each other. When we're together, we've got a female sense of humour which you wouldn't necessarily see as a man. It's nice to be able to show that in work rather than down the pub. The whole series said that you don't need the man-woman thing to make it work. You don't miss it.

"Ab Fab is also very rich," she continues. "There's so much in it that you miss the first time round. You watch it again and say, `Oh, I didn't see that last time'."

One area where Sawalha diverges from the authorised text about Ab Fab is in her interpretation of Saffy. She sees Edina's daughter not as the ultimate conformist. "You could get sick of Saffy," Sawalha says, "but I reckon she's got her own separate life where she drinks and misbehaves. She only behaves properly to irritate Edina. She's rebellious in that she's not living up to her mother's expectations."

The mother-daughter schtick was also what appealed to Sawalha about Faith in the Future, ITV's long-running sitcom that has evolved out of Second Thoughts, a hit on both ITV and before that Radio 4. This time, though, in contrast to Ab Fab, the parent and child actually hit it off. "A lot of people can relate to the relationship in Faith in the Future," Sawalha observes. "They're more like sisters. They're both useless at holding down relationships, they're both feisty, and they both have a good sense of humour. It's nice to see a mother and daughter getting on in something. On television, they're usually jumping down each other's throats." We need look no further than her sister's soap for confirmation of that.

Sawalha admits that she'd love to take on the great Shavian parts of Pygmalion or St Joan. "I'll do anything that's a challenge," she muses. "The only thing I won't do is Celebrity Squares."

But, true to form, Sawalha is still keen to downplay her star status. "I get clamped like everyone else," she laughs, referring to her impending, doom-laden meeting with the traffic police. "I was in the supermarket the other day, and the man at the checkout said to me, `So the rich and famous do eat, after all'."

She concludes: "It's amazing what people think my life is like. My life is very normal and basic. I had mashed potato and gravy last night. You can't get more basic than that."

`Faith in the Future' returns to ITV at 8.30pm on 9 Jan.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

    Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

    Science Teacher

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

    Cover Supervisor

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker