Celia Imrie: ‘I like to give myself a fright!’

TV Times magazine talks to Celia Imrie about ITV’s Love and Marriage (Wednesday), the surprising secret to her success and the two dares she’s set herself for this year…

Your character Rowan steals every scene with her cracking one-liners and escapades. You must have had a ball playing her… 
“She’s good fun, isn’t she? Rowan’s unconventional, loves life and most of the time just thinks: ‘Well, why not?’ It’s a wonderful part and the fact that Duncan Preston [who plays Ken], Larry [Lamb, Tommy], Alison [Steadman, Pauline] and I all know each other was a mighty big help because we didn’t have to play that.”

You’ve worked with Duncan many times on Victoria Wood’s shows, including dinnerladies and Acorn Antiques. How do you know Larry and Alison?
“Larry and I worked together 33 years ago – as he rather annoyingly reminds me! – when I did my very first play in London, Seduced, at The Royal Court. I remember his son George [presenter George Lamb] crawling on the floor when he came to see it! I’ve often crossed paths with Alison, and been to see her in the theatre lots, but we’ve not worked together before so this was marvellous.”

Love and Marriage is the latest in a seemingly endless line of high profile and hit projects, what’s your secret to carving out such a successful career?
“Generally, I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘No’ I’m afraid – I think it’s that!”

But you’re also a go-getter when it comes to roles too. Didn’t you phone up TV producer Sue Birtwistle and persuade her to give you a role in Cranford?
“Yes I did, Sue’s a fabulous producer and we worked together 35 or more years ago in Scotland doing a theatre and education company in Edinburgh. I hadn’t worked with her since, but I asked: ‘Is there some sort of maid I could play?’ I don’t do it too often, but sometimes you have to be a bit cheeky!”

Is there a particular role people stop you in the street to chat about?
“Generally it’s Miss Babs from Acorn Antiques, which I’m very proud of. But I must say Doctor Who has been a bit of a hit [Celia guest-starred as cold-hearted villain Miss Kizlet] and kids absolutely love me being so horrible in the film Nanny McPhee.”

Is there a job you credit with launching your career?
“I’m eternally grateful to Victoria Wood because I suppose it’s what people most remember me by. But it’s important too to go forwards and not backwards so I hope there are things in the future that people will remember me for.”

How do you relax when the cameras stop rolling? 
“It’s awful, but I haven’t got time for hobbies, although I love going for bike rides and splashing a bit of paint on a canvas when I can. I love seeing the world by train. I went right across America from New York to San Francisco, which was extraordinary, even Americans when I tell them can’t believe it!”

We know you split your time between homes in London and the Isle of Wight, anywhere left you’d like to go?
“I’d quite like to visit Russia because I’m ballet-mad. I also love going on the Queen Mary 2 liner, I’m never happier than when I’m on or by the sea.”

Finally, what’s next for you?
“I’m daring myself to do two things. I’m writing a book, which I’m thrilled about, and doing a cabaret in September at Crazy Coqs Cabaret Rooms in Piccadilly, which is terrifying. But that’s my whole thing – I like to give myself a fright!”

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