The Inventory: Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes, 70, is an award-winning stage, film and television actress. She was awarded an OBE in 2001.

What was your earliest ambition?

My father was a doctor, so I thought I was going to be a doctor, too, but I couldn’t do maths, I couldn’t do science, I was hopeless at chemistry.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Oxford High School; I think it’s the best school in the world. I read English at Newnham College, Cambridge, and absolutely loved it.

Who was your mentor?

F.R. Leavis. His books and teaching were instrumental in focusing me on Charles Dickens and his insistence that literature is not entertainment, but has a moral force, is one of the tenets of my life.

How physically fit are you?

I swim a kilometre every day that I’m able to. I’m too fat and I don’t get enough sleep but apart from that, I’m doing rather well.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Both, and a jolly big dash of luck as well. And character; sometimes people have talent but they don’t have the character to support it.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Yes. I was hopeless. I’m extremely unintelligent.

How politically committed are you?

Totally, violently, fiercely. I’m a member of the Labour party, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Liberty, Amnesty International, several groups to help asylum seekers ... I’m a busybodying, do-gooding liberal.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes, usually when I’m cleaning my teeth. I don’t run the water. And when I fly, I pay for a carbon offset. But I rather naughtily use the car more than I should. I’m not a fanatical keeper of the earth; I want other people to do it for me and I’ll go along with them.

Do you have more than one home?

I have no children and I never wanted any; I have homes instead. I have five: two in Australia, one in Italy and two and a half in England – one is a flat.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A swimming pool.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Buying books.

In what place are you happiest?

The hammocks at my house in Italy.

What ambitions do you still have?

I’ve never been asked to play at the National Theatre; I’d like to be asked, and asked not once but twice.

What drives you on?

Natural exuberance.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

My one-woman show, Dickens’ Women. I do 23 characters and tell the story of his life. It’s a jolly good piece of work and I’m very proud of it.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not being at the National Theatre.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

“Not good enough.”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d try and keep doing something to do with the theatre; a dresser, something like that. Or try to get a job at a drama school, or be a volunteer somewhere.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?


Do you believe in an afterlife?

No. It’s complete nonsense. I am fervently anti-religion – and that includes my own. I do keep the Jewish dietary laws, though, and go to the synagogue and keep Passover because of my parents. I adored them and want to think that they would be proud of me.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Six, because I haven’t been at the National Theatre and I haven’t got back to being eight stone. I think it would be a great triumph if I were eight stone, and I’d probably live a great deal longer.

Miriam Margolyes supports the Walk With Me, Talk With Me campaign from national deafblind charity Sense.

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