Julie Walters — things you didn't know about the 'Harry Potter' star

Julie Walters at the EE British Academy Film Awards in London 2018.
Julie Walters at the EE British Academy Film Awards in London 2018. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Julie Walters has been a favourite on the small and big screen for nearly 50 years. 

She began her acting life on stage at the iconic Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, met her best pal and long-term collaborator Victoria Wood in the late 1970s and has been a fixture on our TV screens and movie theatres ever since. 

Her big break came in the 1983 film Educating Rita, starring alongside Michael Caine. In the hit film she played Rita, a funny and determined working-class lass from Liverpool who wanted to improve her lot in life. 

She also starred as the inspirational and gutsy dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot, played Mrs Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films and embraced the fashion and music of Abba in the smash-hit Mamma Mia!, plus its sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Julie Walters and Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot.

Julie Walters and Jamie Bell in 'Billy Elliot'. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

This Christmas she’s starring in C4’s animated drama The Abominable Snow Baby, (Christmas Day, 7.30pm) where she provides the voice of Granny.

You can also catch her after The Queen's Speech at 3.10pm on BBC1 in Mary Poppins Returns where she plays housekeeper Ellen. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Julie Walters…

1. She was expelled from school

After attending a strict Catholic primary school run by nuns, Julie continued her education at Holly Lodge Grammar School, in Smethwick, Birmingham. But despite loving school, at the age of 15 she was expelled for being, “subversive.”

Terrified of how her mum, Mary, a post office worker of Irish descent, would react, she softened the blow by throwing away the letter from school explaining why she had been expelled and telling her mum she was going to be a nurse and didn’t need to go to school anymore. 

It was at Holly Lodge however that Julie first discovered her love of performing. Instead of focusing on her studies, she loved to do impersonations of the teachers and make her classmates laugh, a feeling that was totally addictive for the young star in the making.

2. She trained to be a nurse

Julie then went on to train as a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. She soon realised her heart wasn’t in the job however as she longed to be an actress and entertain people for a living.

But Julie knew her mum would go ballistic when she told her she was giving up her job in nursing to study drama at Manchester Polytechnic. But, with the help of her two supportive big brothers, Julie plucked up the courage to tell her mum who reacted exactly as she expected — she hit the roof and was furious! 

3. Her talent for playing older ladies was inspired by her grandmother

Julie Walters and Victoria Wood on set in 1987.

Julie Walters and Victoria Wood on set of 'Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV' in 1987. (Image credit: Getty Images)

After studying at Manchester Polytechnic, Julie auditioned for The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. It was a cutting-edge place where many great actors started their careers, including Alison Steadman, Pete Postlethwaite, and Bill Nighy.

It was here Julie played her first old lady role in an adaptation of Alan Bleasdale's novel Scully. She may have only been 24 at the time but she loved playing the drunken old woman and has since explained that her love of playing older characters stemmed from the impact her own grandmother had upon her. 

Her grandmother lived with the Walters' family until Julie was about 10. She’d had a few strokes, but living with her had a big effect on the young schoolgirl and many of her later roles were an attempt to make sense of her, including one of her most iconic — Mrs Overall from Victoria Wood's spoof soap opera Acorn Antiques

4. The cleaner at the Everyman Theatre taught her how to do a Liverpool accent

Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

Julie Walters and Michael Caine in Educating Rita. (Image credit: Rank Film Distributors)

Julie’s big break was the theatre production of Willy Russell’s play Educating Rita, which went on to be a 1983 hit-film starring Julie and Michael Caine. 

Initially Julie was unsure about putting on a Scouse accent for the part, but she remembered the cleaner at the Everyman Theatre, called Winnie, had taught her how to perfect her Scouse accent and Julie went on to star in the stage and film production, which kick-started her career and bagged her a BAFTA and her first Oscar nomination (her second was for Billy Elliot in 2001). 

5. Meeting Victoria Wood was a 'gift'

Julie Walters and Victoria Wood at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in March 2013.

Julie Walters and Victoria Wood at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in March 2013. (Image credit: Getty Images)

While working at The Bush Theatre in London in 1978, Julie got to know Victoria Wood. The pair got on immediately, making each other laugh with their shared sense of humour and mischief.

Victoria wrote many parts for Julie in a series of brilliant comedy TV shows that dominated the schedules in the 1980s and 90s, including  Wood and Walters (1982), Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV (1985), Acorn Antiques (1987) and Dinnerladies (1998).

