The Inventory: Siân Phillips

‘I believe in a level playing field and I don’t really care who provides it,’ says the actor

Siân Phillips, 81, is a distinguished stage, radio, film and television actor. She was appointed CBE in 2000.

What was your earliest ambition?

I was six and I saw a show and I decided to go into the theatre. It was terribly simple.

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

Pontardawe Grammar School – an old-fashioned grammar school. I loved every minute of it. I went to the University of Wales, where I started with English and then fell in love with philosophy. Then I went to Rada. I also started work as an actress at the age of 11 and I worked all through my school days.

Who was or still is your mentor?

I’ve had so many, and I still meet people who are mentors at this advanced age. My first and strongest influence was my form mistress at grammar school, Miss Inkin. She was also a brilliant, brilliant PT mistress and my whole life has been influenced by her.

How physically fit are you?

I’m touching wood but I am very fit.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Talent, of course – then it’s not so much ambition as perseverance. And large quantities of luck.

Education: Rada

No, but I did pass the equivalent of the 11-plus when I was nine. I got nought per cent in arithmetic but I got a scholarship on the back of it.

How politically committed are you?

I believe in a level playing field, having been the recipient of one, and I don’t really care who provides it. I’ll vote for whoever’s doing the right thing.

In what place are you happiest?

In a garden, gardening. Or walking. And in the theatre – I love being at work.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I try to be as good as I can be about it.

Do you have more than one home?

No.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

For the first time in my life I don’t have a garden but normally gardening is my biggest extravagance. It’s health maintenance – having a garden is like having a private trainer.

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

A really huge garden.

What ambitions do you still have?

It takes a lot of ambition to be an actor. It isn’t a job you learn and then say “I can do this” – you constantly have to be straining at the bit to get better.

What drives you on?

Wanting to be better, to get work right.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Being able to have earned my living all my life at a job I adore.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Everything is a constant disappointment because it never is as good as you think it’s going to be! But I don’t get depressed.

Happiest: when gardening

Over the past five or 10 years I’ve actually become what I thought I would, so she wouldn’t be surprised. She would just nod. I just knew this was how it would go.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Go and find work. It wouldn’t bother me if it was something utterly different, as long as I could find something to do.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

I can quite see why people would want to, and I sympathise, but there is something in me that says no.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Yes, I think I do. Though I’m not quite sure in what form.

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

I hope this doesn’t sound too vainglorious but the older I get, the closer it gets to full marks.

Siân Phillips plays Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, until September 20, then on tour nationally until October 25; atgtickets.com

Photographs: Sam Pearce/Camera Press; Dreamstime; Getty

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