Film and TV star Sian Phillips thrilled by ‘totally unexpected’ New Year damehood

Sian Phillips (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)’ version of Calendar Girls this Christmas, was awarded a damehood in the New Year’s Honours for services to drama.

Sian Phillips has been honoured with a damehood (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Sian has been honoured with a damehood (Jonathan Brady/PA)


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, such as Peggy Ashcroft (opens in new tab) and Edith Evans (opens in new tab), 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.”

Sian, 82, who has said she has no plans for retirement, is one of Wales’s most successful stage and screen actresses.

Sian Phillips

With husband Peter O’Toole before he flew out to film Lawrence Of Arabia (PA)


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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) and Goodbye, Mr Chips (opens in new tab).

Sian Phillips

Rehearsing for the musical Marlene, for which she was nominated for an Olivier (PA)


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

Her power-hungry empress was described as “magnificent; chilling” by critics and won her a best actress Bafta in 1977.

Sian played Smiley’s cold and unfaithful wife in John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (opens in new tab) and Smiley’s People (opens in new tab) opposite Alec Guinness.

Sian Phillips

Receiving her CBE in 2000 (John Stillwell/PA)


Demonstrating the famous Welsh talent for singing, she was nominated for a best actress Olivier for the stage play 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.

Many popular TV dramas have included appearances from her, including Midsomer Murders (opens in new tab), Ballykissangel (opens in new tab), New Tricks (opens in new tab), Lewis (opens in new tab) and Agatha Christie’s Poirot (opens in new tab).

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.

Sian Phillips

In The Archers’ Calendar Girls performance in December (Andrew Smith/BBC)


Now the indefatigable Sian 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 Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest opposite Martin Jarvis (opens in new tab) and Nigel Havers (opens in new tab) last year.


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