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Alison Steadman lights up Stratford with talk about her acting career

Much-loved actor entertains UEL audience with memories of her hilarious comic creations

Acclaimed actor Alison Steadman advised budding thespians at the University of East London (UEL) to fuel their creativity by going out into the world and observing the way people act and talk. 

“People are out there everywhere, all the time. Talk to them. Listen,” she said. 

“If you’re at a party and you think it’s boring – it’s not boring. Go and talk to people.” 

Ms Steadman, one of the country’s best-loved character actors, spent nearly an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday night speaking to an audience of University students and staff as well as members of the public at UEL’s University Square Stratford – the home of UEL’s performing arts courses.

An honorary graduate of the University, Ms Steadman’s appearance was part of its prestigious 'An Evening With' series.

She entertained the audience with stories from an iconic career that has spanned six decades, as well as insights into the film and television industry and anecdotes from her youth in Liverpool.  

And she also treated the audience to a hilarious demonstration of the shoulders-back, catwalk-style strut she perfected for her famous comic creation of the character Beverly in the hit stage and TV play Abigail’s Party.

Ms Steadman said her portrayal of Beverly was one of the highlights of her career, along with the roles of Candice Marie in Nuts in May, Mrs Marlow in The Singing Detective and, more recently, Pamela in BBC’s Gavin and Stacey.

She recalled how, during the last days of filming Gavin and Stacey, each of the show’s actors burst into tears when it was announced they had individually wrapped their scenes. 

“We were just so sad it was finishing,” she said.

Ms Steadman’s other noted roles include Mrs Bennett in the BBC TV's Pride and Prejudice. She has won numerous accolades throughout her career, including the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Life is Sweet and the Olivier Award for Best Actress for the original production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. In 2000, she was awarded an OBE.

She is scheduled to appear on an upcoming episode of the celebrity edition of The Great British Bake Off.

“I’m never happier than when I’m putting a costume on and being somebody else,” Ms Steadman said. “It’s amazing when you get under the skin of a character.”

She said she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be an actor – although she noted that she might have become a vet if acting had not worked out. She said the morning she received her acceptance letter to the East 15 Acting School in Essex was one of the greatest moments of her life.

“That, for me, was one of the best moments ever, and I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I knew I was on a journey and I had to really grab it by the horns.”