'This industry is a marathon not a sprint' - Anne Reid
'This industry is a marathon not a sprint' - Anne Reid
© Catherine Ashmore

I had a very strange childhood. I didn't think it was strange at the time but everybody seems to think it is now; the fact that my parents lived abroad from when I was ten or so, and I was sent to boarding school and then spent my holidays abroad with them in the Middle East. I think I was very lucky to travel so much. And I loved boarding school. I liked the camaraderie and I liked sharing rooms with other girls rather than being in a room on my own because I was very frightened of the dark as a child.

My father wanted me to get rid of my Geordie accent and so he sent me to have speech lessons. The elocution teacher gave me plays to learn and discovered I was a natural, so she wrote to my parents and said "I think Anne ought to be an actress". I'd always enjoyed acting but I wanted to be a dancer really. The teacher asked if she could enter me for RADA and my father said "do you fancy that?" I said "yes, thank you", and that was it really.

I didn't really get a big break until my 50s, when Victoria Wood employed me. That's what I look on as a life-changing moment because everybody watches Victoria's shows and people in the business started to realise that I could do comedy. I met her through my husband, a producer, who had brought her to television after seeing her play Talent in Sheffield. After my husband died, as an act of kindness she offered me a part in her show. I actually turned it down because I didn't have much confidence, but thank God the following year she asked me again. My idea of total happiness is a script coming through the letterbox from Victoria Wood.

With Victoria Wood and the cast of Dinnerladies
With Victoria Wood and the cast of Dinnerladies
© BBC

The audition that sticks in my head came after I said to my agent that I'd love to do a musical. And then to my horror she said "I've got you an audition at Sadler's Wells next Thursday"! I thought it was a joke. But I went along and I sang a bit of Irving Berlin, and the young man auditioning me looked in horror and said "I'm sorry but you could never do a musical". I was so upset I walked out and cried. But that night I went back to Manchester where I was living and, by complete coincidence, I met a singing teacher at the interval of a show I was watching, so I said I'd like to start lessons. I'm pleased to say that I've now starred in several musicals and even sung at the Opera House. Revenge is very sweet indeed!

My new show at The Pheasantry is a double act, which has been a brand new experience for me. I'm performing with Stefan Bednarczyk who is a very experienced cabaret artist. We're doing an evening of tribute to [musical-comedy duo] Betty Comden and Adolph Green; somebody suggested it to us because it was the centenary of Adolph's birth last year and there have been lots of revivals of their shows like On the Town and Bells Are Ringing. They're not as well known in this country as many other lyricists but they wrote masses and masses of stuff, including that wonderful song "Make Someone Happy". This year is all about cabaret for me. In October I'm doing a new show with Jason Carr at Crazy Coqs which will play at The Pheasantry on New Year's Day, and I'm taking part in Kings of Broadway at the Palace Theatre in November.

I feel now that I am actually who I wanted to be. I was recently appointed an honorary doctorate of arts at Sunderland University and I gave a little speech. I said to them, "if you think you can do something, don't let anybody, your parents or your tutors or anybody else, put you off." I think we're born with a kind of app in our heads, like an app in an iPhone or an iPad, that tells us what we're capable of. I just always felt that I was capable, no matter what anybody else said, and never gave up. This industry is a marathon not a sprint; but don't wait until you're 74 to start.

Anne Reid and Stefan Bednarczyk - Just in Time is at The Pizza Express Pheasantry in Chelsea from 27 to 31 July 2015