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I have a talent for languages but I'm too busy and geriatric now'

When I was seven ...

I was a bit of a goody goody – although it didn't last long. I was always keeping clean and tidy. All of my toys had to be laid out in a certain order. In adulthood I have gone completely the other way.

The first time my heart was broken ...

I was 17 and had a boyfriend two years older. He was a bit like Byron: dark, good looking and had a limp. It all seemed rather romantic. Then he went off with another girl and I was devastated.

The wisest thing my grandmother told me ...

I didn't have a cuddly grandmother, she was scary but rather great. She wanted to be a singer but her father wouldn't let her. When I started to act we used to have great conversations. I did a lot of theatre that was cooperatively run. She didn't understand that at all and said: "You have got to want to get to the top of your tree." Looking back I do think if I had been a bit more out for myself in the early days I might have gone further. I interpret it, though, as the top of MY tree rather than THE tree. It's about trying to do your best.

The biggest adversity I have overcome ...

My own self-criticism. As I have got older I have become easier on myself. It's about realising things can't be perfect. Or as someone said: "Don't let perfectionism get in the way of excellence."

My motto for life ...

Try and break your habits every now and then.

My soul mate is ...

My good friend Kate. We are alike in so many ways but have very different lives. I often look at her and think that's what my life might have been if I hadn't been an actress. We go for long walks in the country every six weeks or so and get everything off our chests.

Not many people know that -

I'm childish and silly. Most people tease me because I'm a bit daft.

What I look for in a friend is ...

Someone who can be honest with themselves. I don't like someone who is self-deceiving because then you can't be honest with them.

The first people I ring when I'm upset are ...

My husband Guy or friend Kate. I have eight close female friends who I have known since I was young. Depending on what it was, I would go to one of them.

I believe the secret to a strong relationship is ...

Honesty. A great friend of mine, Cynthia Carle, wrote a song called Imperfect Love, the lyrics of which are basically: accept I'm not perfect, I'll accept you aren't perfect and we will get along fine. She sang it on New Year's Eve two years ago. Afterwards, I accepted my husband's marriage proposal – and it was influenced by that song.

Something I wish I'd done earlier ...

I have a talent for music and languages but I'm too lazy, busy and geriatric now. I wish I had taken the opportunities when I was at school.

My all-time favourite YouTube clip ...

What playing cricket looks like to Americans. It's about the nonsense cricket seems when you don't know the rules.

My childhood hero was ...

Hayley Mills. She made me want to go into the acting profession.

The place I most like to call home ...

My home in Dorset. It's where all of my family photos and mementos of my past are. My London place is more practical.

Dame Harriet Walter: Ageing With Pride is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday, 3.30pm. For ticket information call 0845 373 5888 or visit www.edbookfest.co.uk. She stars in the film, The Wedding Video, in cinemas now.

Soul Searching: Dame Harriet Walter

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