Imelda Staunton praises ‘all the great Dames’ as she joins their ranks

Actress Imelda Staunton has paid tribute to the “great Dames” who have led the way as she joined their ranks in the King’s Birthday Honours.

The 68-year-old theatre and film star said she felt being made a Dame “recognises the importance of the arts in this country” as she was honoured for services to drama and charity.

Dame Imelda’s stage career has seen her star in musicals including Hello, Dolly!, Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, and on the small screen she earned a Bafta TV nomination for her fictional portrayal of Charles’ mother, the late Queen, in Netflix’s hit series The Crown.

Imelda Staunton
Imelda Staunton has been honoured (Ian West/PA)

In a statement to the PA news agency, she said: “I am really thrilled to be the recipient of this honour.

“I feel genuinely humbled to be recognised on the same level as the amazing actresses, all the great Dames, who have led the way for so many of us.

“It is their talent, dedication, wit and energy that have paved the way for us all and have set the standards to which we all aspire.”

Among her peers to also receive the honour are Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Julie Andrews, Dame Vanessa Redgrave and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas.

Dame Imelda’s charity work has included being an ambassador for national homelessness charity Crisis, and she supported a winter fundraising campaign from international disaster relief charity ShelterBox.

She said: “I am also delighted that this honour recognises my support for charity as well as my work as an actress.

“I feel privileged to be able to use the success I have achieved to help others who find themselves in difficulty and to offer support to all the wonderful charities and charity workers who strive so hard on behalf of others.

“I feel that this honour also recognises the importance of the arts in this country.

“Theatre, film and television are essential to our well-being, stand at the heart of our culture and are admired throughout the world.

“I am proud to play my part in this important industry”.

Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton attending the Bafta Television Awards 2023
Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton attending the Bafta Television Awards 2023 (PA)

Born in north London to a hairdresser and a labourer, Dame Imelda joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) at the age of 18. Her classmates included actors Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Juliet Stevenson.

After six years in repertory theatre, she moved on to roles at the National Theatre where she started gaining attention, earning Laurence Olivier Award nominations for Best Actress in a Musical and Most Promising Newcomer of the Year in Theatre for her performance in The Beggar’s Opera in 1982.

Over the following years, Dame Imelda picked up numerous Laurence Olivier Award nominations and wins, including the gong for Best Actress in a Musical for Into the Woods (1991) and Sweeney Todd (2011).

It was during a production of Guys And Dolls at the National Theatre in 1982 that she met her husband Jim Carter, perhaps best known for playing butler Mr Carson in ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

She stayed close to her West End beginnings as she trod the boards at the Savoy Theatre in London, playing the part of Momma Rose in the revived musical Gypsy in 2015.

Dame Angela Lansbury, who played the character on the London stage when it originally opened in 1973, gave her seal of approval, saying: “She’s a consummate actress and extraordinarily well able to carry the vocals.”

The show received rave reviews, with the Guardian and Telegraph giving it five stars. Theatre critic Dominic Cavendish called it an “unrepeatable chance to witness Imelda Staunton give one of the performances of her career”.

Imelda Staunton arriving for the world premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Imelda Staunton arriving for the world premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (PA)

Many will know the actress from the Harry Potter films, where she played the evil Dolores Umbridge who temporarily took over as headmistress of wizarding school Hogwarts.

She also drew critical acclaim for starring in the 2004 film Vera Drake, which earned her a number of nominations and awards – including the Bafta Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Her other film credits include Chicken Run, Downton Abbey, Paddington, Shakespeare In Love, Nanny McPhee, Another Year and Twelfth Night.

Her portrayal of the late Queen in The Crown earned her a Bafta TV and Golden Globe nominations.

She starred as the former monarch in the fifth and sixth series of the royal drama, following in the footsteps of Claire Foy and Olivia Colman who played younger versions of Queen Elizabeth.