Dame Helen Mirren on her perfect day and why she never asks for presents
As the nights get longer and winter draws in, there’s one thing that Helen Mirren begins looking forward to. ‘I love looking around and seeing all the shop windows with their amazing decorations,’ the actor, 77, says of the festive season in London. ‘It’s great to be in the city for Christmas – I love the way the houses start lighting up.’
The legendary star of stage and screen admits that she ‘absolutely loves Christmas’, and is the first in her neighbourhood to put up her festive lights. ‘They usually go out about a month before the big day,’ she explains. ‘But it’s very important to take them down after Christmas because that’s the whole point. They’re there for Christmas, not Easter!’ And while she may love Christmas in London, it’s not always the case that Helen and her husband – American film director Taylor Hackford – get to spend the holidays in the UK. ‘I very often spend it in Italy because we have a place in Puglia that we love,’ she explains, adding, ‘So we’re often with our Italian friends, getting to understand the Italian traditions. It’s very interesting how countries have completely different ways of doing things.’
When they are in London, Helen says they enjoy a classic British Christmas. Helen has helped raise her two (now grown-up) stepsons from a young age. Their one family Christmas rule? They open their presents after Christmas dinner and never before. With an enviable wardrobe and access to some of the most glamorous designers in the world, you might wonder what an icon such as Helen could possibly want under the tree. As it turns out, she never asks for anything specific. ‘I love the surprises,’ she explains, adding that despite her husband’s penchant for giving her earrings, it’s her sister, a retired teacher, that offers up the best gifts – and they’re not as glamorous as one might expect. ‘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 explains.
It’s been an extremely busy year for the national treasure, so the festive season will no doubt come with a chance to relax. Along with her role as a L’Oréal Paris ambassador – meaning her face continues to adorn billboards as she approaches her 80s – she has spent much of the last few months in Montana, in the US, where she’s been shooting a new series titled 1923, alongside Harrison Ford. Having been on our screen and stage since the 60s, from her breakout role in 1965 on stage as Cleopatra to her time with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Helen is no stranger to hard work. Her determination culminated in an Oscar for her role as Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen. It’s still a role she is asked about a lot, and so on hearing of the passing of Her Majesty in September, she was deeply saddened.
‘I’m mourning along with the ‘I love the shop windows with their amazing decorations’ rest of my country, the passing of a great Queen,’ Helen said at the time. ‘I’m proud to call myself of the Elizabethan age. If there was a definition of nobility, Elizabeth Windsor embodied it.’ The year ahead looks hectic for the actor – 1923 is set to be released, and she’ll also be reprising her role in the Fast & Furious action film series. When it comes to her ever-evolving sense of style, the star claims she’s considering ‘dyeing my hair blue or green next year’. However, having once said she planned to grow old disgracefully, it seems things may have changed for the star in recent years. She admits, ‘As you do get older, you don’t really want to be disgraceful. You want to be graceful. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun…’
The one beauty tip Helen, a spokesperson for L’Oréal, does offer women of all ages is to watch how you hold yourself. ‘It makes such an incredible difference to the way you look,’ she explains, adding, ‘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. I think it’s the greatest beauty trick of all.’