I’ve always had a select few good friends, rather than a large group – I think partly because of my shyness. I have a small nucleus of people I rely on when life gets tricky.
I have no contact with anyone from school. My friends are largely in the same type of work as I am, so we understand each other’s schedules. I can drop in and catch up straight away. I met a particularly close friend when we turned up in the same theatre company and both felt the other was somebody to be reckoned with. I can tell her how I’m feeling and she’ll respond with whatever I need to hear. Not patronising, not pandering, but something useful – that relationship is a great feeling and it’s about trust.
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I shed friends, too, when I’ve felt I’m in their company for the wrong reasons. This business is full of friendships that are fleeting, and they’re none the worse for that: there are relationships that are great, but when the work is finished, there’s no need to continue because real life isn’t the acting job you’ve just done.
My ideal evening with friends is dinner and conversation, where we’re relaxed enough to make fun of each other, to joke around. I’m also very grateful for my friends’ acceptance of the not-so-attractive side of myself. I look to a good friend to challenge me, to bring me up on something and have a conversation about it.
Female friendship brings a huge amount to my life. It’s terribly important because men are so different. When I went out into the world and started working, I was young and vulnerable, so I formed immediate strong bonds with women along the way. Over the years I’ve also started to forgive friends for their faults and their frailties – I love them for who they are, even though they sometimes disappoint me. I get advice from all my friends. I’m bad at taking it, but I don’t trust my own instincts so I have to sound out my friends.
I don’t see my girlfriends very often, but when we meet up we slot into each other’s busy day and talk about our experiences, what’s happened recently. Also, the older we get, the more operations we seem to have, so we talk about those!
I have one wonderful friend whose company I adore, but she lives in New York – so when she’s over here, I grab her for a day. And I have another friend in London whom I don’t see often because she’s always working, but when my dad was dying she was incredibly supportive. I didn’t expect that after such a long time of not seeing her. In this industry, my friends have to be understanding about me going off the radar if I’m doing a play or filming because it can be very intense. But we always manage to pick up where we left off.
It’s so important and thrilling to have a girlie night with my friends, whether we meet up to watch the Strictly final or have dinner. I love keeping up with developments in their lives, be it children or work, and they’re a great support network and beacon of stability, especially the ones I’ve known for a very long time.
A lot of my friendships date from the early days of my career. We were all just starting out in acting, so I felt a connection with them. I recently had lunch with a couple of chums with whom I toured in panto in the mid-1970s. We used to get into all sorts of scrapes and hilarious scenarios I really shouldn’t mention! We often hark back to those days when we were young and gorgeous, turning heads.
I don’t get to see my friends as much as I’d like to. It was easier when we were younger and not all involved with partners. One very close friend from my schooldays lives in Scotland – I might not see her for donkey’s years, but when we meet it’s like we’ve never been out of each other’s company, we fall back into our friendship so easily. I know who I am by this stage in my life, and I know who my friends are, so my friendships are easy and nourishing to the spirit.
Girlfriends is on Wednesday 3rd January at 9:00pm on ITV