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Sian Phillips 'grateful' to be in company of theatre dames she idolises

Published 30/12/2015

Sian Phillips has been named a dame in the New Year's Honours
Sian Phillips has been named a dame in the New Year's Honours

Sian Phillips is "deeply honoured" to find herself in the same company as dames she has admired all her life.

The actress, who stole the show in The Archers' version of Calendar Girls this Christmas, was awarded a damehood in the New Year's Honours for services to drama.

She said: "It is a totally unexpected honour and something I could never have imagined when I decided to be an actress at the age of six.

"I idolised all the dames like Peggy Ashcroft and Edith Evans and couldn't quite believe then that we inhabited the same planet. I feel the same way now - though I also feel deeply honoured and very grateful."

The 82-year-old, who has said she has no plans for retirement, is one of Wales's most successful stage and screen actresses.

She first wowed critics with her London debut as the lead in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler in 1957.

Two years later she wed fellow actor Peter O'Toole, a tempestuous union that would last 20 years.

She took a break to raise the couple's two children, Kate and Patricia, appearing mainly in regional theatre and occasionally alongside her husband in films such as Under Milk Wood and Goodbye, Mr Chips.

But her career was ignited as Emmeline Pankhurst in suffragette drama Shoulder to Shoulder, before her most memorable role, the Machiavellian Livia, mother to the emperor Tiberius, in the BBC mini-series I, Claudius.

Her power-hungry empress was described as "magnificent; chilling" by critics and won her a Best Actress Bafta in 1977.

Phillips played Smiley's cold and unfaithful wife in John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People opposite Alec Guinness.

Demonstrating the famous Welsh talent for singing, she was nominated for a best actress Olivier for Pal Joey in 1980, and continued her Olivier winning streak in A Little Night Music, as Dietrich in musical Marlene, and mostly recently in Cabaret.

Barely a popular TV drama has included an appearance from her, including parts in Midsomer Murders, Ballykissangel, New Tricks, Lewis and Agatha Christie's Poirot.

Since 2005, Bafta Cymru has presented the Tlws Sian Phillips Award in her honour to a Welsh actor who has made a significant contribution to film and TV.

Now the indefatigable Phillips spends most of her time on stage, from the original Calendar Girls production in 2008, to an aged Juliet in a care home-set adaptation of Shakespeare's famous love story two years later, to Lady Bracknell in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest opposite Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers last year.

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