Though consistently voted the UK's most popular female light entertainer and comedienne, Julie Walters is a far more rounded artist than that. A successful stage performer of longstanding, she's been involved in many of the most important theatrical progressions of the last 25 years, as well as being a bestselling author and an award-winning screen actress. She also took part in one of the most successful franchises in screen history, playing Mrs Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. Worldwide fame and critical respect - really, she has it all.
She was born Julia Mary Walters in Smethwick, Birmingham, on the 22nd of February, 1950. The youngest of three children (she has two brothers), she hails from an Irish Catholic family, her parents being Thomas and Mary Bridget (nee O'Brien). She did not have an academic background, there being no books kept in the house, and Julie was not a good student. By the time she reached Holly Lodge Grammar School she was an habitual truant, her misbehaviour made easier by the fact that both Thomas and Mary worked full-time. Eventually she was given a letter to take home, a letter asking her parents not to send her back to school. Canny Julie opened it and binned it, instead telling her parents she'd decided to leave the Lower Sixth and find work. To her mother's delight, she'd begin training as a nurse at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Mary was keen for her daughter to find stable employment and there'd been many an argument over Julie's longstanding desire to act. Consequently, there was a ferocious fight when, just halfway through her course, Julie decided to leave nursing and study English and Drama at Manchester Polytechnic, where her current boyfriend was a student. Thomas and his sons would have to step in to prevent Mary from attacking her wayward child. "She'll be in the gutter before she's 20", Mary claimed, but she'd be secretly proud of her daughter's subsequent achievements. When her mother died, in 1989, Walters was deeply moved to find amongst her possessions a box stuffed with newspaper clippings recording Julie's many successes.
Julie's path through Poly was smooth, she'd found her path. She loved drama and was increasingly politicized, particularly by the boyfriend who'd encouraged her to enrol. These were times of political ferment and students were prime movers in the ongoing change. As she came towards the end of her course she'd show around a visiting student hoping to enrol on the drama course. It would be 8 years before anything came of it, but a long and extremely fruitful relationship would eventually be forged between them. The stripling student's name was Victoria Wood.
On leaving college, Walters' first professional engagement would be with Van
Load, a raucous touring offshoot of Liverpool's Everyman Theatre. Under the
leadership of RADA grad Jonathan Pryce, the Everyman was in full bloom,
gaining worldwide respect for its inventive updates of the classics and its
brave focus on a new, earthy, realist theatre, house writers including both
Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell. The venue, a converted chapel in Hope
Street, was funky, with gas lighting, props scattered all around and the walls
bedecked with graffiti by the famed Liverpool poets. The downstairs bar was
funky, too, serving such exotic delights as chilli con carne, Newcastle Brown
ale and Italian ice cream. The whole operation was intended to smash the
elitism of theatre and bring new experiences to the common man, all the actors
mucking in with behind-the-scenes work, even tending bar. At night, they'd
enjoy a wild time in a vibrant city, Everyman players getting free entry to
clubs out of respect for their efforts on Liverpool's behalf. And what players
they were. Aside from Pryce, there was Anthony Sher, Alison Steadman, Bernard
Hill, Trevor Eve, Nicholas Le Prevost, Barbara Dickson, several McGann
brothers, and Pryce's partner Kate Fahy.