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Dame Helen Mirren, the Oscar-winning actress and L’Oreal Paris spokesperson, 77, chats about Christmas traditions, unusual favourite gifts and her beauty routine.
Dame Helen Mirren has been gracing stages and big screens since the 1960s. Her list of credits is as impressive as it is varied. From her breakout role as Cleopatra in 1965, her time with the Royal Shakespeare Company and throughout her career, she had played countless important women, most notably Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen, for which she won an Oscar. Calling her a national treasure doesn’t feel grand enough – really, she’s an icon. She’s known for her sense of humour and her striking dress sense – we always look forward to seeing what she’s wearing at big events, whether that’s walking in Paris Fashion Week or making a showstopping appearance in a glamorous, sweeping gown. Her role as a L’oréal Paris spokesperson has her starring on billboard ads well into her 70s.
We speak while she is in the middle of filming the new series 1923, in which she stars alongside Harrison Ford. Purring down the phone from a film set in Montana while looking out at a dramatic mountain range (she tells me), we chat about her favourite things during the festive season, her must-buy products, and her best tips for looking and feeling great. I’m often asked about my best beauty tip, but I think what’s most important is how you stand and how you hold yourself. It makes such an incredible difference to the way you look. It’s such a simple thing of sitting up straight and throwing your shoulders back. Put your chin up and face the world in a positive way, as opposed to in an apologetic way. It’s think it’s greatest beauty trick of all.
I absolutely love Christmas. It starts with the Christmas cards – they can’t have enough sparkle on them. Although I was told that now sparkle on cards has become either illegal or, you know, undesirable because of the environment. And certainly, if that’s the case, I’d prefer the environment over the glitter! But if we can find an eco way of sparkling up our Christmas cards, I would be very happy about that. As winter draws in and the colder nights begin, I love looking around and seeing all the shop windows with their amazing decorations. It’s great to be in the city for Christmas – I love the way the houses start lighting up. I’m usually one of the first in my neighbourhood to put up my lights. Whether I’m in my house in London or not, I always put them out. They usually go out about a month before the big day. It’s very important to take them down after Christmas because that’s the whole point. They’re there for Christmas, not Easter!
I try to spend the festive period in London if I can, but my husband [American film director Taylor Hackford] and I very often spend it in Italy because we have a place in Puglia that we absolutely love. So we’re often with our Italian friends, getting to understand the Italian traditions. It’s very interesting how different countries have completely different ways of doing things. It’s great to discover them. If we’re at home in London it’s a classic British Christmas. The only thing my husband and I do have as a set rule is that we like to open our presents after Christmas dinner, rather than before. I love wrapping Christmas presents. I’m a keen recycler – I keep all my cards from the previous year, and then I cut them up and use those for my gift tags. I keep all the wrapping paper too, and all the ribbon. So I have drawers full of wrapping paper and ribbon!
I never ask for anything for Christmas, as I love the surprises. The best gift I ever received was a life-sized leopard toy. It now lounges in my TV room in London. Sometimes I put him by the window so he can have a look out. He’s very old now – he must be at least 30 years old. He arrived in a crate, like a real animal. I absolutely adore him. My husband has also given me some very beautiful Christmas presents over the years. He’s great at giving me earrings, and I do love earrings. I have to say, my sister is the best gift-giver ever. She’s a retired teacher, so they’re never expensive, but they’re always brilliant presents. One year, it was a thing that you put your toothpaste in and roll it up, so that it pushes all the toothpaste out. She has also given me lovely slippers to wear around the house, and knitted socks. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what she gives me this year.
I’m thinking about dyeing my hair blue or green next year. I had pink hair a few years ago, which was fun. It came to me suddenly because I had this beautiful pink-gold dress to wear, and thought it would be so great to have my hair to match this dress. I really love at the moment the way girls are colouring their hair – you see these beautiful clouds of teal and blue, and I think that’s so spectacular. I fancy a sort of electric blue or green hair moment. I’ve always loved make-up, ever since I was a girl saving up my pocket money to buy my mascara from Woolworths. I love what make-up can do – I think it’s part of being an actress. It took me years to learn that it’s good to take your make-up off at night. There are some great cleansers out there nowadays – I love using a micellar water. I just cleanse then use a quick lick of moisturiser, and maybe I’ll put hand cream on. I love using my Waterpik Cordless Flosser [£60, Argos] too!