Sally Phillips: ‘How could I survive a zombie attack? Get another puppy’ | Sally Phillips

We have changed countries every year and a half when I was little. My father worked for British Airways. I was born in Hong Kong, lived in Zambia and Borneo, and was evacuated when the war started in Beirut. There are pictures of me in Abu Dhabi in a little cotton dress made by my mother, watching the camel races with all these women in veils and long black dresses.

When I came to Oxford, my mind exploded. I remember the dangerous athletic society rappelling down to save a pig’s head from outside the dean’s room. I was in a one-woman show – The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy – in which she gives herself stigmata. I said, “Can I have real blood?” so the manager went to the slaughterhouse, took a bucket of sheep’s blood and poured it on me. It stunk and made me vegetarian for quite a while.

I was a hell of a jerk. I thought, “If I do well in the finals, I’ll do a doctorate. If I don’t, I will be an actor. I had seen a lecture at the BFI on Italian cinema and was quite fascinated by sword and sandal films and spaghetti westerns and thought I could do my PhD on them. Then I thought, “Why do I want to watch people being dragged in the dirt and lassoed for four years?” So it made much more sense for me – but devastating for my parents – to run away to clown school.

When the actors speak about the process and comedians talk jokes, it’s always a failure. This is one thing I’ve learned: never try to explain your process, because you’ll sound like a wanker.

The absurd does me laugh. People still come up to me in the cinema toilets and ask me to sign photos of Renée Zellweger, because there was a time when I looked a bit like her.

When my husband left me [in 2017], I was in a massive panic and decided to do a singing show at the Palladium with Michael Crawford. My list was: go to Sainsbury’s, buy meatballs, buy socks, go to the Palladium, go to school… I think I’m getting over my divorce because I don’t cry over Christmas adverts anymore or swans that mate for life.

I don’t really mind what I see in the mirror. I feel relatively attractive and friendly. But I find it completely horrifying when I see myself on screen. I just saw a fat old lady.

My son Olly was born with Down syndrome. Your consciousness is altered by the flavor of disability you have in your family. Moms of autistic children know everything; they are just amazing. Families with children with Down syndrome tend to be quite relaxed, as there is no need to plan ahead.

I spent nine Edinburgh Festivals playing prostitutes who died of syphilis. It was hard enough to get an agent to see me die of syphilis, but much easier when I was invited into other people’s comedy.

For my first TV job, I was in bed with Mel Smith. He says, “I’m terribly sorry, honey, that must have been the drink” and it comes back to me covered in vomit, which was a cold, thick vegetable soup that gave me a rash.

How could I survive a zombie attack? I would probably go into deep denial and get another pup. This is how I deal with anything difficult.

Sally Phillips has partnered with Anywhere Works to put people before AI (anywhere works.com/pledge-people-not-bots)

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