The Time: 1986 The Place: London's East End
"IT WAS early in 1986 I was living on the top floor of an East End council block. I didn't know many of the neighbours, except to nod to. I'd noticed this very beautiful woman with huge permed hair, red lips and nails and rouge, and her boyfriend who also had long curly hair, but we'd never spoken.
Then, everything was on a budget, and I'd bought this cheap hair dye. I was sitting at the bottom of the stairs on the phone to an actress friend and I remember her saying `you'd better go and get the dye off your hair or it might fall out'. When I went to rinse it, huge great clumps of black hair came out in my hand. I didn't know what to do. Distraught, I phoned my boyfriend, Mark, who worked as a sculptor at Madame Tussauds.
I was very upset, thinking `I'll be bald, I'll never work again'. He told me to calm down because he knew what a drama queen I was. I went out into the corridor to wait for him, with all this bubbling black froth and dye on my head and mascara dribbling down my face where I'd been crying.
At that moment this glamorous couple came out of the lift - my neighbours, Gary and Michelle. She asked me if I was all right. Between sobs, I told her what had happened, and she said, in the same tone that doctors say, trust me, I'm a doctor, "It's all right. I'm a hairdresser'. She explained that a perm had damaged my hair and that's why it was breaking off, and luckily it wasn't coming off at the root. She cut it for me and sorted me out, and that night I told Mark I'd just met someone I knew I'd be in contact with for the rest of my life. Later, Michelle told me she'd said the same thing to Gary.
We've had some wild times, like when we hijacked a meat trolley from Smithfield market and drove it around the street at 6am after a night out. We've got a wicked humour when we're together, and we're very dirty. We're 38, and there's just a month between us. She calls me Big Bird (from Sesame Street) and I call her Midge. She's my best friend.
We live a short walk away from each other in the East End. I've got a nice little house there now and I entertain a lot at home, but I often dream of having a really big place where Gary and Michelle and their kids could live as well, in the west wing. I'll always want her near me. Michelle's no saint, but she's incredibly selfless, and whereas I'm a terrible worrier, she helps me say `fuck it'. She's a very caring person.
I was there for the birth of her baby and when it popped out it was absolutely brilliant. Gary cried and I cut the cord. It was the most exciting moment of my life. I would quite like children, but it's not the be all and end all. I just haven't met the right person. Michelle thinks I need someone blokey, probably older, and not In The Business.
My circle of friends and my family all know her, and everyone likes her. Michelle has had hard times in her life but she's come through and she's solid, and she's such a grounding influence for me. Sometimes I'll say `I'm on telly' and she'll miss it and I'll get upset. She'll say, well, you don't come and watch me cut hair, do you? I'm very close to my family and they ground me in the same way. It's such a comfort to be with someone who knows you really well.
We row, of course, about stupid things. Once we argued about who'd left a plastic bag under a theatre chair. And sometimes we argue politics because we have very different views - I'm strong Labour and she veers toward Tory/Liberal. But as we've matured, so has our relationship. It used to be all fun, now it's quieter. We giggle at our wrinkles and we sit and talk more, not gossip, but about life and feelings.
Michelle's far too selfless to worry about whether her life's all right, and I do that less now I'm older. I think, right, this is me. Michelle worries about her mother who's ill, and about her kids, and I worry about my dad. Just after he became ill last year, Michelle was about to cut my hair. She just said `Shall we cut it a bit shorter this time?' She knew I needed cheering up.
I take her to all the premieres and parties, and we always try so hard not to be the last to leave events, but we always are. Michelle came to the premiere of Enchanted April and did our hair, me and Miranda Richardson. At events, we had this thing that it was embarrassing to point if one of us saw someone really famous, so we decided we'd just say `there's Bob' and the other would know to have a look. The first person we saw was Bob Geldof." Interview by Lynne Wallis