Lily James — things you didn't know about the British actress

Lily James at the UK premier of Yesterday in 2019
Lily James is a huge star on both stage and screen. (Image credit: Getty)

Lily James has become a household name thanks to roles in productions like Downton Abbey, War and Peace, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Rebecca and Yesterday

Since first appearing on our screens in Just William on BBC One in 2010 Lily's hugely successful career has gone from strength-to-strength and seen her working with some of the biggest names in showbiz. 

But what else is there to learn about the actress? Here are a few things you might not know...

Her name isn't Lily James

Lily was actually born Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson, however she is professionally known as Lily James after taking the name of her late father, James Thomson, after discovering there was already an actress with the stage name Lily Thomson. Lily's father sadly died of cancer when she was 18 and took his name in his memory. 

Lily James had a very famous grandmother 

Lily's paternal grandmother, Helen Horton, was a famous American actress, who enjoyed a career in New York before marrying Lily's grandfather Hamish Thomson. Helen appeared in numerous productions over the years and was probably best known for voicing the ship's computer 'mother' in the 1979 film Alien. Lily told The Guardian: "My grandmother acted her entire life. She died just before I started drama school, sadly. I wish I could talk to her about the business now, she was so glamorous and witty."

She breaks out into a rash whenever she is nervous 

Lily has revealed that she has a nervous rash that gets so bad she has been known to wear polo neck jumpers to auditions! She told The Guardian: "There was a period of time where I was doing auditions and I wasn't ever quite sealing the deal. I would get so nervous that I had to wear a polo neck becasue I'd come up in this huge rash on my neck. I get it when I'm excited, or turned on, or anything, it's ridiculous!"

Lily James in The Pursuit of Love

Lily James (right) as Linda in the Pursuit of Love.   (Image credit: BBC)

She had to live in a filming bubble while shooting The Pursuit of Love

Lily's recent BBC hit period drama, The Pursuit of Love, was filmed in 2020 after the first lockdown restrictions eased. There were still strict rules and regulations on set, however, and Lily and the rest of the cast entered into a filming bubble so that they could continue production without social distancing. Lily told The Guardian: "There was a covid policeman called Ollie who would go around the set saying 'Mask on!' He managed to do it with some humour, thank god!"

Lily James is an amazing singer 

It's not just acting that Lily is good at, she is also a brilliant singer and can often be found showing off her skills in movies that she is making. You can hear Lily sing in Mama Mia, Baby Driver and Cinderella to name just a few productions. 

She would love to appear in BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? 

There have been rumours flying around for years that Lily is distantly related to the two President Bushes, but Lily is adamant that this isn't true. She does however have American family, and admits that she doesnt know her family tree all that well... so perhaps Who Do You Think You Are? could get to the bottom of the debate once and for all?! 

She got through lockdown by doing jigsaws and drinking wine 

Like much of the rest of the world, Lily discovered a passion for puzzles during lockdown. She told The Guardian: "I did jigsaws and watched Schitt's Creek. I also drank too much wine and woke up at midday!"

She is a huge Spice Girls fan

Lily has been a life-long fan of the Spice Girls and there is even a home video of her singing along to one of her favourite tracks. More recently Lily has been to see the band in concert and even got to meet Emma Bunton back stage. 

Lily James's fact file 

Answers to the most frequently asked questions about the actress....

How old is she?

Lily James is 32 years old. She was born on 5th April 1989.

Is she married? 

Lily James isn't married.

Does she have children? 

Lily James doesn't have any children. 

Where was she born?

Lily James was born in Esher, Surrey.

How tall is she?

Lily James is 5ft 7in. 

Instagram: @lilyjamesofficial

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

Claire Crick
Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.