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My body image was very bad. But I wouldn't want to yabber on about poor me because lots of young women suffer from that

INTERVIEW Maureen Beattie?

Now there's a task which, if not quite Herculean, certainly requires a heavy shoulder to get behind the door. It's not that the actress is unpleasant; far from it. Over the years she's been a peach to talk to, when discussing upcoming work or perhaps plans to mark her comedian dad Johnny's stint in the business. But revelation? You only have to look over the hundreds of column inches the lady has generated over the years – in critically acclaimed theatre work such as Medea or Lady Macbeth, or even TV dramas such as Casualty – to realise that when she chats it's all about the work.

Beattie is to public soul-bearing what Amazon is to paying tax. So will today be any different?

We're on home turf, in London's Clapham Junction, in Debenham's coffee shop, in fact, close to where the award-winning actress lives. This morning she's been having pictures taken for her appearance in the RSNO's classic Christmas show, The Snowman, and is in great spirits.

"What's not to like?" she says, rhetorically, of the show. "Siobhan (Redmond) did it last year, and I think it's great to join in the Christmas razzamataz."

Beattie will segue from The Snowman into a new play No Quarter at London's Royal Court. Does she feel fortunate to be in such a gifted position? "Yes, but there's no question the business is tough at the moment," she argues. "Especially for women." How so? There are the same number of women as men on stage? Beattie highlights how females face the slings and arrows of outrageous directorial decision-making, that judges and doctors on television are still mostly males.

"And why won't directors have Buckingham in Richard the Third, for example, played as a woman? You know, while male actors seem to get interesting as they get older, women do face the pressure to Botox the lips to get the work."

Beattie, a Botox-free, very young-looking 59-year-old, has a strong voice – but it's a contained, overview voice. Brought up to assiduously avoid headlines, the old-school maxim "tell them as little as possible" is chalked heavily on the cerebrum.

But let's try - Does she need to perform? She smiles as she reveals her first bed was a drawer in her parents' digs in Ireland where her dad was appearing. And almost as soon as she could walk she waltzed on stage to sing Mairi's Wedding, with the big high finish to garner applause.

Beattie claims that of the four siblings including Paul and Louise, a former actress and now with the procurator fiscal's office, it was her brother Mark (who works for the DSS) who looked most likely to enter the business.

"But yes, I wanted to be on stage. I wanted to be a May Moxon dancer. It was all so glamorous."

Beattie's mum was glamour personified, a former model turned showbiz agency boss. Was it an odd upbringing? "I didn't know what 'normal' was," she admits. "Dad toured, and then this very exciting person came home, or we'd rent the flat out and go out to the seaside for the summer season. My mother wasn't a Katie Oxo, cuddly-bunny-roaring-fire mum, but she needed little sleep, could bake and ran a successful agency. She was always so positive."

Beattie was a slightly out-of-sorts teenager who would learn Shakespeare speeches "just for the love of it". She was the last to wear make-up, the last in her group to have a boyfriend. And the sixties Scottish Catholic guilt so many suffered weighed on her shoulders like a duffle coat soaked in holy water. She reveals now her weight was also an issue in her life.

"Yes, it made me miserable," she admits. "At times I thought I was a Two Ton Tessie and my body image was very bad. But I wouldn't want to yabber on about poor me because lots of young women suffer from that."

Beattie's teenage acting dream was alive and well, but she determined she'd first volunteer to save the starving world. Miraculously, fate intervened with a job offer in Perth as comedian Larry Marshall's feed. And with it came a coveted Equity card. Yet, she now suspects fate had little to do with it.

"I think my parents offered Larry Marshall 15 quid a week to take me on," she says, with a wry grin. "They didn't want me going abroad. I really must tackle dad about that."

Beattie joined the RSAMD and became a star pupil. But at five foot eight she was awkward and often cast as the older woman, the regal countess. Indeed, in third year she panicked when she had to play her own age. "I guess I thought I was a big fat person, so I worried about that."

Is she one of those actors who inhabits characters because they're not entirely happy in their own skin? "I would like to think it's not true of me," she says, not entirely sure. "But then you have to ask, 'When do you stop acting?' I was very aware from an early age of being recognised, not just being myself but being representative of a 'dynasty', which is Johnny Beattie and Kitty Lamont's daughter."

So she could be performing right now? "Of course I am!" When is she not performing? "When I'm asleep," she says, laughing.

The chat flows. Beattie talks of an "ordinary life", albeit in a world within a world. But does a life in drama heighten the drama in real life?

"Yes, I think it does," she says." I remember playing a part in a play in which a couple were splitting up and at the time I had a huge argument with my then boyfriend, and I found myself quoting from the play. Or at least he realised I was. Then, when playing Lady M for Michael Boyd, for example, I didn't want to go to sleep at night because my nightmares were so bad; the black magic, the evil spirits. And when I played Mary, Queen of Scots – well, I had my head chopped off every night in my sleep."

Beattie entirely inhabits her roles, yet she is genuinely unassuming about her talent. She didn't realise she'd never had a bad crit. But of course, she has a healthy ego. "Like most actors, I want to be the best thing in a brilliant show. I believe my early days of watching people such as Anne Fields take the stage in a village hall has had an enormous impact. It's given me a third eye to see what I'm doing."

Her professional life is clearly fulfilling but what of the personal? No, not the fact she likes to ice cakes (she shows some incredible photos) or does lashings of charity work or escapes to her house on Bute. What about relationships? The mango juice is sipped slowly before the answer emerges.

"I don't have anyone special," she admits. "In fact, I don't think I'll ever have a relationship again." Gosh. Why? "The lack of belief in the possibility, a mixture of terror and - once bitten -"

But we've all been bitten, Maureen - and the poison works its way through the system? "Not in my case." She adds, grinning. "I'm actually decrepit."

She's actually bonkers, I tell her. She's attractive, talented and funny and with eyes that make Daniel Craig's baby blues seem bloodshot ... "No it's not madness. It would be too hard to try again. As for the exhilaration of meeting someone new? Well, I get that sort of feeling in work and other areas of my life." What if someone blew her socks off? "I probably wouldn't know," she says. "I'd go, oh ... (makes frightened face) and then run off in another direction and be gone."

Do people feel sympathy for her because she doesn't have the 2.4s? "I don't live in that world," she says. "I've been in situations where it would be nice to be with someone, but overall, no."

What about the presumption that she must be gay? "I used to get that a lot. In fact, at the RSC in 1988 one stage manager reckoned I was a lesbian because there didn't seem to be a man in my life and I was 'always helping people' and because I kept talking about 'my partner Judy' – which was Judy Sweeney, with whom I ran a theatre company."

Beattie smiles as she recalls the incident, but then you can almost see Dad's protective hand touch her shoulder. "Look, I think I've said too much -" she says breaking off with a half smile.

Still, the door is now slightly ajar.

l The Snowman, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, December 22, at 2pm and 6pm.

maureen beattie Actress

Picture: Jamie Simpson

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