Can I Go Home Now? I was four-and-a-half when I went to Edgbaston Church of England College for Girls and it was possibly the worst day of my life. My mother dressed me in this excruciatingly uncomfortable uniform which I detested for the whole 14 years, and drove me to school. I just screamed and screamed and she had to come back. I remember clinging to her. The spinster who was our teacher was lacking in warmth. When describing the sausages and sprouts we had for lunch, I have to swear: it was f***ing horrible. When my mother came back, I thought that was it: no more school.
Taming Of The Shrew? No, I cannot honestly say I ever enjoyed a day at school. It was snobbish and posh; we were being educated either for university or to marry a rich man. I was a general troublemaker. My parents were absolutely distraught. The school was costing them a lot of money they couldn't afford. I didn't even turn up for every lesson and they were spending more time outside the head's study than I was spending at school! There were a whole group of rebels; some of them were daughters of politicians and clergymen. When one of my closest friends ran away from home, the headmistress called me into her office and asked me to get her to come back, which I did. But the strong aspects of my character are thanks to that school: I believe that everyone is equal from the day they were born and I believe that it's not just a matter of intellect but of instinct and intuition.
Darling, Were Your Exam Results Wonderful? My dyslexia was discovered when I was about six and I had special books with phonetic spellings. It was only at about 12 that I was writing properly, or as well as I ever would. I was kept down a year after being in and out of hospital at 11. I took my 11-plus to see if I could get a grant but failed miserably; it was the first exam I'd ever taken and I didn't understand the process. I took nine O-levels and didn't get one. When you're dyslexic, a passage can mean something - or nothing at all. English literature was the first exam and it was not understandable so I graffiti-ed my papers and looked out of the window. I think I passed in music theory but not music history and you had to get both for music O-level.
Will You Be An Absolute Angel? I knew from the age of seven that I wanted to act. In the Infants, I was always the donkey in the Nativity play and when I told my parents, "I'm in the play," they always asked, "Oh, is there a donkey?" Later, I was always the pupil that directed the end-of- term play and the only awards I got were for this. One year we did Tobias and the Angel. I also put on a rock concert, miming to David Bowie. I started at the Old Rep Drama School [in Birmingham] at 14, in the evenings and on Saturdays, which was the first time I had taken education seriously. At 17 I went there full-time.
Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs Wilcox? My parents couldn't afford to support me, so I went to the council for a grant - and I failed, the only one going to the drama school who didn't get a grant. You had to do an audition and I think the man from the council wrote "Not attractive and has a lisp". If I ever meet that man again I shall push him down the stairs. For a year I had to support myself by working in the morning and evening as an assistant wardrobe mistress and dresser. They might have given me a diploma but after a year I was asked to go to the National Theatre, who had heard about me; I had pink hair and was probably the only punk in Birmingham.
Interview by Jonathan SaleReuse content