The iconic ‘two soups’ sketch, which was actually called Waitress, sees Julie play an elderly waitress serving Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston two bowls of soup. The sketch was inspired by real life events after Julie and Victoria visited a cafe in Morecambe and were served by an elderly waitress.

Victoria sadly died on April 20, 2016 aged 62 and is much missed by her partner in comedy as the Instagram post below shows.

6. Julie starred in all but one of the 'Harry Potter' films

Julie Walters and Daniel Radcliffe.

Julie Walters and Daniel Radcliffe star. (Image credit: Warner Bros)

Can you guess which one didn’t feature Julie as Mrs Molly Weasley? From 2001 when the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released, up to 2011 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 concluded the franchise, Julie starred as the kind and generous Mrs Weasley, mother to Harry’s best mate Ron. 

But in the 2005 film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mrs Weasley did not appear as the action focused on Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts and competing in the Triwizard Tournament. 

7. She shaved her head to play a part

Julie Walters as Mo Mowlam.

Julie Walters as Mo Mowlam. (Image credit: Channel 4)

In 2010 Julie took on the role of the late MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, in the C4 drama Mo.

The powerful drama followed Mo as she fought for and helped secure the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Mo was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1997 and due to the treatment she received she started to lose her hair. 

Julie was initially concerned about playing the role because she looked nothing like Mo, but after trying to make a bald cap work, she decided to shave off her own hair. 

She’s since described it as a very sad and weird experience but the drama was a huge hit and she received brilliant reviews for the role of the indefatigable MP, a larger than life character that left a hugely important legacy. 

8. She lives on a working farm

Julie and her husband Grant live on an organic farm in West Sussex, in a little village called Plaistow, on the edge of the South Downs. 

The 200-acre estate is home to cattle, chickens and sheep and offers the busy actress a perfect retreat from her hectic working life.

9. She is a Dame

Julie Walters after she was awarded a Damehood at Buckingham Palace.

Julie Walters after she was awarded a Damehood at Buckingham Palace. (Image credit: Getty Images)

On Nov. 7, 2017, Julie Walters was named Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to drama.

She was presented with the award at Buckingham Palace by the Queen and said it was, "fantastic," to be honoured with such an accolade. 

Although the characteristically down-to-earth actress also added that when she first heard the news she, "weeded the garden," in celebration.

10. Julie recently announced she is stepping back from acting…

The cast of Mamma Mia!

The cast of Mamma Mia! (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In 2018, while working on the film The Secret Garden,  Julie was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer. After an operation and chemotherapy she has been given the all clear but in an interview with Victoria Derbyshire when she was asked if The Secret Garden was her last film she replied.

"It's possible, yeah. It's possible, but something might come up, it would have to be something I really engaged with and that didn't have a killing schedule. I'm not saying I'll never act again but I don't think I can go back to, certainly not, six days a week, five days a week, five in the morning until seven o'clock at night."

Fact Box

The answers to the most frequently asked questions about Julie Walters…

How old is Julie Walters?

Julie Walters was born on Feb. 22, 1950 making her 71-years old.

Is Julie Walters married?

Julie Walters married Grant Roffey in 1997 after 10 years together.

Does Julie Walters have any children?

Julie Walters and her husband Grant have one child, Maisie Mae, who was born in 1988.

Where was Julie Walters born?

Julie was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Joanne Lowles
Freelance writer and editor

Joanne Lowles has been writing about TV since 2002. After graduating from Cardiff University with a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, she worked for All About Soap magazine covering the ups and downs of life on the cobbles, the square and the Dales. 

Next came nearly 10 years at TV Times magazine as a writer and then deputy features editor. Here she spent many happy days interviewing the biggest names in entertainment and visiting the sets of some of our most popular shows including Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Strictly Come Dancing

With a love of nature and wildlife she’s also interviewed the leading experts in this area including David Attenborough, Chris Packham and Steve Backshall. She’s also travelled the world visiting Mongolia, Canada and South Africa to see how the best in the business make the most brilliant natural history documentaries. 

Freelance since 2013, she is now is a digital writer and editor for What to Watch, previews the best on the box for TV Times mag each week and loves being constantly surprised, entertained and informed by the amazing TV that she is lucky enough to watch.