My Secret Life: Maureen Lipman, Actress, age 62

Interview,Charlotte Philby
Saturday 16 August 2008 00:00 BST

The house I grew up in... I lived with my parents and my older brother in a small, three-bedroom terraced house in Northfield Road, Hull. It was in the part of Anlaby Road that lay somewhere between commercial and suburban living.

When I was a child... I wanted – according to an old exercise book – to be: a) an air hostess, b) a dress designer, c) an actress. I hate flying and I can't so much as sew a button on ... Alors! I took the short straw.

The moment that changed me for ever... While filming The Pianist I visited Auschwitz. Nothing prepared me for it. I will take on all comers – whether they are plain racists, fascists or extremists – for the rest of my life.

My real-life villains... Every crackpot dictator, be they in Burma, the military in Zimbabwe, the grotesque regime in Darfur, or Iran.

My style icon... The ladies of the Fifties and, in particular, Kay Kendall.

If I could change one thing about myself... One thing? I would like a fatter face with big bones and thick skin, please.

At night I dream of... I can only dream of sleeping all through the night. I have actor's dreams where I am opening a play and know neither the lines nor the story. I want to dream about Jack [Rosenthal, her late husband] but it is so rare. When I do, he is well and young and healthy and I wake up smiling.

What I see when I look in the mirror... I see a blank canvas waiting to be painted into style and animation.

My favourite item of clothing... is a purple, yellow, pink, jade-green and turquoise silk dress with a handkerchief-point. I think it's from Zandra Rhodes. I passed it on to my daughter, who took it to New York when we attended the Tony Awards. I left the trousers to my own outfit in London so she, with magnificent generosity, let me wear the dress. Due to a mixture of static and sweat, it clung to me like clingfilm and kept vanishing "somewhere" and had to be recovered with enormous embarrassment.

I wish I'd never worn... an all-in-one catsuit, with feet – yes, feet – and with a cropped hair-do so that no one would know that I was inside, for the premiere of my first film, Up the Junction.

It's not fashionable but I like... hats. I'd wear one at every minute of every day if I could. I even put Christmas wrapping paper over my head.

All my money goes on... employing people to do things I cannot do.

If I have time to myself... I eat, sleep, paint, dance the tango, and I do love to visit seaside locations out of season.

I drive... an Audi A4, which I have anthropomorphically dubbed Audrey. She is anthracite grey with a rusty roof; trusty and life-saving to a fault.

My flat is... I moved from Muswell Hill [north London] to a funky flat in Paddington Basin a year and a half ago; I love, love it, love it! Westbourne Grove has the best shopping in London, by far.

My most valuable possession is... metaphorically, my memory; spiritually, my kids, dog and friends, and materialistically, my Sony Vaio.

My favourite building... Sir John Soane's museum. It's an amazing place, on Lincoln's Inn Fields in London, for both the architecture and the architect.

Movie heaven... Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan, by the Russian director Sergei Bodrov. The story and the scale of the film are equally breathtaking.

A book that changed me... Turn Back the Clock by Joyce Grenfell.

My favourite work of art... On the Beach of Deauville by Eugene Boudin. He painted it in 1869 and now it is in the Louvre; I go to see it whenever I'm in Paris.

The person who really makes me laugh... is the American comic Larry David; unbeatable.

The shop I can't walk past... Harrods.

The best invention ever... The printing press, and my soup-blending wand. I couldn't choose between them – both equally life-changing.

In 10 years' time, I hope to... with any luck, be a doting grandmother.

My greatest regret... My impatience.

My life in seven words... She was born under a merry star.

A life in brief

Maureen Lipman was born in Hull on 10 May 1946. An actress and comedian, she has enjoyed a varied career taking her from "Beattie" in the famous British Telecom adverts to Oklahoma! at the National Theatre and even a Doctor Who baddie in 2006. She was appointed CBE in 1999. Lipman made her debut film appearance in 1968 in the classic drama Up the Junction, which is released for the first time ever on DVD this Monday. She was married to the late playwright Jack Rosenthal and has two children, the writers Amy and Adam Rosenthal, by him. She lives in Paddington, London

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